UMass senior Carl Pierre becomes leader of young, talented Minutemen

  • UMass senior guard Carl Pierre drives to the basket during preseason practice. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is adjusting to a new set teammates for the fourth time in his career. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior guard Carl Pierre dribbles around cones during preseason practice. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is adjusting to a new set teammates for the fourth time in his career. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass men’s basketball coach Matt McCall watches preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Sports Editor
Published: 11/13/2020 6:33:30 PM

It hasn’t been a smooth three years of college basketball for Carl Pierre.

“I would say it’s been interesting,” Pierre said.

The Boston native arrived at UMass as an unheralded recruit, a June addition to complete first-year coach Matt McCall’s incoming class.

Pierre, who starred at Boston College High School, believed he was Division I material but the offers weren’t there. He played well enough during the spring AAU season to increase interest, but he was set on attending prep school. McCall called, Pierre changed his mind, and the two have the been the lone constants in a program that has seen a revolving door of players over the last three years.

“There’s been a lot of ups, lots of downs, a lot of building, a lot of eye toward progressing and I think we are starting to do that,” Pierre said. “We’ve been working tirelessly for three years to progress to the point we want to get to and I think we’re continuing to do that.”

The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is adjusting to a new set teammates for the fourth time in his career. Of the 16 players from his freshman season, six left for one reason or other. Ten players from his sophomore squad left the program. Nine players left from last year’s team. The eight newcomers for the 2020-21 season bring Pierre’s college teammate tally to 38.

In fact, Pierre is the only remaining player from his sophomore year.

“I’ve had to learn on the fly and it’s something that you have to deal with and move on from,” Pierre said. “There’s been a lot of introductions and I think I learned a lot from that.”

McCall has been there every step of the way. The fourth-year coach has been trying to find the right mix of players, but what has been clear through the entire process is that one of those guys has been the overlooked guard who averaged 22 points and eight rebounds leading the B.C. High Eagles to the 2017 Catholic Conference title.

“It’s not easy,” McCall said of the constant turnover. “It’s not easy and when you are rebuilding a program and trying to get it going in the direction that everyone wants it to and the direction it’s headed in now, those things have to happen and there is turnover. It would be easy for him to walk out the door. He never did that. He never wavered. He was loyal to this school, he was loyal to this program and I think it speaks volumes of the type of person he is.”

Pierre has been a role model for the Minutemen. He earned his undergraduate degree in three years and will have his master’s by the end of his fourth. His teammates look up to him, including sophomore big man Tre Mitchell, the reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and first-team preseason pick.

“First and foremost he leads by example,” Mitchell said. “You want to look at a UMass student-athlete, you look at Carl Pierre. He does everything right, he does what he’s told, he handles himself off the court, he’s been an unbelievable leader for the newcomers and getting everyone familiar with the program and what is expected of us.”

Pierre’s leadership will be critical as the Minutemen embark on a season that’s starting the middle of the pandemic. UMass is scheduled to open the year against Siena (Nov. 26) in Bubbleville, a multiteam event at Mohegan Sun. However, Siena paused all team activities on Friday due to two positive COVID tests among Teir 1 personnel, which includes athletes and coaches. Iona, UMass’s third opponent in the event, paused team activities on Thursday due to cases. While no decision has been made, both games are in jeopardy of being canceled.

As one of two senior scholarship players for the Minutemen, Pierre has stressed the importance of every day, especially during this challenging time.

“Approach is a big thing,” he said. “You can’t take days for granted. You can’t waste days. You have to make the most of every day and I think I try to make that clear to our guys.”

The other senior scholarship player is Mark Gasperini, a 6-10 graduate transfer from American. (Senior guard Brady Antonopoulos is a walk-on.)

Returning from last season are sophomore wing Preston Santos, sophomore guard Kolton Mitchell, redshirt freshman T.J. Weeks and junior forward Dibaji Walker.

Sophomore guard Noah Fernandes transferred into the program from Wichita State. Freshmen Javohn Garcia (guard), Dyondre Dominguez (forward), Cairo McCrory (guard) and Ronnie DeGray III (forward) are part of McCall’s highly anticipated recruiting class. (Freshman guard Ryan Marcus is a walk-on).

“These guys are pretty hungry,” Pierre said. “They’re hungry to win, they’re hungry to make a statement, and I’m excited to be around guys like that.”

Seven of the Minutemen have come through Woodstock Academy, a prep school in Connecticut. Pierre has seen their familiarity with each other come through in practice.

“You can kind of tell that these guys are familiar with one another both on and off the court, but especially in terms of chemistry on the court,” he said. “They definitely show that they’ve played together before.”

Nobody on the team, though, can match Pierre’s experience. He has started 85 of the 96 games he’s appeared in during his career, including every game the last two seasons. Pierre’s numbers don’t jump off the chart. He’s averaged 12.1 points, 1.4 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game during his career. Yet he averaged 31.8 minutes per game through his first three seasons.

“I want Carl to be Carl,” McCall said. “I want him to shoot open shots, to create offense for us at times. I want him to be the most reliable defender out there on the court like he’s shown he’s completely capable of. I think rebounding for us is a big thing. I think we need him to be one of our better rebounders as well, and I think he just has to continue doing what he’s been doing. He’s always led by example.”

Pierre’s been a part of 24 different starting lineups in his career, and that number will grow this season. His presence in the lineup will benefit the underclassmen.

“What I’ve seen from him just on a daily basis is his leadership and I think we’ve got young guys now that want to be lead,” McCall said. “They want to be coached, they want to be taught, they want to be in the gym and they see him constantly in the gym, and that’s something they follow.”

Pierre and McCall have grown together. Pierre said their relationship is “special.”

“We’ve gone through some challenges, some difficult times, but that’s what happens,” McCall said. “It’s one of those relationships that’s way beyond ball and we’ll have it for a lifetime.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA has granted an additional year of eligibility to athletes. It’s possible Pierre could return to the Minutemen next season. While nothing has been decided yet, the thought sounds just fine for McCall.

“I would love to coach Carl Pierre one more year,” he said.

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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