Keeping Score: A season of broken promises

Published: 5/17/2019 6:50:03 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 6:49:50 PM

Good morning!
Mike Parham and Tewahedo Haimanot do a sports podcast on the Apple platform called Say Less. They’re both from Boston and both attended UMass, where according to their LinkedIn accounts, Parham was enrolled in sport management and Haimanot graduated with honors.

Although most of their podcast banter is about the NBA and NFL, last month they snagged former UMass guard Luwane Pipkins. The 23-year-old Chicago native is transferring to play at Providence, and he wasn’t concerned about blowing up the bridge from Amherst to Rhody.

The Minutemen were 4-14 in the A-10 and 11-21 overall this past season under second-year coach Matt McCall. They tied for 12th in the conference and averaged 2,792 fans inside the 9,493-seat Mullins Center. “I thought we had a good team, thought we could do it, but as y’all saw, that ain’t happenin’,” said Pipkins, who averaged 16 points a game. “The players didn’t get along with the coaches, the coaches didn’t get along with the coaches (and) there was a lot of disorganization going around. The chemistry was kinda broken.” 

The 5-foot-11 Pipkins was recruited by former coach Derek Kellogg and signed his letter of intent in 2015. He was redshirted, played three seasons, graduated and is using his final year of eligibility to play for the Friars who were 18-16 under coach Ed Cooley. The Providence Journal called him a “star point guard… (but) the knock against him is that he’s always putting up big numbers for losing teams.” 

The Journal reported that Texas Tech, Iowa and Nevada were also interested, but that “Coach Cooley and his staff kept it real from the start and were very honest with me.”

At UMass, Pipkins said “off-court and on-court issues” had sent the Minutemen reeling: “Stuff like, this shot’s gonna be yours, plays are going to be run for you… He’d draw up a play for somebody and say, ‘This play’s gonna be for you.’ Like we’d run it in practice and never run it for the rest of the season. It was like, ‘All right man, I’m not touching the rock enough.’”

It’s time for a history lesson. Nine months after Ryan Bamford was named UMass athletic director on March 24, 2015, a woman filed a $75,000 lawsuit against Kellogg, assistant coach Lou Roe and two others claiming her civil rights had been violated. 

Ayanna Hickman alleged that in December 2012, Roe and assistant coach Shyrone Chatman had detained her in an office at the Mullins Center and told her not to talk negatively about the players and coaches on Facebook.

Hickman waited three years to file her lawsuit, and the story broke two months later when MassLive got wind of it. “Somebody emailed us and recommended we look at some court papers,” said MassLive reporter Michelle Williams. “We had people contact us.”

The case was settled, Kellogg was fired after his team went 15-18 in 2016-17, and Bamford named Pat Kelsey to be the new coach. Kelsey had taken the Winthrop (S.C.) Eagles to the NCAA tournament and the hiring was considered a significant move in the right direction, but Kelsey backed out a half-hour before his introductory press conference.

Insiders had said Kelsey’s wife didn’t like Amherst, but others said he’d stumbled into a pay-for-play culture. In his statement to the press, Bamford said Kelsey’s decision was “of a personal nature” and wouldn’t elaborate. 

An emergency search committee hired McCall away from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he was 48-18 in two seasons. (He replaced Will Wade, who was suspended by LSU this year for an alleged recruiting violation. Wade’s suspension has since been lifted.)

Half the team bolted after McCall was hired, including DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham who are now at the University of Houston, and Tyrn Flowers who joined Kellogg at LIU-Brooklyn.

The fallout continued again this season with Pipkins leaving for Providence, Tre Woods to LIU-Brooklyn, Curtis Cobb to Wagner and Unique McLean to whatever team wants him. “Players wanted to leave because they wasn’t happy,” said Pipkins. “Coaches was promising them stuff, how they said they was going to be treated… Empty promises, a lot of empty promises from everybody, players felt disrespected.”

Pipkins may also have unwittingly alluded to the aforementioned alleged pay-for-play culture: “Once DK left it just got strictly to business between me and any coach that comes in. I didn’t look to him for anything and he didn’t promise me anything but as for other players, he promised them a lot and they didn’t get their own promises.”

When last season ended, McCall fired three assistant coaches and hired Tony Bergeron who was 73-7 in two years at Woodstock (Conn.) Academy. Bergeron’s bringing three players who helped the Centaurs reach the national prep school quarterfinals — Tre Mitchell, T.J. Weeks and Preston Santos.

It’s a package deal reminiscent of when John Calipari landed Tony Barbee. The Indiana hoops star wanted his brother to come to UMass and Calipari complied. Chris Barbee never left the bench — but Calipari didn’t care because he played on the football team. Leave it to Coach Cal to get another team to take the hit.

UMass fans are excited about the upcoming season. Who knows, maybe this will finally be the team that wins 25 games. It looks good on paper, but so did Kellogg’s nationally-ranked recruiting class from a few seasons back that went kerplunk.

Whatever happens won’t matter to Pipkins. “Where do you see the program going?” asked Parham.

“I don’t give a damn where this program’s going,” he answered. “I ain’t gonna be here no more. I got my degree, I’m outta here. I was going through the motions and just playing the game because I had to. Nobody wanted to listen to each other and s*** went down from there.”

Apparently, character doesn’t matter much in Division 1 basketball, because if it did, Providence wouldn’t have given a scholarship to such a self-centered player as Luwane Pipkins.


Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at

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