With a bigger role and smaller body, Malik Hines has blossomed for UMass this season

  • UMass forward Malik Hines, right, goes to the basket past BYU forward Yoeli Childs during the first half, Nov. 25 in New York. Hines committed himself to better physical conditioning in the offseason and the results have paid off. AP

  • Malik Hines, right, of UMass, looks for a shot against Cyril Langevine, of URI, last season at the Mullins Center. Hines committed himself to better physical conditioning in the offseason and the results have paid off. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Friday, December 08, 2017

AMHERST — Malik Hines doesn’t remember exactly when it happened, but the moment and how he felt stuck with him.

The UMass junior from Mississippi was playing in a pickup game this summer. As it progressed, he realized he was a little lighter, a little quicker, a little more explosive and a little better.

“I just felt a little different. I was moving faster, dunking the ball different,” Hines said, smiling at the memory. “My movement was different. I just felt comfortable.”

Shortly after coach Matt McCall was hired at the end of March, he and new strength and conditioning coach Coty Greene challenged Hines, who played almost exclusively at center last year, to drop some weight so he could play forward.

Hines embraced the opportunity to get better and make an impression on his new coach in the process. The 6-foot-10 big man is still listed at 255 pounds only because UMass hasn’t measured for new official weights, but he’s clearly slimmer and lighter. Hines sought out Greene after that pickup game.

“I just went to Coty and said, ‘I really like what you’re doing.’ I just feel better,” Hines said. “It just started in the summer with strength and conditioning. I’m more of an actual forward instead of a center. I’m smaller, quicker, faster. My first step is a little quicker.”

Hines’ weight is down and as a result, everything else is up. He’s doubled his minutes (11.5 to 25.4), his points (3.5 to 7.6) and his rebounds (3.0 to 6.6). His confidence has increased in kind.

It’s uncertain whether McCall will stick with the smaller lineup he used against Holy Cross or go back to the traditional two big-man lineup when UMass hosts Providence, Saturday at 3 p.m. Either way, Hines figures to be on the floor at tipoff as McCall’s trust in him is through the roof.

“He’s a player who has completely changed since March 28, with his approach, with his body with everything that he’s doing,” McCall said. “You’re seeing the success he’s having out on the floor. I trust him out there.”

On video, McCall saw a player who’d been inconsistent under former coach Derek Kellogg, playing mostly off the bench with his minutes fluctuating.

“I saw the commitment he made to get himself in shape. I saw his work ethic,” McCall said. “Defensively he knows what he’s supposed to do. He can switch pick and rolls. He can guard fives. He can guard fours. I’ve seen him evolve as a player and a person.”

Hines wants to continue to reward McCall’s faith. He’s tried to help mentor freshman Khalea Turner-Morris and has become an avid watcher of game film. He wants to be a leader on and off the floor.

“It’s nice to hear. I’m glad to see that he likes me,” Hines said. “On and off the floor I’m just trying to be a good kid and a leader. I’m trying to maintain good images and keep everybody on track and together.”

McCall said there’s more to come.

“He’s got to continue to be a leader and get better offensively and get better around the basket,” he said. “I’ve seen him come this far in this short a time. With 18 months left in his college career, he’s going to be a terrific player when it’s all said and done.”

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