Assistant coach Tony Bergeron brings tenacity to UMass basketball

Staff Writer
Published: 10/30/2019 11:26:45 PM
Modified: 10/30/2019 11:26:35 PM

AMHERST — Carl Pierre used just four words to describe Tony Bergeron.

“Super fiery, super passionate,” the junior captain said before deadpanning to wait for the next question.

That might be all any UMass fan needs to know about the most well-known of Matt McCall’s new assistant coach. His energy on the sideline and in practice is noticeable, and different than the intensity McCall brings on a daily basis. But the match is one that has been on the wall for a long time.

Even before there officially was an opening on McCall’s staff last year, Bergeron was a name being linked to a coaching position at UMass. Bergeron is a Springfield native who has won more than 400 games as a high school and prep school coach with stops ranging from East Longmeadow to The MacDuffie School in Granby to most recently Woodstock Academy in Connecticut.

Those who watched the Centaurs play the past two seasons saw a team that looked similar to what McCall was hoping to implement at UMass. The defense was aggressive, the tempo was quick and the effort was evident on every play. So when McCall did decide to retool his entire coaching staff, Bergeron was the first man the third-year coach signed on to help revive the Minutemen.

“Philosophically, me and Tony are on the same page,” McCall said. “Going to his practices and watching him and his teams play and how competitive they are and how hard they play, it was big for me.”

Bergeron and McCall first met during McCall’s first year at UMass in 2017 when he went down to Springfield to watch some of Bergeron’s players at Commonwealth Academy. The two stayed in touch in a typical prep school, college coach relationship until last year when McCall began recruiting Woodstock Academy extensively. The attention netted the Minutemen a commitment from Preston Santos in November, and laid the groundwork for the rest of the players who would flood the program this spring.

Woodstock standouts Tre Mitchell and T.J. Weeks signed with UMass after Bergeron was hired, and Dibaji Walker, another Bergeron product from Woodstock, transferred in from Cleveland State this summer. Mitchell and Weeks will play extensive minutes this season as true freshmen for the Minutemen while Walker awaits a verdict on his waiver for immediate eligibility.

“Once Coach was talking about the system he wanted to run, you have to recruit to the system,” Bergeron said. “If we’re going to play a certain type of way, you have to go get players who are familiar with it. At Woodstock, we were successful and we certainly have the athletes for this caliber to be successful at this level. Obviously, with the relationships, it wasn’t too hard to get them.”

The familiarity between Bergeron and many of the new faces in the UMass locker room is helpful, but Bergeron’s impact has been noticeable on even some of the returning Minutemen. In particular, the assistant coach has worked with center Djery Baptiste on expanding his offensive repertoire.

That individual attention paid off in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Western New England as Baptiste looked far more comfortable receiving the ball in the post. Even in practice, Baptiste has shown a different ability to spin off his man and attack the rim. McCall said having the trust and respect of the veterans was an important factor in deciding who best fit within his new coaching staff.

“I give him a lot of credit, too, he’s done a great job with our returnees,” McCall said. “That was big for me hiring a new staff, building trust with the guys that were coming back. Every day before practice, he’s done there with Djery Baptiste, doing jump hook after jump hook after jump hook.”

Bergeron and McCall might have vastly different demeanors on the court, but Bergeron said he feels lucky that McCall gave him the opportunity to take the next step in his coaching career.

“Coach McCall has really made me feel at home and help me work into an assistant coach position,” Bergeron said. “He’s a terrific mentor and I’m really appreciative of the opportunity.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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