Former UF assistant coach Matt McCall felt the time was right to make a move his coaching career.
After going 48-18 in two seasons at Tennessee-Chattanooga, McCall accepted the head coaching job at UMass on March 29 and is eager to try to get the program back to national prominence.
“If you watched the 3o-for-30 for John Calipari, where he had the program when he coached here in the 1990s, fans are hungry to get back to that level,” McCall said.
Calipari, now the head coach at Kentucky, led UMass to a No. 1 ranking in 1994 and a Final Four appearance in 1996 before leaving to become head coach of the New Jersey Nets.
McCall said he feels the pieces are in place to build UMass back into a successful program in the Atlantic 10.
“The resources we have, we just built a $30 million practice facility that’s second to none,” said McCall, who turned 35 last December. “Then you factor in the high school basketball talent in Massachusetts, the prep basketball scene in New England, there’s a lot to build from.”
Certainly, McCall learned the value of program building from his mentor, former Florida coach Billy Donovan, whom he worked for as a student manager, grad assistant and later, assistant coach, from 2011-15. McCall has already been active on the transfer front at UMass, landing guard Jaylen Brantley from Maryland, guard Curtis Cobb of Fairfield, wing player Jonathan Laurent from Rutgers and guard Keon Clergeot of Memphis. Brantley and Cobb can play immediately next season, while Laurent and Clergeot, both Florida natives, will sit out next year and start play in 2018-19. McCall tried to recruit Clergeot to Florida before he signed with Memphis.
“The state of college basketball today, with the number of transfers, you have a chance to build quickly,” McCall said. “We’ve had some turnover, but that’s fine, we want people who want to be here. If you look even later in Billy’s tenure at Florida, we took in transfers and were able to develop guys, Dorian Finney-Smith, John Egbunu.”
As for the Gators, McCall said he remains a fan and has developed a good relationship with Mike White and his staff. He took delight on watching UF’s Elite Eight run.
“Those are my guys,” McCall said. “Especially watching Kasey Hill, who I helped recruit, everything that transpired for him, to begin his career going to a Final Four and to finish his career with an Elite Eight, I was happy for him. Kasey went through some struggles as a sophomore and dealt with some high expectations but if you look at all the records he set at Florida, he had a great college career.”
In taking the job at UMass, McCall will coach yearly in the A-10 against another familiar face. A day after McCall was hired at UMass, former UF assistant coach Anthony Grant left his assistant coaching job with the Oklahoma City Thunder to become the head coach at his alma mater, Dayton.
“Coach Donovan has called and has already set a name for the matchup,” McCall said. “He’s calling it the Billy D Classic.”