New UMass basketball coach Matt McCall opts to start full-time practice next week

  • New UMass men’s basketball coach Matt McCall will start full-time practice next week. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Friday, September 29, 2017

AMHERST — The start of college basketball practice doesn’t have the same sense of occasion that it did when Oct. 15 meant Midnight Madness events for almost everyone.

Friday marked the start of when schools can officially begin full-time practice for the 2017-18 season without much fanfare. But like several schools around the country, UMass isn’t diving right in, choosing to wait until late next week to get into its regular-season routine.

Starting later doesn’t mean fewer practices. It means those 30 workouts are more concentrated. In the 42 days before the Nov. 10 season opener, schools are allowed 30 practices. So UMass held a 90-minute one Friday, continuing its fall routine.

“I’m not a big fan of having to take two, even three days off sometimes in a week. You lose some retention there,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “If you start practice now, you’re a long way from your first game. There’s something to be said for getting sore from playing three and four days in a row to get used to playing that hard every day. That’s why we’re starting a little later.”

Waiting means UMass might have more practices Jaylen Brantley can participate in. The graduate transfer guard from Maryland is out with an undisclosed injury. There’s no official timetable for his return.

“It’s not something we can rush,” McCall said.

Even when Brantley is healthy, UMass will have only nine scholarship players available with four transfers sitting out. Because McCall plans to play up-tempo, conditioning has been a critical part of preseason.

“I think we’ve done a lot of conditioning, a lot of running. We’re trying to make everything we’re doing fast-paced,” said McCall, who planned to continue pushing their limits once full-time practice is underway.

“We’ll build these early practices to put them in adverse situations to see how they respond to try to be one of the hardest playing teams in the country,” he said. “A lot of it is mentality. My biggest thing is becoming a team and talking to each other the right way. We have to sell out every possession to play really, really hard.”

The Minutemen have an exhibition game against Springfield College on Nov. 3 and open the regular season a week later against UMass-Lowell on Nov. 10 at the Mullins Center.

NOTES — Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo was on campus Friday and stopped by practice to speak with the players.

“He was terrific. I had a chance to spend an hour with him in April. I think he’s a basketball guy,” McCall said. “To have him stop by practice with how busy he is means a lot.”

Minuteman freshman guard Carl Pierre, a Boston native, was impressed.

“It definitely surprised me,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that. To think of someone that important can make time, and I’m sure he’s busy, to come see us practice, is super nice.”

As part of National Coffee Day, McCall, women’s basketball coach Tory Verdi and hockey coach Greg Carvel served coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts on University Drive in Amherst.

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