Last winter, many of the players expected to lead a revival at UMass were playing in high school gyms.
DeJon Jarreau was a McDonald’s All-American nominee in Louisiana. Brison Gresham and Chris Baldwin were playing together nearby in Springfield, Mass., and Unique McLean was even closer in Granby, Mass. Tyrn Flowers wasn’t far away either, in Connecticut.
But you can’t forget about two guys who were playing pick-up at the rec center.
Easily lost amid the incoming freshmen are Class of 2015 academic non-qualifier Luwane Pipkins and Canisius transfer Zach Lewis, both of whom spent last season playing games at a smaller gym on campus.
“We’d go up to the rec center and beat up on some of those guys up there,” Canisius transfer Zach Lewis said giggling a little. “If we’re on the same team, it’s a long day up there at the rec.”
They better have beaten up on the guys in there.
The 5-10 Pipkins was a four-star recruit according to ESPN, and was considered a strong 2015 Illinois Mr. Basketball contender, along with players like Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Michigan-by-way-of-Kentucky’s Charles Matthews (Brunson won the award). As you might expect, he comes in with an attitude, according to this quote he gave MassLive.com:
“You can expect a dog. A dog all around," he said of his playing style. "Chicago has, in my eyes, the best and toughest players. And coming from Chicago, defense is what I was known for. I take pride in my defense. People watch me and they see how competitive I am."
Jabarie Hinds and Trey Davis are gone, but Derek Kellogg has talked about the depth of this year’s team and how it will let the Minutemen play at a faster pace than last year, when they ranked 60th in adjusted tempo according to KenPom.com. Jarreau may well start alongside returning guards Donte Clark and C.J. Anderson, but Pipkins’ motor should land him a role in Kellogg’s up-tempo system right away.
Lewis should also factor heavily into the rotation. Unlike the rest of the newcomers, he has an established Division I track record.
The junior averaged 30.4 minutes per game over his two seasons at Canisius and owns a double-figure career scoring average (11.0 points per game). That includes big performances in 2014-15 against Manhattan (25 points), Iona (24 points), Monmouth (31 points) and Lehigh (24 points).
Lewis regressed considerably as a three-point shooter in his sophomore year (31.5 percent on 238 attempts), but was highly effective as a freshman (38.9 percent on 162 attempts). Just splitting the difference -- on what will likely be fewer opportunities — would be huge for the Minutemen since Hinds and Davis were the two best three-point shooters last season.
For many programs, a talent like Pipkins and transfer like Lewis would be reason for excitement on its own. That they’re coming in alongside a highly regarded recruiting class makes UMass an even more intriguing team.