Tory Verdi ready to rebuild UMass women’s basketball program

  • Tory Verdi speaks at a press conference as the new head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

  • New University of Massachusetts women's basketball head coach Tory Verdi hugs Freshman player Jessica George after a press conference Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

  • Senior Associate Director of Athletics Darrice Griffin, right, speaks during a press conference introducing Tory Verdi, left, as the new head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

  • Tory Verdi speaks at a press conference as the new head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

  • Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford, right, speaks with Senior Associate Director of Athletics Darrice Griffin, introducing Tory Verdi, left, as the new head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

  • Tory Verdi at a press conference as the new head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

  • Tory Verdi speaks at a press conference as the new head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday at Champions Center. DAN LITTLE

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 4/13/2016 7:49:16 PM

AMHERST — As Tory Verdi held up a ceremonial maroon UMass jersey at Tuesday’s press conference introducing him as the new women’s basketball coach, his pre-teen son Tyler briefly stole the show.

“I don’t think it’s going to fit,” he said as the entire assembled audience at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center practice facility broke up laughing.

While Tyler Verdi’s assessment that a women’s uniform top likely wouldn’t fit his broad-shouldered dad was likely right, UMass is hoping the former Eastern Michigan coach will be the fit the Minutewomen have been lacking for most of their existence.

Verdi signed a five-year contract to replace Sharon Dawley, who was fired after six seasons. The New Britain, Connecticut, native and Keene State alum coached at several spots, including the WNBA, Kansas and Nebraska before taking over the EMU program. He was 72-61 in four seasons in Ypsilanti. The Eagles won 24 and 22 games the last two seasons and earned bids to the Women’s NIT.

Verdi was confident in his ability to turn things around in Amherst.

“I truly believe that we can win here and win big,” Verdi said. “In order to do that and make that happen, we have to take care of all of the little things and control the controllables. We will no longer get outworked and get outplayed. However, we will play hard, we will play smart, we will play together and we will have a lot of fun. When you do all of that, you will have success.

“The culture that surrounds this program will change. Expectations will be on the rise. Accountability will be apparent and a winning attitude will be instilled,” he added. “Our team’s image will be unselfish, tough, hard-nosed, disciplined, prepared, composed and lastly, relentless. It’s time to gain respect from the Atlantic 10 Conference and the rest of the country. It’s time to win and win big.”

Senior associate athletic director Darrice Griffin, who played Division I women’s basketball at Texas Tech, led the search for UMass. She laid out what she and athletic director Ryan Bamford were looking for.

“We wanted a leader with high integrity. We wanted someone with head coaching experience,” she said. “We wanted a dynamic recruiter with a proven track record. We wanted someone with a high basketball IQ and a track record of instilling fundamental skills. ... We wanted someone with a knack for building a community around a women’s basketball program.”

Verdi convinced her he best fulfilled the wish list.

“We had a dynamic conversation. It was about just two people being passionate about women’s basketball and wanting to do something very special,” Verdi said. “I think after 45 minutes to an hour, that we both agreed that if we collectively worked together, we can do something really special.”

His detailed knowledge about UMass’ program and conference helped sell Griffin.

“What impressed me was how thorough and how thoughtful he was, with an incredible amount of detail. He leaves no stone unturned,” she said. “It was the detail and preparation that separated him.”

Bamford agreed.

“When he came to campus to visit, he really did a nice job to articulate his vision for success,” Bamford said.” He did his homework on the University of Massachusetts, our basketball program and our athletic program as well as the A-10.”

Verdi pledged to play an up-tempo style.

“Our team is going to be fun to watch,” he said. “We are going to be fast and furious, and we are going to dictate both offensively and defensively for 40 minutes, and in the end, we will win.”

Verdi met with his team Tuesday and thought his players would fit that aggressive approach.

“They’re hungry. They have a want to,” he said. “Together we’re going to get there.”

Coming out of high school, forward Kimber Hill chose UMass over Eastern Michigan. She was excited to play her final year of college under Verdi.

“Our program needs a change to be successful. Being a senior I want to go out with a bang,” Hill said. “Being able to play for him again is really exciting. It was shocking. It’s a great thing for me.”

Junior guard Alyx Stiff was glad to have the process over.

“Going into the meeting, everyone was kind of anxious and timid,” she said. “Coming out of it everyone was really excited and pumped up like ‘Let’s do this.’”

After the ceremonies and photo opportunities were over, Verdi said he planned to reach out of the program’s committed recruits quickly. He expected to speak with the assistant coaches remaining from Dawley’s tenure as he began assembling a staff. Recruiting beckoned shortly.

“In the class of 2017 there are three top 50 players in the country (in Massachusetts),” he said. “We’re going to reach out to them and give them every reason to come to the University of Massachusetts. They’re going to have the opportunity to be a trailblazer and a pioneer and do something that’s never been done here before. We start within the state of Massachusetts and work our way out.”

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




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