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Sampson Carter returns to action when UMass scrimmages Drexel

JERREY ROBERTS
Sampson Carter of the University of Massachusetts, left, shoots beside Paul Williams of Dayton Tuesday at the Mullins Center.

JERREY ROBERTS Sampson Carter of the University of Massachusetts, left, shoots beside Paul Williams of Dayton Tuesday at the Mullins Center. Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — Sampson Carter didn’t play the last time the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team and Drexel got together.

While his teammates were capping a furious second-half comeback in Philadelphia in March that earned them a trip to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, Carter was recuperating from hip surgery that cost him most of last season and led to a medical redshirt.

Being back on the floor at the Daskalaskis Center Saturday, when the Minutemen and Dragons play a closed-door controlled scrimmage, won’t erase the frustration of not being able to play last time. But it’s a welcome next step back for the junior forward.

“It feels way better. I’ve been anticipating this for a while. I’m finally back,” Carter said. “It’s going to be a good feeling. It’s going to be a test for me too to see where my body is. I’m practicing every day full go for three hours. You never know till you’re sitting on the side watching all your teammates playing, you never know how much you’d miss it, till it’s gone. I’m happy to be back out there.”

Carter said he isn’t 100 percent healthy yet, but he’s trying to use his brain to compensate when his body is lacking.

“I’m about 90 percent right now. But that 10 percent is big. It’s the difference between dunking on somebody and laying it up. But it’s all about where my heart is and my head is. You can’t judge that. I’m just going to give that all that I got,” he said. “The age and the maturity definitely help. I can read plays and I know what’s about to happen. I can read them differently. I catch on faster to things. It helps.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg is challenging Carter to work his way back to full strength.

“He’s not where he was with his energy and his speed and quickness. I think the jury is still out. He’s only going to be able to play if he can play at the level we need him to,” Kellogg said. “He’s got some time. But he realizes it’s time to step his game up and do what I expect him to do every single day.”

Carter hopes to be an example for his younger teammates.

“I’m heavily respected on the team. I’m always going to be a leader. I just have to prove what I can do,” Carter said. “I think I’m showing them how to fight through adversity. Every practice is a test and I’ve overcome and gotten through every practice. I think the young guys seeing me go through this, if they ever get hurt, they’ll know how to handle it.”

SCRIMMAGE RIVALRY — UMass will face Drexel in a closed scrimmage for the second straight season, a matchup Kellogg finds valuable and enjoyable because of his friendship with Dragon coach and former UMass coach Bruiser Flint.

“At the end of it we can talk to each other freely knowing that the other guy has your best interest in mind. We can talk about style of play, lineups, where are we compared to last year,” Kellogg said. “Talking to Bruiser last year was beneficial to my own thought process. I’m hoping that will be the same again this year.”

Friendship aside, he thought playing Drexel, the favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association, would be valuable.

“It’ll be nice to see where we are against an NCAA tournament-caliber team. They’ll probably be a little further along than we are because of the way we play,” Kellogg said. “It’ll be a good stepping stone to see where we’re at. They know us, which is good. They know how we’re trying to play and we know what they’re doing. It’ll actually be a game you can scout. We can run it like a real contest, like a real game.”

The Minutemen were eager to face someone other than themselves.

“Coach is just trying to preach in our head that this is an NCAA-caliber team. This is a good test to see where we are as a team to get our season kicked off and get ready,” junior point guard Chaz Williams said. “It’s always good to have tough guys on the schedule and tough teams to play against. That’s what makes us better.”

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

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