Williams awaits tourney homecoming
AMHERST — Chaz Williams said he was excited to head to the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center, not far from where the University of Massachusetts senior point guard grew up in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y., but not entirely for reasons people might expect.
“I’m excited especially because I haven’t had a Brooklyn haircut in a long time. I have an appointment set up. It’ll be good to go home and get a haircut,” said Williams, whose been getting his hair cut by LeeLee since childhood.
He’s hoping his hair won’t be the only thing being scissored as he and the Minutemen will try to end a 17-year A-10 tournament title drought and cut down the nets at Barclays.
The Minutemen head to the New York borough as the No. 6 seed in the field. They’ll play No. 11 Rhode Island Thursday at 9 p.m.
Williams said that although there will be a lot of friends and family in attendance, there’s only one spectator he really needs to impress.
“I’ve been playing in front of my family and friends for a long time. It’s not excitement. It’s what can I do different this time to please those guys,” Williams said. “My mom is always tough on me. She’s a critic to my game. I always try to impress her. It’s hard to make her say ‘Wow!’ She’s seen it all from the little hoops to the big hoops.”
Williams did impress the A-10 coaches enough to be named to first all-conference team for the third straight time. Although honored by his selection, Williams was less enthusiastic about his teammates being shunned.
“We can use it as motivation. I have no comment on the A-10 and their voting,” Williams said.
Saint Louis’ Jordair Jett was named league player of the year. SLU’s Jim Crews was the coach of the year for the second straight season. Virginia Commonwealth’s Briante Weber was the defensive player of the year. Saint Joseph’s DeAndre Bembry and URI’s E.C. Matthews shared rookie of he year honors.
Kevin Larsen of George Washington (most improved player) and VCU’s Melvin Johnson (best sixth man) were also honored.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg thought Williams could have won player of the year.
“I thought he was player of the year in the conference, or at least pretty close,” he said. “Jett had a great year. Maybe if we win on Sunday, that changes the voting. We have nobody else on the team. Hopefully the guys take that as a little bit of a shot. Let’s go try and win this thing.”
All-district — In addition to conference honors, Williams was named to the All-District I team from the six New England states. Kellogg was named the district coach of the year.
Undefeated in conference tourneys — While conventional wisdom has UMass already assured of a spot in the NCAA Tournament, UMass sophomore guard Derrick Gordon isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I don’t want to leave it up to the (selection) committee. They can mess around and jerk us. I don’t want to leave it in their hands, and think if we lose, we’ll be fine,” Gordon said. “We’re not. There’s no telling what kind of seed we’re going to get in the NCAA Tournament. I’d rather just win the whole thing, get a good seed and go from there.”
Gordon is the only Minuteman who’s been part of a conference championship team. As a 2012 Western Kentucky freshman, Gordon helped lead the No. 7-seeded Hilltoppers to an unlikely run to the Sun Belt title, averaging 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds. If they’d lost any of the games, their season would have been over. Gordon said the Minutemen should take the same approach.
“We have to have the same mindset,” Gordon said. “This a different conference, but we have to win four games in four days as well.
Opening round — With 13 teams in the league this season, the Atlantic 10 changed its tournament format. All 13 teams now qualify, and all games are played in Brooklyn. The event kicks off tonight with No. 13-seed Fordham (9-20, 2-14 A-10) facing No. 12 Goerge Mason (11-19, 4-12) at 7.
Selection show — UMass will host an NCAA selection-show event at the Amherst Brewing Company at 6 p.m. Sunday. The players and coaching staff will be there unless the Minutemen advance to the A-10 finals, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. In that case, the team will stay in Brooklyn and watch the show there while the University Drive does its own thing without the players.
UMass is reportedly in consideration to be one of the featured schools on CBS’ broadcast.