New UMass basketball players look promising in first summer practice

  • UMass freshman guard DeJon Jarreau takes part in his first practice during the Minutemen’s summer session. Jarreau headlines the Minutemen’s highly touted rookie class. GAZETTE sTAFF/matt vautour

  • Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker, left, fouls Cleveland Cavalier and former UMass Minuteman Raphiael Putney during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game July 8, in Las Vegas. AP

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 7/18/2016 11:23:36 PM

AMHERST — While his players completed a drill during their first workout of the second summer session, UMass men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg chatted with former Minuteman Maxie Esho, who was watching in the stands.

Esho wanted to know about “blue shoes,” after Kellogg asked him for an early assessment of the team.

“He looks good,” Esho said.

Blue shoes was Brison Gresham, who was in sky-colored footwear. For most onlookers, the UMass roster was full of names to learn, with seven scholarship players who weren’t on the roster last year. Esho went out of his way after practice to talk to Gresham, the athletic 6-foot-7 freshman big man.

Unlike the end of the 2015-16 season, when even some of the players who were healthy enough to play couldn’t practice, Monday’s hour-long workout featured 15 able bodies. Only Springfield native Jaylen Franklin, who is expected to walk-on in the fall, wasn’t present.

“It feels good to have a full roster,” Kellogg said. “Being able to have 15 guys who can all play and practice will be good for us. It’s going to be more competitive. We have a lot of different options at a lot of positions. It’s going to be fun working with these new guys.”

The newcomers are among the most highly touted group ever to arrive at UMass. Led by DeJon Jarreau, the 6-3 guard from New Orleans who ESPN ranked the nation’s No 63 incoming freshman, the group’s play figures to dictate a lot of the program’s future and a fair amount of its present.

Kellogg said Jarreau, who teammates and coaches call “Deeky,” has the expectations in proper perspective.

“He’s been great. I think he realizes, this is tough. There are good players here and he has to work his tail off to live up to those expectations,” Kellogg said. “I want people to be excited. We need the Mullins Center to be full and to have people excited about our program. The more accolades we can put on our guys and so-called pressure is good. That’s great for the program.”

Jarreau agreed.

“It’s a lot of hard work you have to put in. You can’t come in and think you’ve got everything down pat. There’a lot of things you haven’t seen before,” he said. “They’re going to be expecting a lot from me. I just have to work hard and try to change stuff and try to give the fans what they’re looking for.”

Jarreau said the returning players have been welcoming.

“If you’re messing up, they’ll come and help you, talk to you about things you can do better and how you can improve,” he said.

Kellogg’s challenge is fostering competitiveness and chemistry from a team with minutes and shots up for grabs.

“The most important thing is to keep them as one and not talk too much about individuals. Let’s keep everything inclusive. I want it competitive, but I want them to have some fun while they’re competing,” he said. “When you have this many numbers, the guys that compete every day, will play.”

Gresham, fellow big man Chris Baldwin and guards Ty Flowers, Unique McLean and Jarreau all practiced for the first time. Guards Luwane Pipkins, who competed in the first summer session, and Zach Lewis, who practiced last season and in the first summer session, both sat out last year are preparing for their first seasons at UMass.

Kellogg said the added numbers and talent was immediately apparent.

“When you walk in, it looks like a major college basketball team. That’s the first step toward being one. You have to look like one,” he said. “Getting them to play that way is going to be trying at times. But there’s more talent. We’re longer. We’re more athletic. At some point we will be better.”

PUNTEY SUMMER — After a strong 2015-16 season in the NBA D-League, former UMass wing Raphiael Putney averaged 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 20.3 minutes for the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league team. In seven games he scored in double figures four times, including 15 vs. Chicago and 19 vs. Minnesota.

NEW NCAA TOURNAMENT RULE — The NCAA announced Monday that teams which earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament will now choose which subregional it’ll play its first tournament games.

According to Yahoo sports, the NCAA is also considering replacing the RPI with another computer rating system or de-emphasizing the RPI’s roll in selecting and seeding the field. That wouldn’t be in place until the 2018 tournament at the soonest.

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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