Ryan Jones and Joshua Gantz will captain a young core to potential success this year (Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
The UMass Lowell men’s basketball team will be starting a new chapter this season in their sixth year in division I history with senior captains Ryan Jones and Joshua Gantz leading the way. The River Hawks will be starting new this year having two 1,000-point players in Jahad Thomas and Matt Harris both graduate this past season.
“It’s such a great and different group this year. We are so young so I’m hesitant to put a number for wins, but we’ve outperformed people’s expectations every year. We finish 5th or 6th in the league every time, yet we’ve been picked last almost every year,” said head coach Pat Duquette.
Coach Duquette is entering his 6th year as the program’s head coach. Duquette has overseen the entirety of the transition from Division II to Division I.
“The university understands it’ll take time to grow,” Duquette said. “But I was convinced they wanted to win here. And I was convinced we could win here.”
This past year the River Hawks had their first taste of postseason play tying a program record of 12 wins and qualified for the conference tournament. The River Hawks led but eventually fell to the NCAA tournament Cinderella story of UMBC in the America East conference playoffs. Now with their senior year ahead of them, the captains look back.
“Your focus just changes as you get older. As a freshman you might be fighting for your spot and proving you belong, but now we want to win,” said Gantz. “For me it’s rebounding. I want to improve on both the defensive and offensive glass. Plus, I want to improve my field goal percentage.”
Jones also wants to make the most out of his senior year as well.
“When you come in you try to learn from the guys who are already here. I think I’ve been put into a good position to succeed,” said Jones. “Taking away a little form each one of them and improving my game. Consistency is where I want to improve. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs my first few years.”
Both players always bring it back to the team.
“For us and the team, the ultimate goal is to win the America East. Both the regular season and the tournament,” said Gantz.
The River Hawks want to improve on their 12-18 record from last year that had them finishing sixth in the conference. This year, the team consists of a very young core with only three seniors and two juniors while also adding seven freshmen to the group and filling out the team with second year players. Both the coach and captains agree on the biggest area of improvement for the upcoming 2018-2019 regular season: defense.
“Defense is always being an area we have emphasized,” said coach Duquette. “We’ve been very good these past few years on offense, but our defense is definitely an area want see growth in.”
Duquette will try to help the River Hawks improve on their defense but also build on an already efficient River Hawk offense. As a team that consistently finishes in the top tier of offense statistics in the America East conference, they will look to once again reach postseason play with excellent ball movement and unselfish scoring.
“We play our best when we move the ball and play more freely,” said Gantz. “When we don’t care who shoots, as long as we’re getting good looks, that’s when we play our type of basketball.”
The UMass Lowell men’s basketball team will begin their regular season away against the UMass Amherst Minutemen at Mullins Center Tuesday, Nov. 6 viewable on NESN. The River Hawks will have their season opener on Nov. 10 against Wagner at the Costello Athletic Center.