Coach trying to create a more consistent Holloway

  • Above, UMass head coach Matt McCall motions to his players during the first half of their 101-76 win over Niagara in non-conference play at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Sunday. Below, UMass big man Rashaan Holloway goes in for a shot under pressure from UMass Lowell’s Stefan Borovac. gazette photos

  • UMass big man Rashaan Holloway goes in for a shot under pressure from UMass Lowell’s Stefan Borovac during the basketball season opener at the Mullins Center.

For The Recorder
Monday, November 20, 2017

AMHERST — Most of the time, UMass coach Matt McCall likes Rashaan Holloway.

McCall has said on numerous occasions that he wants good kids with character and Holloway fits the mold. But sometimes he’d like his big man to be a little feistier.

“He’s an unbelievable kid, almost too nice sometimes,” McCall said. “He’s such a good person, you have to wind him up sometimes to get him to be more aggressive and make him mad, say something to upset him, maybe about his hair or something. We have to continue to work with him on that.”

McCall has praised Holloway’s leadership, especially during the offseason coaching change and subsequent transition, and his willingness to embrace added work on his body.

“I just think Rashaan has to be more tenacious with everything he’s doing — grabbing rebounds, posting up, demanding post position in the lane, not being denied, scoring at will down there,” McCall said. “We’re running a lot of actions for him to get the ball because of how good he is. With that comes responsibility to make really aggressive moves and take care of the ball when he’s down there.

“He’s got to continue to work hard for position and not get frustrated when he is missed,” McCall said.

Holloway said even when opponents have built a game plan around taking him out of the game, he has to stay aggressive.

“We’re a team. We have multiple heads on the snake. If you take away the middle, it’s up to our guards to step up and make shots. A lot of teams are going to do that this year. We have to be prepared for that a lot,” he said. “They’re going to look to slow me down and Malik down and try to take us out of the game. You always have to be aggressive to open spots for the guards.

“I have to post up hard or I’m not going to get anyone else open,” he continued. “I have to expand my role and go out and rebound more and make plays for my team.”

Holloway will be by far the biggest player on the floor tonight at 7 when UMass hosts Western Carolina. The Catamounts have just one player taller than 6-foot-8 on its roster and nobody taller than 6-7 plays more than 10 minutes per game.

McCall warns not to be fooled by WCU’s lack of size. He expects a physical game.

He’d know. McCall’s UT-Chattanooga was a Southern Conference rival of WCU. They played five times in McCall’s two-year Tennessee tenure. His Mocs won four of the five meetings, including one in the conference tournament en route to UTC’s 2015 Southern title and NCAA tournament bid.

“Sometimes teams don’t have any idea or any feel until you get out on the floor. We’re trying to convey to our players: don’t be shocked at how physical this game is,” McCall said. “You’re going to get fouled, you’re going to get hit, you’re going to get bumped. Don’t even look at the referee. Keep playing.”

Physical or not, the Catamounts have had their hands full early. They’re 1-3 so far. The win came against Hawasse College, a non-Division I foe, while their three losses have all come vs. Power Five opponents and all three — Clemson (85-57), Cincinnati (102-51) and Minnesota (92-64) — have been blowouts.

Like Niagara, the game is an on-campus part of the Barclays Center Classic, which moves to Brooklyn, Friday and Saturday.

Matt Halvorsen, a 6-foot-1 freshman guard leads WCU with 11.5 points per game and is the top 3-point shooter at 42.9 percent. He’s the only double-digit scorer so far.

The Catamounts also feature senior Haboubacar Mutumbo, the nephew of finger-wagging basketball Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutumbo. Unlike his famous uncle, Haboubacar is a guard at 6-foot-5 and has no blocked shots this season. He’s averaging just 5.5 points per game so far, but he averaged 11.7 last year and could be due for a breakout.