Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Tafara Gapare’s defense shines again in UMass’ win over Saint Louis

The freshman had five blocks and two steals in 23 minutes
Dylan Nguyễn/Daily Collegian (2023)

As a freshman, Tafara Gapare’s biggest shortcoming is his on-ball defense. That sounds almost crazy after finishing Wednesday night’s 90-81 win over Saint Louis with five blocks and two steals.

Massachusetts basketball coach Frank Martin wanted to ease Gapare into the lineup at the start of the season because he needed to learn schemes, especially on defense. The wiry, 6-feet 9-inch freshman’s talent is undeniable  whether it’s jumping, speed or quickness. Which makes up for his lack of on-ball defensive skills at times.

“Just to see [Gapare] make those plays, I respect it,” Noah Fernandes said. “I was once a freshman, I was once out there struggling. So when these guys come in and have the game they have, I go home and I respect the hell out of that.”

The career-high in blocks came in many forms: His first came on a 3-point attempt he got a hand on after hustling to the corner. Less than a minute later his arms reached nearly to the top of the backboard for his second block. He turned a second-half block into offense, as he took it coast-to-coast and fed fellow Freshman RJ Luis for a corner three on the fast break. He and Luis could’ve both got credit on his fifth block, which was erased at the rim.

“[Gapare’s] ability to jump that high [with his length], he covers the whole rim, it’s fun playing with him out there,” Luis said.

Despite his guard-like athleticism and quickness, Gapare struggles staying in front of his man on defense. The Billikens (9-6, 1-1 Atlantic 10) used a high pick and roll often against the Minutemen (10-4, 1-1 A-10).  Gapare was Saint Louis’ target on multiple pick and rolls, knowing they could take advantage, which angered Martin and Gapare.

“[Gapare is] a freshman, it’s his challenge,” Martin said. “He’s got to learn how to guard, it’s what I keep telling him. I’m like ‘Tafara, as you figure out how to defend on the perimeter, cause he has no idea how to defend on the perimeter, as athletic as you are … don’t quit on the play. Chase him down’ [Gapare] jumps to the moon.”

Coming in as a four-star prospect, expectations were high for the uber-talented freshman, especially when he produced results on the floor. But Martin wants to take it slow. Using an analogy comparing restaurants from past to present, Martin said society expects instant appetizers whereas it used to take a long time for a ready-cooked meal.

“We all want those packages to be perfect in todays day and age,” Martin said of Gapare’s skillset. “[Gapare] keeps growing and getting better … He’s not into the individual crap, he wants to win … Guys that don’t want to win, you know what they do? They start rolling their eyes and putting because I want them to guard. He didn’t, on the contrary he accepted that challenge.”

Martin’s actions show his gradual trust in Gapare, who played a career-high 23 minutes Wednesday. He added eight points, six rebounds and two assists. Before this, the most minutes he played was 20, against both Albany and Hofstra. He had 15 points and five steals against Albany and scored 13 against Hofstra.

From his teammates, to the coaching staff to everyone who watches him for even a couple minutes knows the talent Gapare has. His missed dunks drop jaws, as do shot contests when his armpit is level with the rim. The teenager will earn more playing time as the season goes, but Martin won’t rush it.

UMass travels to George Washington on Saturday, tip-off is at 2 p.m.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and Followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.

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