UMass basketball: Frank Martin evaluates new roster additions

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-18-2023 5:18 PM

AMHERST – Relationship building begets the UMass men’s basketball program coach Frank Martin wants it to become. He’s bringing in six freshmen during a national enthrallment with the transfer portal because he’s gotten to know them since he was hired. One of the Minutemen’s marquee nonconference games this fall will come directly from one of his longest coaching kinships when West Virginia visits the MassMutual Center on Dec. 16 in the HoopHall Classic. Martin has a better relationship with UMass and the people who help make the program go.

“A year ago my head was spinning. I had no idea where I was coming and going. We were taking players and we were recruiting that I kind of knew because I had recruited them out of high school, I had too much stuff going on,” Martin said. “We’ve got some challenges of a basketball program that I’m not going to make public that I had no idea about last year. I do now. But I’m at peace with that. All these players are people we spent a lot of time involved with.”

The freshman class includes four fall signees: forward Robert Davis Jr., Marqui Worthy, Jayden Ndjigue and Sawyer Mayhugh.

“I still believe in high school recruiting, I still believe in relationships, it’s who I am,” Martin said. “I want to find a group of guys that want to be here and are gonna want to grow in the direction that we were trying to create here, and just be willing to fight for that direction every day, and I still think they’re out there.”

Seven-foot-three South Sudan native Mathok Majok joined the group from Bridgeport Prep in Connecticut after reclassifying. Martin first noticed him at an AAU event when he was watching Mayhugh. He sent (at the time UMass assistant) Derek Kellogg to inquire. Kellogg confirmed that he was good.

“Moves his feet, can run. And not just forward and backward, but he can get side to side. Shot blocking is usually a defensive slide into a jump, well he can do that,” Martin said. “He can defend the ball screen, and the last part is he catches the ball. If you can’t catch, you can’t play offensive basketball.”

Martin relied on several longstanding relationships to bring Curry aboard. He’s a four-star recruit according to ESPN that Martin originally tried to bring to South Carolina.

“He’s a magician with the ball, mean as a rattlesnake as a basketball player on the court, shoots it better now than he did two years ago,” Martin said. “But he’s got to become a much better three point shooter.”

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His uncle Lakeem Jackson played for Martin at South Carolina. Curry’s father asked Martin to recruit Jaylen to UMass.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, you guys ain’t coming.’ I knew him well enough, I can speak to him a certain way from the word go. I said ‘you guys ain’t coming to school up here,’” Martin said.

Curry’s father told Martin how much Jaylen loved him and wanted to be around him. Martin flew to North Carolina to visit with them.

“They were great and just wanting to be here, wanting to be around me, the whole deal. That was important to them,” Martin said. “Every conversation was about winning.”

Martin tried to build a class that cares about winning and wants to be with him at UMass. They all have vibrant personalities he enjoys being around.

“They got a smile, they joke, they express themselves in a great way. They’re upbeat,” Martin said. “When we lost (point guard) Noah (Fernandes with an injury – and eventually a transfer to Rutgers), we became a very quiet team. I struggle with that. I say it all the time, when the only voice you hear is my voice, that’s a problem. That’s what we became, a team where you only heard my voice, and that’s not good.”

Their exuberance speaks to their confidence in themselves and their self awareness.

“These guys let you know who they are, and they’re not embarrassed by who they are. Doesn’t mean they’re perfect, doesn’t mean they will say stupid stuff, but they’re willing to let you know,” Martin said.

With most of the freshman class in place in the fall, Martin was able to fill needs on the roster with transfers in the spring. He brought in just two as opposed to the seven from the previous cycle: Northeast Conference Co-Player of the Year Josh Cohen from Saint Francis and South Carolina transfer Daniel Hankins-Sanford.

Cohen was one of the most efficient scorers in the country last season and posted two 40-point games.

“Any time you’re the player of the year in a Division 1 basketball conference, you’ve done something right. He helped, in his time at St. Francis Pa., he helped them win, which is important,” Martin said. “We struggled scoring the ball near the basket, that was a problem, and getting to the foul line... those are the two things he does. The more I spoke to him, the more he dragged me into wanting to be around him.”

Martin recruited Hankins-Sanford at South Carolina. He was a high school teammate of Curry that didn’t attract a ton of high-major interest when he entered the transfer portal after averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

“We don’t have anybody like Daniel, athletic, big hands, pretty good shooter,” Martin said. “A lot of people recruited statistics, and if you go look his statistics are not very impressive. Well, I recruited him out of high school, so I believed that he could help us be Kentucky in his college career. There’s no doubt in my mind that he can help us win games here.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>