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UMass notebook: Chaz Williams excited for return to Brooklyn

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
(Published in print: Wednesday, March 12, 2014)

The arena is not far from the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y., where the University of Massachusetts senior point guard grew up, but that’s not entirely the reason for his excitement.

“I’m excited especially because I haven’t had a Brooklyn haircut in a long time. I have an appointment set up. It’ll be good to go home and get a haircut,” said Williams, who’s been getting his hair cut by LeeLee since childhood.

He’s hoping his hair won’t be the only thing being scissored as he and the Minutemen will try to end a 17-year A-10 tournament title drought and cut down the nets at Barclays.

The Minutemen head to the New York borough as the No. 6 seed. They’ll play No. 11 Rhode Island, Thursday at 9 p.m.

Williams said while there will be a lot of friends and family in the crowd, there’s only one spectator he really needs to impress.

“I’ve been playing in front of my family and friends for a long time. It’s not excitement. It’s what can I do different this time to please those guys,” Williams said. “My mom is always tough on me. She’s a critic to my game. I always try to impress her. It’s hard to make her say ‘wow.’ She’s seen it all from the little hoops to the big hoops.”

Williams impressed the Atlantic 10 coaches enough to be named first team all-conference for the third straight time.

While Williams was honored by his selection, he was less enthusiastic about the rest of the league’s postseason honors, which didn’t include any of his teammates.

“We can use it as motivation,” Williams said. “I have no comment on the A-10 and their voting.”

Saint Louis’ Jordair Jett was named player of the year. SLU’s Jim Crews was the coach of the year for the second straight season. Virginia Commonwealth’s Briante Weber was the defensive player of the year. Saint Joseph’s DeAndre Bembry and URI’s E.C. Matthews shared rookie of the year honors.

George Washington’s Kevin Larsen (most improved player) and VCU’s Melvin Johnson (sixth man of the year) were also honored.

Kellogg thought Williams could have won player of the year.

“I thought he was player of the year in the conference or at least pretty close,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “Jett had a great year. Maybe if we win on Sunday, that changes the voting. We have nobody else on the team. Hopefully the guys take that as a little bit of a shot. Let’s go try and win this thing.”

ALL-DISTRICT — In addition to conference honors, Williams was named to the All-District I first team, which encompasses all six New England states. Kellogg was named the district coach of the year.

UNDEFEATED IN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS — While conventional wisdom has UMass already assured of a spot in the NCAA tournament, UMass sophomore guard Derrick Gordon isn’t willing to risk it.

“I don’t want to leave it up to the (NCAA selection) committee. They can mess around and jerk us. I don’t want to leave it in their hands and think if we lose, we’ll be fine,” Gordon said. “We’re not. There’s no telling what kind of seed we’re going to get in the NCAA tournament. I’d rather just win the whole thing, get a good seed and go from there.”

Gordon is the only Minutemen who’s been part of a conference championship before. In 2012, as a Western Kentucky freshman, Gordon averaged 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds, and helped lead the No. 7-seeded Hilltoppers on an unlikely run to the Sun Belt title. If they’d lost any of the games, their season would have been over. Gordon said the Minutemen should take the same approach.

“We have to have the same mindset,” Gordon said. “This a different conference, but we have to win four games in four days as well.”

OPENING ROUND — With 13 teams in the league this season, the Atlantic 10 changed its tournament format. All 13 teams qualify and all games are played in Brooklyn. The event kicks off Wednesday with No. 13 Fordham (9-20, 2-14 A-10) facing No. 12 George Mason (11-19, 4-12) at 7 p.m.

SELECTION SHOW — UMass will host an NCAA selection show event at the Amherst Brewing Company on Sunday at 6 p.m. The players and coaching staff will be there unless the Minutemen advance to the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, which is played Sunday at 1 p.m. The team would instead stay in Brooklyn and watch the show there. The event would still happen at the University Drive restaurant without them.

UMass is reportedly in consideration to be one of the schools featured on CBS’ broadcast.

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

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