Ds Scholarship

Post-practice shooting games helped UMass men’s basketball become one of nation’s most lethal 3-point shooting teams

Published: 2/22/2022 3:59:48 PM

Modified: 2/22/2022 3:59:25 PM

AMHERST – The conversation rarely ceases around the UMass men’s basketball team. Who’s the best shooter? They bring it up before practice, after practice, at meals and on team buses and flights.

“Everybody on this team thinks you’re the best shooter in the world. So we always talk smack,” UMass guard CJ Kelly said. “We bring up percentages, we’re always talking. We all think we’re the best. I love it.”

They try to settle it most days after practice, too. Some of the players – always forward Trent Buttrick and guard Ryan Marcus, though they’re joined by a rotating cast of their teammates depending on the day – play a shooting game: first two swish two 3s from each of the five spots on the floor after two rounds.

Marcus, a walk-on from Wakefield, started playing the game with assistant coach Jacob Kurtz then he and Buttrick “took it to another level.”

“You tighten up your shot, your form, and you have some fun at the same time,” Buttrick said.

At first some of the scholarship players weren’t sure Marcus would be able to hang with them. He quickly showed he belonged. Marcus averaged 14 points a game at Wakefield High School his senior year and shot 82 percent from the free throw line, a strong predictive indicator of long-range shooting prowess.

“Definitely at first they were like, ‘oh we didn’t think you’d compete with us.’ Doing it every day they expect me to be there. If I’m not making shots they kind of give me crap,” Marcus said. “Everyone’s super competitive playing college basketball, if you’re a walk-on or if you’re a scholarship player.”

UMass, which travels to Dayton at 7 pm Wednesday, has shot 39.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, tied for seventh in the country. Some of that is personnel. Guard Rich Kelly leads the Atlantic 10 and is ninth in the country making 49.2 percent of his triples. Three Minutemen shoot over 40 percent from 3: Rich Kelly, Javohn Garcia (40.9) and Greg Jones (43.2). TJ Weeks Jr. (38.1), Noah Fernandes (37.5), CJ Kelly (37.3) and Buttrick (35.7) aren’t far behind.

“It’s funny, I think as a program we shoot the ball well. Our managers can shoot,” CJ Kelly said. “We were walking into the gym and our coaches were shooting the hell out of the ball.”

Those coaches are some of the best shooters in their program’s history. Ricky Harris owns UMass’ single-season record for 3s (108) and has the third-most 3s in Minutemen history. Tyson Wheeler is a Rhode Island Hall of Famer and is the school’s second leading scorer.

“Sometimes coaches jump in there to talk trash and shoot,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “There’s pretty good shooters on the coaching staff.”

CJ Kelly credited both the team’s talent and McCall’s offense for how well the Minutemen have shot this season. The game allows them to practice some of the open looks their scheme generates.

“A lot of drive and kicks. We’re trying not to take bad shots,” he said. “Open 3s are what we try to do.”

McCall is glad the team is getting the extra shots up, however they go. Adding the competitive element is a bonus.

“It’s a great group. It’s a joy to come and practice because you’ve got to want to be there,” McCall said. “The more you shoot, the more shots you’re gonna make. The harder you work, the better you are. Pretty simple, right?”

But who’s the best?

“I want to say me, but Trent’s gotten the upper hand,” Marcus said.

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

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