Rashaan Holloway, C.J. Anderson expect most UMass players to stay with new coach Matt McCall

  • Members of the UMass basketball team wait for the start of a press conference held to welcome incoming coach Matt McCall, Thursday at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Members of the UMass basketball team wait for the start of a press conference held to welcome incoming coach Matt McCall, Thursday at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Thursday, March 30, 2017

AMHERST — During an anxious three weeks without a coach, the UMass men’s basketball players said they leaned on each other to get through the tough stretch.

Rashaan Holloway and C.J. Anderson, the only players allowed to speak at Thursday’s press conference, thought the group would continue to stay together under new coach Matt McCall.

“We stick together as a team. We go everywhere together,” Holloway said. “We’re way too close to separate over anything.”

Anderson expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’re more than just players. We look at each other like brothers, always hanging out with each, going out on the weekends. You can’t break up this kind of family. We’re brothers on and off the court,” Anderson said. “We’ve all been talking about it. We’re trying to stay together. That’s what we want to do. Now we have our coach and our guys are ready to go.”

Anderson expected his teammates to stay, but added everyone should make the decision that’s best for them.

“I’m expecting it because of how close we are. We all understand if you have something you feel is better for you in your life we all understand that,” he said. “We know we’re going to be brothers at the end of the day.”

Athletic director Ryan Bamford said no player has asked him for a release to transfer to a specific school and that only Seth Berger has asked to look into other schools. Berger, who will have his degree at the end of the semester, can transfer without sitting out.

Berger was at the press conference, but wasn’t available to the media.

Bamford said he wouldn’t stand in the way of anyone leaving, but encouraged players to keep an open mind.

“We asked the guys to give it some time and see what they think,” he said. “If it’s not for them we’ll respect that but stay and see if you like it.”

McCall said he’s not going to Phoenix for the Final Four. He wanted to continue the process of building relationships with his team.

“Any time you take over a program the first thing you need to do is start investing in the players. That’s what we tried to do when we go to Chattanooga. We didn’t have one guy leave,” he said. “That’s not saying we’re not going to have anybody leave. Guys have to do what’s best for their family. I totally get that. We were able to keep a lot of those guys intact. That’s why we were able to have so much success right when we got there.”

Anderson, a Memphis, Tennessee, native, knew three players on McCall’s Chattanooga team — Jonathan Burroughs-Cook, K.J. Bates and Greg Pryor — and another — Chris Chiozza — who played for Florida when McCall was an assistant there.

“All of them said good things,” Anderson said. “If they say it, I’m with it. Thumbs up from me.”

His personal encounters were positive too.

“It was a rough three weeks, but we have everything established now. It seems like everything should be fine if you ask me,” Anderson said. “The first thing he told us about was skill development. I feel like that will help us a lot. He seems like he’s all about business, but at the same time he seems like he’s caring for us. He was talking all about building relationships.”

All of the players will have a one-on-one meeting with their new coach. Holloway said his happened already and he liked what he’d seen. Holloway said he avoided reading up on McCall so he wouldn’t have his opinion influenced.

“I wanted to feel him out myself,” he said. “We talked about player development and how I’m going to get better as a player and how this program is going to change. I liked the way he was talking. I want to get better everywhere I go. I just wanted to see where his head was at with player development. I wanted to see if I was going to get better here. He told me about players he’s been around. I’m all for it. I’m ready to see what we do.”

NO STAFF YET — McCall said he hadn’t made any decisions about who’d be on his staff.

Shyrone Chatman was the only holdover from Derek Kellogg’s coaching or administrative staff at the press conference as the rest were at the Final Four. (Strength and medical staff members attended.)

Lauren Mills, his Chattanooga director of basketball operations, was the only member of his previous staff that made the trip to Amherst. She helped Allison McCall take care of the couple’s two daughters during the press conference.

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