New coach Ricky Harris imparting passion, perspective to UMass basketball

  • UMass men’s basketball assistant coach Ricky Harris ended a decade-long professional basketball career in Europe and South America to begin his coaching career at Amherst. He brings rare passion and perspective to the Minutemen. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass men’s basketball assistant coach Ricky Harris ended a decade-long professional basketball career in Europe and South America to begin his coaching career at Amherst. He brings rare passion and perspective to the Minutemen. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/12/2021 5:29:03 PM
Modified: 11/12/2021 5:29:13 PM

AMHERST – Ricky Harris’ phone rang while he was at George Mason’s practice gymnasium.

The third-leading scorer in UMass men’s basketball history was in Fairfax, Va., just 60 miles from his hometown of Baltimore, preparing to join Kim English’s staff as a volunteer assistant with the Patriots.

Instead, his second home was on the other line. UMass head coach Matt McCall was calling to offer Harris a job as UMass’ Director of Player Personnel/Assistant to the Head Coach. It’s the kind of position English was hoping to create on his staff for Harris, but the George Mason administration couldn’t make it happen.

“I’ve never met a person that didn’t like Ricky. That’s really important. As a head coach or assistant coach, you’re demanding and challenging guys. It’s good to have people around that [players] like and gravitate to,” English said. “My first season in the Atlantic 10, I was looking to have someone around the program that’s had great success in the Atlantic 10. I wanted that knowledge around.”

Mason and English’s loss was McCall and UMass’ gain. Harris had just completed an 11-year professional career in Europe and South America. He averaged in double figures for the past 10 seasons but saw that period of his life ending and wanted a way to still keep the game in his life.

“It's just the love of basketball, the love of the game. I knew that once I finished playing, I wanted to be around basketball still. I didn't want to separate myself from it completely,” Harris said. “Some people do, but for me, it was more so just being around it, helping me keep that feeling of being a part of a team, a brotherhood, a family, and being around a competitive atmosphere gets the juices flowing for me.”

McCall was as happy to have Harris as he was to be back at UMass, though his status as an alum was more of a bonus for McCall than a requirement.

“First and foremost we brought Ricky back because he’s going to be a star in this business. It’s just a bonus that he happens to be one of the best players in UMass history,” McCall said. “He’s got a passion, he’s got a drive, he’s got a passion for UMass. He’s got great perspective.”

Harris scored 1,960 points as a Minuteman from 2006-10. He helped UMass reach the NIT twice and owns the school record for 3-pointers made in a season (108).

“I hold this place close to my heart. With this being my first opportunity to be a coach, at my university, at the school that I played for, it was a no-brainer for me,” Harris said. “It's a blessing that it happened this way.”

Harris had the kind of career at UMass that the current crop of Minutemen aspire to. He brought the team to the postseason and set records. Then he made basketball his job and saw the world. 

“Now he’s a coach and he’s sharing everything that he’s learned. He’s a positive guy. He’s a great person to be around every day,” UMass guard Rich Kelly said. “We laugh, we joke. The program definitely took a step up when Ricky joined the staff. I love being around him every day.”

Coming back to Massachusetts was as much for his family as it was for Ricky. He has a son living in Boston that now he can spend more time with.

“Me playing overseas for so many years now, it kind of got to a point where it was like, OK now it's time to invest your time in him,” Harris said.

Adjusting to the coaching side of the game has opened Harris’ eyes. He’s gotten used to dealing with different personalities and motivations.

“I had to take a step back and realize that everybody's approach to the game of basketball is different than my approach to the game of basketball,” Harris said. “I played with a chip on my shoulder as if I had something to prove to a lot of people, and a lot of these guys have a different approach as far as how they go about the game. So I had to learn to adjust their style and what they were used to.”

Even if it took Harris a moment to adjust to the dialect, he’s still speaking the same language: basketball. And he has a wealth of knowledge to impart on the subject. He explains how to carry yourself as a professional, how to attack every day and how to balance life as a student athlete, developing a routine and sticking to it.

“I've been around the block a few times in this basketball world. So I just get them,” Harris said. “All the things that I've learned from people who passed it down to me, things that I didn't know, when I was in their shoes that I wish I’d known.”

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

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