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UMass quarterback Randall West enjoying his basketball experience

  • Randall West, left, of UMass, looks for a shot against Marcus Santos-Silva, of VCU, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 at the Mullins Center. GAZETTE STAFF / JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Randall West has given the men’s basketball team a lift this season. Short on players, West joined the team in early February. GAZETTE STAFF / SARAH CROSBY

  • Randall West, right, of Team Maroon, passes during the UMass spring football scrimmage Thursday at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF / JERREY ROBERTS

  • University of Massachusetts quarterback Randall West throws during the first practice of the season on Sunday, July 30, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@MattVautourDHG
Monday, March 05, 2018

AMHERST — Nobody asked UMass men’s basketball coach Matt McCall about Randall West in the press conference and the quarterback turned forward — on loan from the football team — hadn’t had an especially memorable game even by his increasing standards. But McCall couldn’t resist.

His fondness for the newest member of his team is evident.

“He’s got an unbelievable attitude. What a high-character kid,” McCall said.

West said he almost wasn’t one of the four football players to tryout. It’s common for football coaches to see their prospective recruits play basketball because a lot of active recruiting occurs during the winter. But West committed when Charley Molnar was still the coach. So the current staff hadn’t seen him play.

So when McCall asked football coach Mark Whipple if he had any players who might be able to help offset his run of player losses, assistant coach Scott Woodward wasn’t familiar with West’s game.

“He was pulling together a few guys he knew were good basketball players and I wasn’t on the list of guys,” West said.

But starting quarterback Andrew Ford recommended West, who took part in a tryout with three of his teammates.

“I showed up at 10 (a.m.). We had a 45-minute workout with me and three other guys on the team. I thought I did pretty well. Coach McCall told us he didn’t know if he was going to take two of us or any of us at all,” West said. “I got a call telling me I had to be at practice at 2:15 p.m.”

He didn’t know if he’d just be an additional practice body, or an emergency option.

But in six games, the 6-foot-4 New Jersey native has averaged 13 minutes as an undersized big man. He said the basketball players have made his transition into the team dynamic an easy one.

“They’ve been really welcoming. I knew a lot of the guys ahead of time. I knew Rashaan (Holloway), Malik (Hines) and C.J. (Anderson) The younger guys, especially Pip (Luwane Pipkins), have been really helpful,” he said. “Even though Rashaan isn’t playing, he’s telling me new methods I can use to be better defensively and offensively and overall. There are a lot of good guys in that locker room.”

West is careful not to call the experience fun. The team has lost most of the games he’s played in and he doesn’t want to give the wrong impression. But playing basketball is clearly what he hoped it would be.

“It’s been a good experience. Basketball was always my first love. Football only developed for me once I got in high school,” said West, who also played two seasons of high school lacrosse before dropping it to focus on football and basketball. “They’ve done a good job bringing me along slowly. Coach trusts that I’m going to pick up what he’s putting down in practice and in a game lock in on what he’s doing on the clip board and go out there and execute it correctly. Sometimes I don’t do it right, but as long as I’m playing as hard as possible, he can live with the mistakes.”

West said the strength work from football has helped overcome his lack of height.

“It’s a lot different playing power forward and center in basketball. You have to have some strength to do that. I think in the end, working out with (former strength) Coach (Joe) Connelly the past few years and (current strength) Coach (Brian) Phillips the past few weeks has helped out,” he said. “The strength I have from football has helped me push some people around down low. Quarterback isn’t really a physical position, but we still lift with the team.”

He has one year of eligibility left in both football and basketball. He wasn’t sure if he will rejoin McCall’s squad after football next year or not. From the football standpoint, he’s hoping to be part of a team that reaches bowl eligibility, which would push back when he could transition from the field to the floor. Plus, the basketball program will be adding four transfers and at least two freshmen to its ranks which would certainly decrease his role. He said he’d worry about that later.

“Right now I’m just playing. Coach Whip said we should play it by year. If Coach McCall asked me to come back next year, I’d love to. I’d have to think about it for a while. If he doesn’t, I’m glad I helped them in their time of need,” said West, who took part in spring football practice Sunday on a basketball off day. “Hopefully I was able to play and handle myself with a certain amount of class and dignity. Hopefully they’ll look back and think it was a good experience.”

McCall hadn’t thought that far ahead.

“Obviously he’s here on a football scholarship. When we’re done, he’s got to go over there and start getting ready for spring football,” McCall said. “I haven’t had that conversation with Randall or Coach Whipple. There’ll be a time for that. It’s not right now.”

ALUM vs. ALUM — Two teams with UMass connections will square off Tuesday for the Northeast Conference title. Long Island, which is coached by former Minuteman coach and player Derek Kellogg and features ex-UMass forward Zach Coleman, will face Wagner in the tournament final at Wagner. The Seahawks staff includes former Minuteman forward Mike Babul as an assistant coach.

AWARDS — The Atlantic 10 will announce its postseason awards Tuesday afternoon. Luwane Pipkins seems certain to land on an all-conference team and is a candidate to be the league’s most improved player.

Freshman Carl Pierre could also be an all-rookie team possibility.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage