McCall learned from adversity of UMass season

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall said he has learned from adversity in his two seasons in Amherst. File Photo

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall shouts instructions during his team's loss to Howard on Nov. 16, 2018 at the Mullins Center. File Photo

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall applauds his team during its win against Farleigh Dickinson on Dec. 21, 2018, at the Mullins Center. File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 3/14/2019 9:14:34 PM

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Wednesday wasn’t the first time Matt McCall has launched into a story about his experiences at Florida.

Countless times this season, the second-year UMass coach has tried to relate a situation back to what he knows the best – his experiences under Billy Donovan with the Gators. The difference Wednesday was that McCall was honest about how that experience might not have adequately prepared him for what he was facing at UMass. 

At Florida, McCall was able to witness what a basketball program should look like when everything is going well. When he became a head coach at Chattanooga, he took over a program full of players who had put together consecutive winning seasons and understood what it took to take the next step. Neither of those attributes were there when he took over at UMass and watched most of his roster transfer out of a program that had gotten used to losing. 

After a season-ending 68-64 overtime loss to George Washington in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, McCall said all of the adversity of the previous two years was designed to teach him exactly what he needed to do to turn the Minutemen back into winners.

“I’ve been spoiled,” McCall said. “I was on the bench for two national championships. I’ve been an assistant coach in the Final Four, SEC championships. I was a head coach in the NCAA Tournament, won a regular-season title and a conference title. Sometimes, you’ve got to go through this stuff to see exactly what needs to be done and that’s where I’m at. It’s been the most challenging two years of my life, but I’ve become a better coach and a better leader because of it.”

There will be plenty more turnover during this summer as McCall fine-tunes the roster to fit into his coaching style and the players he can mold. That mindset translates into recruiting, where McCall now has a better understanding of the type of player he wants to bring to UMass. He said he wants to use his experience as a head coach over the last four years to find out the personalities that mesh best with his coaching style and which ones might not mix as well.

“It's time for this team to take a step forward,” McCall said. “I've had to go through some of this stuff to see exactly what we need and to see who I can coach. As a head coach over the last four years, what are similar personalities to guys who I have done a really good job with and guys who I've struggled with.”

The chief attribute among what McCall is looking for is the sense of pride in the UMass written across the chest of the black, maroon or white jerseys the Minutemen wear. In mid-February, McCall banished his team from the Champions Center because he didn’t think the players had enough respect for the program’s history, a feeling that didn’t seem to dissipate much after the fact.

It showcased itself mostly during games with the inconsistency the Minutemen showed from half to half and game to game. Even during Wednesday’s loss to George Washington, UMass displayed just how unpredictable the team could be. The Minutemen made 10 of their first 13 shots and racked up five assists in the first 7:12 of the game, yet made just 13 baskets the rest of the way while only dishing out two assists. 

“That’s an inconsistent team and to me that goes back to culture,” McCall said. “That goes back to buy-in. That goes back to being a connected team 100 percent and I’ve said it a thousand times, I take ownership for where we are, and we’re going to get it right, we’re going to get it fixed. We’re going to get it corrected and the 12, 13 guys that will be out there for UMass are going to be the 12, 13 guys that have an unbelievable amount of appreciation for the opportunity to play at this school each and every day.”

McCall’s biggest rallying cry, though, was finding a way to inject a positive mindset into the program after two years of disappointment and frustration. He said everyone from the coaching staff to the players to the managers have to buy into a new brand of positivity that can help take the Minutemen to new heights. 

“We need a lot more positivity in our program in order to win, and win at a high, high level,” McCall said. “You have to get 12, 13, 14 guys that are completely connected and about all the right things and are completely bought in with everything that we’re doing.”

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