SARAH GANZHORN University of Massachusetts freshman Seth Berger prepares to pass the ball during men's basketball practice at UMass earlier this season.
AMHERST — Like most students, University of Massachusetts freshman forward Seth Berger is looking forward to first semester final exams being over.
Not just for a break from the academic rigors, but once finals are done the No. 22 Minutemen will have over a month with nothing to focus on but basketball.
“Next week, when all there is is basketball, it’ll be fun,” Berger said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The stretch presents and opportunity for Berger and fellow freshmen Demetrius Dyson and Clyde Santee. UMass coach Derek Kellogg has previously used intercession for individual work with his players as well as giving them a chance to improve and earn more minutes.
“This is a good stretch for them basketballwise. At some point I’ve got to get them in and get them some minutes so they can help us,” Kellogg said. “On a snowy day in the middle of January on the road during one of our conference games we want to be sure that if needed those guys are ready for the challenge. I think (Berger) definitely going to help us. Some of it’s me getting more confidence in those guys. If I do some more individual work with them and get them better, I’ll feel that much more confident.”
Berger said he’s more confident in himself than he was when he arrived.
“We’re a top 20 team. Playing with our starters has made all of us better and me personally better as well,” said the Seattle native. “Even from the beginning of summer to now, my strength, my game, my IQ has all gone up playing with such good competition.”
Berger, who can play at either forward spot, would be the first to join the rotation in the event of foul trouble or injury. He said he’s focused on being ready, drawing inspiration from Trey Davis. The sophomore didn’t play much early in his freshman year but earned time late.
“I’m staying positive. Coaches tell me about Trey last year, how he didn’t really get much burn until conference play,” Berger said. “But he got his minutes and his opportunity. I’m ready and preparing every game like I’m a starter. I’m waiting for my opportunity. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m patient. We’re very active and loud on the bench. I’m trying to be just as active as I would if I were in there. When my name is called I want to be right in the flow of the game.”
FINALS WEEK — The Minutemen practiced Tuesday, but had individual workouts on Monday and more scheduled for Wednesday to allow players to focus on finals.
“Academics is the most important thing this week. I want to make sure our guys are taking care of business in the classroom and staying on line to graduate and doing what they need to do to stay (eligible),” Kellogg said. “That’s the most important thing. But you can’t have anybody getting out of shape. It’s important to have them take an hour each day where they can sweat and run. You don’t want to come out flat on Saturday because you didn’t do anything all week. Sometimes when you’re cramming for a test it’s not bad to have a break and come in and play ball for a few hours.”
UMass hosts Northern Illinois at 3 p.m. Saturday.