Walfish: Timing ideal for UMass basketball to head overseas

  • Josh Walfish

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2019 6:11:29 PM

AMHERST — There’s never really a bad time for a college basketball program to take an international trip, but there are really two ideal times for it.

The best moment is when there’s a big season coming up, one that is full with expectations and could be a momentous turning point. The other is when you have a bunch of new players and need the extra time and games to help create chemistry and team unity.

As luck would have it, those are the situations the UMass basketball programs are in as they head off on their overseas tours.

In the case of Tory Verdi and the women’s basketball team, the trip to Portugal that began Friday came at the right time for the trajectory of the program. The Minutewomen are coming off their best season in more than a decade and return most of the critical pieces off a team that won a game in the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time in Verdi’s tenure. They also add a talented freshman class that should be able to help UMass compete in the Atlantic 10 on a nightly basis.

Anytime a new coach is hired, the expectations are that by the fourth year the program would be headed in the right direction. Verdi was able to steer the ship in his third year, but this is the season he’s been dreaming about since he took the job in 2016. He has a team that has bought into playing for UMass and the depth to allow Verdi to play more players without a tremendous dropoff.

Verdi has wanted to go on a trip like this one for the past two seasons as well, but there were several factors that required more planning. Now he has the chance to take his team to Europe, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Minutewomen.

“I’m so happy we didn’t go the last two years,” Verdi said. “This is the right year to go because I feel like with where we are with our program, it gives us the opportunity to have 10 practices and work with our team, but also the opportunity to go and really just grow together as a team, do things together as a team and get that bond both on and off the court. This was the year to go and I’m excited about it.”

Matt McCall and the men’s team find themselves in the other ideal situation for an overseas trip. The Minutemen aren’t going nearly as far as the women – just down to the U.S. Virgin Islands – but for them the games are far less important than the extra practice time the NCAA allots teams going on an international trip.

This year is a giant reset button for McCall and the UMass program considering half of the roster is freshmen and the staff is basically brand new. It’s going to take some time for the Minutemen to install everything they want to have in place before Nov. 5 rolls around. That includes all of the new presses and offensive plays that McCall couldn’t run the previous two years.

For these 10 practices in the summer, McCall can work more extensively with his players to teach those concepts. And if he sees there are issues with execution, he has two months to fix it as opposed to learning about the struggles on opening night and having to scramble to fix it. It’s a luxury for UMass that it will need with a challenging nonconference preceding a 18-game slog through the much-improved Atlantic 10.

This is a critical seasons for both programs in different ways, which makes the next two weeks vital for the Minutemen and Minutewomen. Regardless of the results in Portugal or the U.S. Virgin Islands, McCall and Verdi will return to Amherst with a keen awareness of how to make the 2019-20 season special for their teams.

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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