Introductions over as Frank Martin opens UMass basketball practice

  • Frank Martin and the UMass men's basketball program opened practice this week at the Champions Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Frank Martin and the UMass men's basketball program opened practice this week at the Champions Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS—Chris Tucci

  • Point guard Noah Fernandes is one of just a handful of returning UMass men's basketball players this season. The Minutemen opened practice this week. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS—Chris Tucci

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2022 7:32:32 PM
Modified: 9/28/2022 7:32:34 PM

AMHERST — The summer allows for self improvement. The season demands sacrifice.

New coach Frank Martin and the largely new-look UMass men’s basketball team gathered for the first time this week for the opening of official practices. They’ve been introduced, but now they can get to know each other.

“We’ve got a lot of habit changing, anytime you’re asking people to change habits – I’m not saying it’s going from wrong to right or right to wrong, it’s just different – because I like things to be done differently. Anytime you’re asking people to change habits it’s an uncomfortable beginning,” Martin said. “We’re all in the same boat, same page, and that’s what we’re going through. That’s how you learn about people. Now it’s about sacrificing. We start understanding each other a little bit better now.”

Eleven new players populate the roster. Three followed Frank Martin from South Carolina, including his son Brandon Martin as a graduate transfer, but the rest are unfamiliar with their new coach and how he approaches the game.

“We’re gonna play completely different,” Martin said. “Everyone else is trying to adapt. I coach a physical brand of basketball, and not too many people still play that way. I believe in setting screens. I believe in contact.”

He doesn’t put the ball in one player’s hands and let him direct traffic and make plays. His system demands movement and connection. Movement emerges from screens. Setting a screen sacrifices one player’s body and scoring opportunities for someone else, for the team. Martin, a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, compares it to football. No play works without the offensive line executing blocks.

“Right now, we’re trying to create the habits where we’re at peace with contact,” Martin said. “We’re not there. We’re not there. But the only way you fix that is repetition, repetition, repetition.”

The Minutemen have dedicated their first few weeks to learning Martin’s offense, its basic sets and principles for attacking defenses. Then they’ll address basic out-of-bounds plays and eventually situational out of bounds plays.

“There’s a basic fundamental that we have to have for all those things that we’ll put in over the next two weeks,” Martin said.

The players have largely taken to Martin’s approach. Everyone has good days and confusing days, he said, but that’s expected among a new group adjusting to new surroundings and expectations. They’re all building something new.

“We’re all new here. You can’t build culture without building relationships first,” Martin said. “We have no culture because we’re not there yet. I don’t say that as a negative. A culture is not those words that you see on the wall. Culture is who we are. Every time we step out there, and we’re not there yet. We’ll get there. I’m stubborn, and I don’t budge. Eventually we’ll have a group of guys that will be stubborn.”

They’ll need persistence to face the schedule Martin prepared. The Minutemen only play five home games during the nonconference stretch, which begins with a Nov. 7 doubleheader against Central Connecticut State. Though the lineup lacks marquee names and features only one guaranteed Power 5 game (Colorado at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, though UMass could play others depending on how the bracket shakes out), UMass won’t see many cupcakes.

“It’s probably devoid of a sexy name but it’s not devoid of really good teams and, you know, I want to play more home games than what we’ve got on the docket right now,” Martin said. “I’m no different than everyone else, I’d like for us to get a couple of sexy names on our schedule.”

But Martin prefers steak to sizzle. Just because a team plays in a Power 5 conference doesn’t mean it presents the opportunity that sometimes connotes by affiliation.

“I’ve been in Power 5 for the last 18 years of my career. And I’ve learned this: there’s a lot of schools that are lumped into Power 5 basketball because of the conference affiliation and football, not because they’re conducted as Power 5 basketball programs,” Martin said. “Sometimes we as fans assume playing a Power 5 opponent as a really good thing, and in reality playing a school like Towson is probably better for the bulk of your team.”

All those tests are in service of fortifying for the Atlantic 10 season, which begins Dec. 31 at Saint Bonaventure.

“Every day we step on the court, it’s what we’re trying to do is put ourselves in a place to go compete for a championship. You look at the teams in the Atlantic 10 when that team, that program that finished number one in the Atlantic 10, they’ve had NCAA Tournament success. It goes hand in hand,” Martin said. “Just think about all the different programs that are in the Atlantic 10 that have had magical runs in the NCAA Tournament. That doesn’t happen by mistake.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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