How Can UMass Harness the Recruiting Power of Massachusetts?

Shabazz NapierAs we all know, UConn won the national championship Monday night defeating the University of Kentucky 60-54 in North Texas. Again, as we all know, they were led by their star point guard Shabazz Napier, winner of the AAC Player of the Year, the Bob Cousy Award, and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament.

What we all may not know is that Napier was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, attended Charlestown High School for two years and then finished his career at Lawrence Academy in Groton, MA.

Thinking about UMass recruiting, this really pisses me off and it should piss you off too! UMass should not be losing out on top recruits born and raised in our own state. UMass has a huge advantage over other schools when doing in-state recruiting based on name recognition and a huge alumni presence. The fact that Shabazz would rather go to Storrs, CT where cows outnumber people*, the basketball players are starving, and the most exciting day of the year is when the local dairy barn opens, is just plain wrong.

*Source: I made that up

This is not an isolated trend either. The cream of the crop of Massachusetts basketball has been leaving our beautiful commonwealth for greener pastures for years. Nerlens Noel, born in Malden and played ball at Everett and Tilton, went to Kentucky. Michael Carter Williams, born in Hamilton, MA, went to Syracuse. Now I can’t blame Napier, Noel, and Carter Williams for going to the schools they did. These are top programs with elite coaches who are in the running for a national championship year after year. But it boggles my mind that the best Massachusetts players are going to schools out of state that have equal to or worse basketball programs than UMass. Massachusetts consistently turns out top tier college basketball players and there is no reason for them not to consider playing in Amherst.

If you look at the top 8 Massachusetts recruits on 247Sports.com in 2014 and the the schools they committed to, this cruel recruiting diaspora becomes abundantly clear

Player Stars Committed
1. Goodluck Okonoboh 5 Stars UNLV(did not make the tourney this year, 0-4 in the last 4 years in tournament play)
2. Kaleb Joseph 4 Stars Syracuse (understandable, they had a decent season)
3. Matt Cimino 3 Stars GW(are you kidding me!?!?)
4. Jarvis Garrett 3 Stars URI (There are literally no words to describe how fucked up this is)
5. Alec Brennan 3 Stars Princeton (Tied for 3rd in the Ivy League…at least pick Harvard dude)
6. Jacquil Taylor 3 Stars Purdue (finished last in the Big10)
7. Daxter Miles 3 Stars West Virginia (lost in the first round of the NIT)
8. Max Hoeztl 3 Stars Indiana (finished 8th in the Big 10…embarrassed themselves by missing the NIT and refusing to play in the CBI)
Goodluck Okonoboh Boston

Goodluck Okonoboh, of Wilbraham, MA, will be swapping this Boston jersey for one that says Las Vegas

Besides Syracuse, UMass had a better season this year than all of the schools on this list. Then why are they so much better at recruiting? One could argue that they are banking on their winning history to lure in recruits. They have storied final four histories, recent top ten rankings, and national championships under their belt. However by that logic, UMass should be able to reach the same recruits. We have a history of top ten rankings, a final four appearance, and now a very recent NCAA tournament appearance (albeit not a great one).

If UMass wants to take its basketball program to the next level, UMass recruiting needs to step up to the next level and attract top local talent. This is a goal that should be attainable in the next 5 years.

3 reasons why the Minutemen can attract top Massachusetts talent in the next 5 years.

1. A Bright Future

As Adam wrote last week, Chaz Williams has left behind a winning tradition in Amherst. This season, the Minutemen were ranked as high as #13, started the season 10-0, and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years. From now on the coaching staff, the players, and the fans are confident in their team and expect not only to make the tournament next season, but to win at least a game or two. Coach Kellogg should be pitching to all the Massachusetts recruits that they have a chance to do something special. They have an opportunity to build on the hard work of Chaz, Putney and Sampson and bring UMass Basketball to the type of success it had in the 90s.

2. Coach Kellogg:

The head coach of a basketball team is by far the most important tool in recruiting. In college basketball, they can attain almost god-like status. Tom Izzo at Michigan State, John Calpari at Kentucky, Rick Pitino at Louisville, and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke come to mind in that category. While Coach Kellogg does not have quite the reputation as these guys, he has started to get some major national attention. Back in January he was in the discussion for national coach of the year

Best Coaching JobsKellogg has also proven that he is a winner. In addition, to coming off of three straight 20+ win seasons, hecan now say that he has NCAA tournament experience as a head coach. With that type of pedigree, there is no excuse to be losing recruits to URI.

 3. The new UMass Basketball Champions Center

Currently, the basketball team practices at the Curry Hicks Cage which was built in 1931. An 83 year old court that doubles as an indoor track certainly does not scream “potential National Champion”. I can’t imagine recruits visiting campus are too excited by the prospect of practicing a gym older than their grandparents. Expected to be completed this fall, the UMass Basketball Champions center is a $28.5 million basketball only facility. It is a 53,000 square foot complex with state of the art practice courts, weight room, film room, and locker rooms. If UMass wants to attract big time college recruits, it needs to prove that it is serious about big time college basketball, and the construction of the champions center is a big step. With this addition, recruits will from Massachusetts will have a much harder time looking past Amherst.

UMass Champions Center

 

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