GAZETTE FILE PHOTO University of Massachusetts junior Derrick Gordon, right, dribbles toward the basket while freshman Zach Coleman guards him during a men's basketball preseason practice at UMass.
AMHERST — The guy sitting out always seems to take on mythic status.
Reports and rumors always had Gary Forbes, Luke Bonner, Rashaun Freeman, Shannon Crooks, Donta Bright and Chaz Williams dominating practice or pickup games the year before each was eligible to suit up.
The latest sitting-out standout was Derrick Gordon.
The combo guard from New Jersey drew rave reviews for his practice play last year as he sat out under NCAA rules after transferring from Western Kentucky, where he led the Hilltoppers in scoring and rebounding en route to the NCAA tournament. His addition to an already strong nucleus has helped feed UMass’ high expectations.
“It’s hard to put expectations on a guy who’s sat out a year. I think there’s going to be some rust,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who was the source of some of last year’s raves about Gordon’s practice. “But I expect him to be a guy that helps us win. He has an opportunity to be in the starting lineup and get integrated into a good team and good program. I expect him to be a guy that comes every day and competes at a high level, puts the ball in the basket in transition, gets to the free throw line quite a bit and comes up with those big game-winning plays.”
Gordon is being asked to contribute quite a bit. He’ll replace graduated senior Freddie Riley at shooting guard, but he’ll also be charged with replacing some of the toughness and rebounding that graduated forward Terrell Vinson provided inside. UMass will need him to score and defend from the outset.
Gordon said the elation of being back on the court overrides any pressure on him to perform.
“I’m just going to go out and play my game. First and foremost I’m going to be happy just to get on the court,” Gordon said. “There’s a lot of unfinished business me and my team need to take care of. There’s some big things I believe we can do this year and I’m going to have to play a big role. I have to make sure I’m ready mentally and physically.”
Gordon gets the chance to start fulfilling those expectations Sunday at 3 p.m. when UMass takes on Boston College in the Coaches vs. Cancer Boston Tip-Off at TD Garden.
Gordon left Western Kentucky after a midseason coaching change and took the opportunity to move from the often-overlooked Sun Belt to the Atlantic 10. He’s excited for the added exposure.
“We play BC in our very first game at TD Garden. We didn’t do that at Western Kentucky,” Gordon said. “Our first game is going to be showtime. The lights are on. I like playing in front of a lot of people. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity.”
INJURIES AND HONORS — UMass freshman Zach Coleman, who is recovering from a stress fracture in his leg, will miss Sunday’s game and likely Tuesday’s home opener against LSU. Former Minuteman standout Tony Barbee is among six athletes who will be inducted into the UMass Athletic Hall of Fame in January.