UMass basketball career comes full circle for Randall West

  • UMass quarterback Randall West runs a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Randall West, of UMass, drives past Oscar Okeke, of Farleigh Dickinson, Dec. 21, 2018 at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2020 8:00:22 PM
Modified: 1/17/2020 7:59:27 PM

AMHERST — It was a risk for Randall West to play basketball again.

Even after successfully rehabbing from the severe knee surgery that ended his high school career to play quarterback for the Minutemen, basketball was a whole different deal. In football, there are cuts and footwork, but it put far less stress on the body than the constant motion of basketball.

“To be quite honest, I was pretty scared to play basketball,” West said. “Obviously with an extensive injury and all the cuts you need to make on the basketball court, I was very timid to run up and down and even play at the Rec in an unorganized capacity, much less this.”

Yet on Feb. 13, 2018, West was officially added to the UMass basketball roster to become a two-sport athlete. At that moment, no one had any clue about what the next two years would bring to West athletically at UMass.

“I remember the meeting with (coach Matt) McCall like it was yesterday,” West said. “He didn’t have any promises to me, he said ‘you might just be a body we have in practice, you might play, I don’t know, you just have to be prepared for anything,’ and it evolved into something totally different than I ever imagined.”

In the nearly two years since West joined the basketball team, he has evolved into Mr. UMass Athletics. He became a folk hero on campus with his play in the last eight games of that 2017-18 season during which he averaged 2.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in 11½ minutes.

But it all started when McCall broke the metaphorical glass on his emergency option and inserted West into the game on Feb. 14 against George Washington.

“I really went into the game not thinking I was going to play, it was kind of an emergency situation,” West said. “They needed me to play and I just remember all of my teammates from football being there and really having my back. It’s one of the moments that I’ll definitely cherish out of my UMass career.”

In the type of poetic justice that almost everyone at UMass argues West deserves, his final game as a student-athlete will come Saturday at the Mullins Center when UMass (7-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10) faces George Washington (7-10, 1-3). The redshirt senior will be ineligible once the second semester starts because he has exhausted his eligibility on his football scholarship.

There really wasn’t much for West to gain by returning to the basketball team this season. After recovering from the rib and ankle injuries he sustained in football season, West was only going to be in uniform for nine games for the Minutemen and UMass was not short on bodies.

But there was a different motive that compelled West to return to the basketball court. He knew he had to play his part to help the Minutemen return to their former glory, even if it’s only as a pseudo-coach helping this young team adjust to the rigors of the Atlantic 10.

“It was the right thing to do,” West said. “My parents taught me to finish things and never quit. Was I really banged up after football was over? Yes ... and was I 100 percent coming over here? No, but Coach McCall gave me this opportunity when he really didn’t have to, I owe it to him to finish this thing the right way and to help in any way possible to elevate UMass basketball to where it was in the mid-90s and to try to help put some banners back up on that wall.”

McCall wanted to make it clear that Saturday isn’t West’s last day with the program because it was never about his on-court contributions the past two seasons. Instead, McCall said he viewed West as setting the standard for the rest of the program with the playing time being secondary.

“I want him around because he embodies everything that we’re trying to build and be about,” McCall said. “He’s a voice in practice, he’s unbelievable; to be able to come out and play basketball that first year and give us some good minutes and play hard and just be around these last two years, it’s been phenomenal.”

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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