Healing the Wounds imogen fairs

On March 9th 2017, the University of Massachusetts fired long-time basketball coach Derek Kellogg. The firing came immediately after the teams loss down in Pittsburg in the first round of the A-10 Tournament. This was the beginning on an unfortunate spiral of events that began to unfold for the program.

The decision, made by current Athletic Director Ryan Bamford, came as a shock to some & a welcome sigh of relief to others. Piggybacking of the teams’ loss to St. Bonaventure just hours before it was met with considerable dissent from current and previous members of the UMass Basketball team.

Tweet by Maxie Esho addressing the firing of Derek Kellogg

Esho wasn’t the only former player that was so direct in their response to his firing, offering his opinion of the decision on twitter. With responses of thanks from many and criticism of the decision from others, Kellogg had no lack of support, yet the decision was irreversible.

Bamford addressed his decision the next day, after he allowed the dust to settle. “They are upset by change… They know Derek as their head coach, the one that recruited them. I hope they picked the University of Massachusetts for more than just who their coach is, but I’m not naïve enough to think that’s not one of the biggest reasons.” Little did Bamford know how much he foreshadowed the next few events.

In response to the snap decision UMass found themselves in a volatile situation. The search for a new coach that could lead UMass to success was underway. As reported by MassLive a number of coaches such as Micah Shrewsburry (Assistant coach, Boston Celtics), Pat Kelsey (Winthrop) were both in contention for the highly sought after position.

Eventually UMass decided on Pat Kelsey.

The day that Kelsey arrived on campus sparked a new era for the minutemen. He spent the day milling throughout the athletics departments, meeting other respective coaches and embarking on a huge public relations photo shoot for the school alongside AD Ryan Bamford. Shortly after Kelseys’ twitter handle and biography had been changed, alongside his pictures to reflect his new job as head coach of the Minutemen. Things seemed to be looking up, however it didn’t last long.

“I had absolutely no indication that this was on the horizon”, said Ryan Bamford, speaking of Kelseys’ swift departure from the program. Just thirty minutes before his first press conference, Kelsey asked permission to be released from his contract. This move was not only met by confusion but also anger from the UMass players. “Dude said he loved us like his sons” tweeted forward Zach Coleman, one of the most vocal players throughout this process. Another crack emerged in the team.

The race was on to find a replacement.

Micah Shrewsburry of the Celtics was back in the mix, but a new hopeful also appeared in the form of Matt McCall (Chattanooga). McCall did not look like the typical coach, at only 35 years old he was fresh faced and eager. It seemed like this could be the way for Bamford to win back the trust of the team.

Throughout the hiring process of McCall, the basketball team stayed quiet, staying off of twitter, and refusing to comment on how they felt about Kelsey or the ongoing hiring process. This was great for image, and on the surface may have reflected unity within the team. However it was not the unity that Bamford would have wanted.

The day McCall accepted his job as head coach; players began to drop like flies. The first was Zach Lewis, after noticeably missing from McCalls press conference news broke that he was leaving. Lewis, promising wing that transferred from Cansius this pass season, will be transferring to Iona as a grad transfer.

Shortly after this announcement, Zach Coleman and Seth Berger followed suit, both announcing they were transferring for their last remaining year of eligibility to with both players respectfully returning to their home states of Texas and Oregon.

The team seemed to be torn, and in a more volatile situation than before. They had lost three of their key players, but from an outside perspective, they were older & that gave McCall more wiggle room for recruiting.

That is, until he lost his star shooter.

Surprising everyone, Donte Clark declared for the 2017 NBA Draft without an agent and with one year of eligibility left. Refusing to comment on his situation, Clark simply told people to refer back to his twitter. He made it clear at how unhappy he was, whether it was transferring of entering the draft he was not going to stay.

Donte Clark

The team that was usually dynamic felt flat. Four out of the starting five players had stated that they were leaving; Bamfords’ worst fear for the team had come true.

But a glimmer of hope remained.

Sophomore Rashaan Holloway & Junior guard C.J. Anderson were both very receptive to McCall as a coach. The two players, who have both improved vastly in the past season look as though they will be securing a starting spot under the new coach if they are to stay on with the team. Holloway in particular, seemed to rebel against the norm of the team. “I don’t want a Google search to change my judgment” he said at McCalls’ press conference. At the conference, Holloway, the 6’11” gentle giant seemed visibly impressed when McCall spoke of his previous run with Florida to the Final Four. “He’s connected to places I want to go. You want to hear from people like that. You always want to hear from somebody that’s going to make you better as a person and a player” Holloway said in his final closing remarks of the conference.

Connections were what UMass was in need of. On Tuesday April 18th the duo that were once branded The New Orleans Connection, Dejon Jarreau and Brison Gresham announced that they were both transferring from the team.

Dejon Jarreau

A source close to the pair stated, “Whatever Deeky (Jarreau) does, Brison does, but they should have stayed and gave the new coach a chance”. Once again this seemed like a major setback for UMass. The two-prize freshmen were gone. Leaving one prospect behind, Unique Mclean.

Unique McLean

Sitting down with Unique was odd. The true freshman from Granby, MA had been fairly irrelevant his first year with the team. Unlike freshman counter parts Gresham and Jarreau, McLean had yet to see game time, instead red shirting his freshman year.

McLean was the glimmer of hope left over from the recruiting class of last year.

Wearing his black UMass tracksuit McLean spoke candidly about the future of the program. "I think we will have a pretty good season. He's a good coach. He has experience from coaching at Florida with Billy Donovan, who's now a coach for the NBA, he has great energy that rubs off and wants to win. We have a good environment. Its and honour to play for UMass and we should have a great season to come"

It is hard to not believe McLean, as the passion he has for the program is clearly apparent. Yet this is a student athlete who went to high school within close distance to the University. Attending The MacDuffie School, a private boarding school in Granby MA purely for the sake of playing basketball, McLean had only one school in mind when applying to colleges. Ignoring offers from his native New York schools, McLean now refers to Massachusetts as home.

Watching the semesters events unfold it is difficult to predict what will happen next for what remains of UMass Basketball. The loss of key players will be difficult to overcome and McCall must do all he can to keep who is left. But with loyal players to the university there is a chance that the wounds of this season can start to heal.

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Imogen Fairs
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Imogen Fairs Matt Vatour

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