UMass heads into critical summer after season-ending loss

  • UMass guard Tre Wood drives to the basket against George Washington’s Marcus Littles, left, in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Carl Pierre drives against George Washington’s Shandon Brown, right, and Marcus Little in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. J. Anthony Roberts

  • Jonathan Laurent, of UMass, shoots over George Washington’s Armel Potter in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass center Rashaan Hollway shoots over George Washington’s Marcus Littles in the first half of their Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round matchup, Wednesday at the Barclays Center in New York. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2019 7:23:15 PM

NEW YORK — Once the final buzzer sounded Wednesday afternoon at the Barclays Center, Matt McCall finally had permission to look forward.

In the aftermath of a disappointing 68-64 overtime loss to 12th-seeded George Washington in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the second-year UMass coach put his emphasis on change. It was more about the direction of the program than the actual result on the floor against the Colonials.

The chatter centered not on the lack of execution against George Washington’s man-to-man defense or the fact the Minutemen made just 10 of 22 from the free-throw line. Instead, it was an early preview of what lies ahead for McCall in what he deemed several times “the most important summer since I’ve been here.”

“Who we bring into our program right now with the guys that will be coming back, this is a huge, huge summer,” McCall said. “It’s a huge summer work-wise. It’s a huge summer for us to become a real team, a connected team where everybody is pulling and everybody is rooting for each other.”

For the past few months, McCall has boldly stated that major changes need to occur within the program. Some of that has begun with junior guard Luwane Pipkins announcing he will transfer for his final year of eligibility and more roster turnover is expected in the coming weeks. It’s a process of finding the players who will commit to McCall’s values for the program and help mold that vision for the future.

McCall said he had a lot of appreciation for Pipkins, senior Rashaan Holloway and redshirt sophomore Unique McLean, the three players on this year’s roster who predated McCall being hired. He said it wasn’t easy on them to put their faith in a new coach and that last season might have built unrealistic expectations heading into this season.

“There was kind of a roller-coaster year last year and then fast forward into this year, and you have all these guys sitting out,” McCall said. “Human nature is it’s going to be easy because we have more guys. It’s not easier, it’s harder and you have to have more buy-in and you have to work harder. You can’t just snap your finger and get to the Atlantic 10 Tournament and think you’re going to rope off five games in a row.”

The influx of new talent has begun again and the Minutemen already have three freshmen signed as part of next year’s class. However, McCall said they aren’t done just yet and UMass is still heavily interested in several current seniors to add for next year.

The goal at the end of the process is for McCall to hopefully avoid having to make the long, philosophical opening statements he’s given numerous times this season.

“Twelve, 13 guys on scholarships that are completely bought into what we’re doing,” McCall said. “Bringing a positive attitude every single day, having an appreciation for being here, that’s what we need. There will be some significant changes over the next two months to bring us to that point.”

McCall said he already has a sense of what types of changes he will be making in the coming weeks, but the final decisions will be made once he’s able to take a more holistic view of the season. The timeline, though, is very quick with the Minutemen set to take a foreign tour this August to the Virgin Islands, which is only five months away.

“We’ll take some time here and take a step back and really evaluate every aspect of our program from recruiting to strength and conditioning to individual instruction, everything,” McCall said. “That’ll happen over the next three to four weeks.”

There are certain players who will almost certainly return next season, sophomore Carl Pierre being chief among them. But then there are other utility players like Keon Clergeot, who scored a career-high 25 points Wednesday, and freshman Sy Chatman, who will also be back for the Minutemen. And those players understand the importance of the next six months before the process begins again for the 2019-2020 campaign.

“This summer could be huge for us as a team,” Chatman said. “If everybody gets better and we come to work over the summer, (we’ll) make sure we are going to have a lot better result at the end of next season.”




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