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

Rahsool Diggins continues to develop his game for UMass

Guard’s 16 points lead Minutemen to victory over Fordham
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

When Rahsool Diggins entered the transfer portal after one season at UConn, it wasn’t a situation where head coach Dan Hurley wanted the freshman to leave.

The former top-60 prospect simply wanted a new opportunity, a chance to get more playing time as opposed to the 5.1 minutes per game he received during his lone season in Storrs.

Many schools came calling, but head coach Frank Martin won out and brought Diggins to the Atlantic 10 to play for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

When he committed to UMass (20-10, 11-7 A-10), expectations were that the Minutemen would be getting a scrappy competitor that could contribute on both ends. The guard’s first season in Amherst was a tough one for both Diggins and the team as a whole, as the then-sophomore averaged just 4.7 points per game in a reserve role.

Flash forward to Mar. 6, 2024 and the junior is playing some of the best ball of his collegiate career, stamped by a 16-point performance Wednesday in UMass’ 66-64 win over Fordham (12-18, 6-11 A-10). Without starting point guard Keon Thompson, someone in the Minutemen backcourt needed to step up, and Diggins took care of business.

“I don’t give up on people. People that are trying to do right, I don’t give up on them,” Martin said.

The most stunning difference in Diggins’ game between this season and last has been his success from deep. Coming out of high school, it was well known in recruiting circles that the Philadelphia prospect showed his worth on offense from the mid-range and within. In order to take his game to the next level, however, Diggins needed to become more effective at shooting threes.

In 2022-23, Diggins was not able to accomplish that goal. Shooting as many attempts from three as he did from two (67), Diggins made just 20 threes on the season.

2023-24 has been an entirely different story. With usage up, the junior’s efficiency has gone up as well: he’s now shooting 36.6 percent from deep, an impressive increase of over six percentage points. Against the Rams, Diggins made four of his nine attempts, including multiple timely makes.

Despite his new role as a perimeter-focused guard, Diggins continues to put up numbers through his reliable two-point game. On Wednesday, both of the junior’s made baskets inside the arc came via the same shot: a smooth, arcing floater from the left elbow that Diggins has brought out against numerous defenses in 2023-24.

“Seeing [Rahsool] succeed and just [him] stepping [up] from last year [with] not getting in as much to this year, being such a key factor in our team is just like, it’s tremendous,” teammate Matt Cross said. “Because I mean everyone loves [Rahsool]…He’s probably the most liked guy on the team.”

On defense, Diggins has also shown improvement from previous seasons. On Wednesday night, the guard’s assignment was primarily Kyle Rose, a 6-foot-4 dynamic guard who leads the Rams in scoring. At the end of the night, Rose finished with 15 points, but most did not come easy and good perimeter defense prevented the number from getting larger. Diggins and an energetic zone limited Fordham’s leader to just 5-of-15 shooting, along with going 4-of-11 on threes.

Part of Diggins’ success on defense comes from his grit. Head coach Keith Urgo and the Rams ran ball-screen action often on Wednesday to try and get Rose good looks. It became a common occurrence to see Diggins fight through those screens, remain glued to Rose and force a pass elsewhere.

Diggins’ propensity not to bite on pump fakes has also helped him with staying on defenders and avoiding foul trouble. When Rose faked a shot, looking to create separation between Diggins and himself, the junior wouldn’t fall for it. Instead, he stayed grounded at a safe distance and put his hands directly at his sides, making it nearly impossible for referees to nail him with a shooting foul.

After shooting the ball at under a 35 percent clip in 17.5 minutes per game last season, Martin mentioned that there was a possibility of Diggins transferring before 2023-24.

“He came in to see me [and] he says ‘Do you want me here?’ and I said ‘Yes. But under these conditions,’” Martin said. “And he said ‘I ain’t going anywhere.’ I said ‘Alright, then we’ll figure it out.’”

Now, Diggins is averaging over 30 minutes per game and his field goal percentage is nearly at 40. His defensive box plus minus is positive for the first time in his collegiate career. He’s been a veteran leader for a team that just achieved  its first 20-win season in a decade.

“Give him credit, man,” Martin said. “He’s buckled in and he’s grown as a human being, as a student, as a person and obviously as a player.”

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

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