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UMass men’s basketball freshmen eager to contribute

  • Khalea Turner-Morris defends during UMass practice, at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Khalea Turner-Morris during UMass practice Oct. 9 at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Khalea Turner-Morris during UMass practice Oct. 9 at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Carl Pierre during UMass practice Oct. 9 at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Carl Pierre moves the ball during UMass practice Oct. 9 at the Champions Center. Unique McLean is in the background. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Carl Pierre shoots during UMass practice Oct. 9 at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Khalea Turner-Morris shoots during UMass practice Oct. 9 at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@MattVautourDHG
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

AMHERST — A year ago, UMass wasn’t even really on the radar for Carl Pierre or Khalea Turner-Morris.

But the program’s coaching change and the transfers that followed opened up scholarships and playing time.

Now, as the Minutemen are just over a month from opening the season, both Pierre, a 6-foot-4 wing, and Turner-Morris, a 6-foot-9 center, figure to see plenty of playing time as freshmen.

Pierre was likely headed to prep school before a strong spring helped catch the attention of newly-hired UMass coach Matt McCall.

The coach thought he’d snared an underrated prospect when Pierre committed and working closely with him has only enhanced McCall’s belief.

“I’ve really been impressed with Carl. I’ve been impressed with his competitiveness. He’s picking things up,” McCall said. “He’s in there competing every single possession. He’s always in the gym, always in the weight room trying to get better. He’s a sponge trying to soak it all in. I’m very pleased with his development right now.”

Pierre joins a backcourt without a lot of bodies to fill three roles. Luwane Pipkins, C.J. Anderson and seldom-used walk-on Rayshawn Miller return. Pierre, redshirt freshman Unique McLean and graduate transfer Jaylen Brantley, who is out with an undisclosed injury, join the mix creating a group with limited experience and depth.

“With our lack of depth in the backcourt, Carl’s going to get an opportunity here,” McCall said. “As long as he continues to stay focused and be coachable, he’s going to be just fine.”

Knowing he has a chance to play has made for easy motivation.

“It’s an incentive. Practices are competitive and high energy. I really like that,” said the Boston native. “I think there are things I can bring to the table that can help our team. But there’s always room for improvement.”

Pierre said the rigors of being a college athlete aren’t routine yet, but he’s getting used to it.

“I knew coming in it was a lot of work, but it’s definitely more than I expected with classwork, practice and lifting,” Pierre said. “But I think I’ve adjusted. I wouldn’t say I’m used to it, but I’m definitely on the back end of adjusting to it.”

Turner-Morris agreed with his roommate on the challenges of making the transition.

“My schedule here has been tight. Coach is on us about lifting weights getting in the gym,” the New Orleans native said. “It’s definitely making me better. I’ve come a very long way from the first day I came here until now.”

That development time was briefly stunted by a dislocated finger in a preseason pickup game.

“I was going up for a rebound and my hand snapped. I saw my pinky hanging off,” he said. “I rushed to the hospital and got it popped back in. I’m catching up slowly. I still have a lot to learn. The injury was a setback, but I’m picking it up. We have a great group of guys helping me out.

At 6-9, 265 pounds, Turner-Morris is big, both by normal person and college basketball standards. But he still gives away 45 pounds to UMass junior big man Rashaan Holloway, who he has to face every day in practice.

“Having Rashaan has been a great experience because he’s one of the top big men in the league. He’s a great competitor. He’s very quick on his feet,” Turner-Morris said. “He’s physically stronger than me. It’s great practice because there’s nobody in this league that’s as strong as him.”

Turner-Morris won’t be relied on as heavily as Pierre with Holloway, Malik Hines and Chris Baldwin giving the Minutemen three experience bodies in the frontcourt, but he’ll certainly play regular minutes.

“I’m very eager. I want to contribute right away and do what the coaches need me to do,” he said.

Pierre said having each other has helped them along.

“Khalea is my guy. We dorm together,” he said. “We talk about adjusting to college life. We lean on each other to get through this.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage