The UMass Lowell men’s basketball team are prepared for their first season of Division I eligibility. The team believes this is due in large part to the 10-day Italy trip back in August where everyone on the team got to improve and bond together before the season begins Nov. 10. The program will now be able to compete in the America East Basketball tournament and have a chance at competing in the NCAA tournament.
“It hasn’t changed our approach [to the season]. Year five is an arbitrary number set by the NCAA. Year five is [going to] come, and year five is [going to] go,” said head coach Pat Duquette. “My approach all along has been, ‘well we’re not trying to be good in year five. We’re trying to be good every year and build this thing and sustain it.’ So yes, there’s an added excitement because we’re eligible to play in the tournament, but it really hasn’t changed our approach in being successful on a day to day basis and building this thing beyond year five as well.”
Guard Matt Harris is taking his senior year with patience and excitement over the possibilities the season has with postseason eligibility and the development of the team.
“We don’t know when our season is going to end,” Harris said. “Before, [we knew] what day we were ending [the season on], but now after our regular season ends, we’re not going to go home from there.”
Junior guard Ryan Jones is coming off a breakout season and spoke on the mentality the team has had with postseason eligibility becoming a reality and the mentality he has going into this season.
“Now that we’re eligible, there’s more energy in practice, a little more fire,” said Jones. “As long as I can conquer myself, which I think I’m learning to do, I don’t think anyone can stop me.”
Duqette and senior guard Jahad Thomas believe the team has plenty of room to grow and improve. Specifically, they spoke about sophomore guard Rinardo Perry who has grown into one of the key cogs in the team. Duqette and Thomas believe Perry can grow even more as a player to help the team achieve its goals this upcoming season.
Even with all the praise, Perry said, “I just want to be the best player that I can be.”
The players and coaches went on the first overseas trip in program history this past summer, playing in three games against professional teams. The trip to Italy was described as a bonding experience for the team by Duquette.
“I’d be surprised if it doesn’t serve this group really well this year,” Duquette said. “[It helped] speed up our development as a team.”
Duquette said that the players feel more prepared mentally for this season than in years past and plan on working out the little details before the season opener against UMass Amherst on Nov. 10.
The River Hawks are welcoming in four new players this season: two freshmen guards Joey Naccarato and Obadiah Noel and two transfer guards Shawn Jones and Christian Lutete.
“Everyday they’ve got a chance to prove themselves,” Duquette said. “They [have to] earn it. We’ve got to see it in games, but I’m happy with what they’ve done now. They’re at a good stage in their development. They’re probably ahead of where most of our news guys have been because of the Italy trip.”
Thomas is taking his role as a leader on this team in stride as he prepares for his final year at UMass Lowell.
“My main focus is take it one game at a time. I want to do something big here,” said Thomas. “I’m just trying to go out there and lead this group where I can to make that happen.”
Josh Gantz received the most praise from Duquette and his teammates. They all believe that he can have a big impact on this team with his defense and his ability to space the floor on offense. Gantz is coming off a season-ending leg injury, and he said that the Italy trip helped him mentally as he had the opportunity to get game reps in.
“Our vibe is with a chip on our shoulder. Everything has come up to this point,” Ganz said. “We’re finally eligible this year. I think we’re all just ready to attack this season and ready to go as hard as we can the entire season for as long as we can.”