LOWELL -- Now in his sixth season as the head coach of the UMass Lowell men's basketball team, Pat Duquette has done something he's never done before.
He has appointed team captains.
Senior guard Ryan Jones and senior forward Josh Gantz were the unanimous selections from both their teammates and Duquette's coaching staff to serve as captains. Both players started all 30 games last season for the 12-18 River Hawks.
"It's definitely a big honor that the coaches put that trust in us," said the 6-foot-3 Jones, a native of Rio Rancho, N.M., who averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. "But, honestly, we've treated it like that every day, nothing really has changed.
Just trying to help the young ones along and help this team grow every day."
College basketball practices officially began two weeks ago. UMass Lowell opens up the 2018-19 season on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at UMass Amherst. Leadership may be particularly important this season because the River Hawks have welcomed seven freshmen into the mix, by far Duquette's biggest incoming class.
"I want to see our guys start to hold themselves more accountable and rely less on us as coaches," said Duquette. "I feel really comfortable with Ryan and Josh leading the way. We talked about it a lot as coaches and for a variety of reasons we felt like this was a year where it would be really beneficial to have captains, and we felt both Ryan and Josh earned it.
So we decided to do it."
Gantz, a 6-foot-7 outside shooting threat from Grove City, Ohio, averaged 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds last season. Guard Shawn Jones is the only other senior on the roster. The freshmen make up half the team.
"We all agree that every one of them have had really good moments and they're making really good progress, and they might all play," said Duquette. "I wouldn't know which ones not to play at this point, it's that close. We still have almost another month before we get to our first game and two scrimmages that'll help determine some things, but right now we feel good about all of them.
"There's been healthy competition. And we've talked about that, we've got to be able to challenge one another and compete, but still work together. Certainly there's not just starting positions available, there's minutes. I don't want my guys necessarily getting too caught up on starting because we'll play a defense where a lot of guys are going to contribute. But it's extremely competitive and it hasn't sorted itself out yet. More so this year than in past years, there's a lot of opportunities available."
Former Lowell High star Alex Rivera is one of those freshmen and so far he's impressed in practice. During Monday's end-of-practice team scrimmage, Rivera ended it by drilling a 25-foot jumper. Also, 6-foot-9 freshmen Darius Henderson (240 pounds) and Mark Mayle (205 pounds) have added much-needed depth down low.
Lutete in action at long last
Redshirt junior guard Christian Lutete will finally see game action for UML after sitting out last season because he transferred in from Radford.
The 6-foot-5 Lutete can space the floor with his shooting and has excellent court awareness, according to Duquette. Lutete appeared in 30 games (two starts) for Radford in 2016-17 and averaged 4.5 points while knocking down 33.8 percent of his threes.
"I thought last year was a good year for me to learn. It's a great group of guys and a great team, with a lot of great upperclassmen last year," said Lutete. "I learned a lot from them and matured on my own to get ready. UMass Lowell made me feel like this would be a really good home for me. I felt really welcomed by the staff."
Duquette said he was saddened to hear of the news of the recent passing of legendary Merrimack College men's basketball coach Bert Hammel, who won 526 games (1980-81 through 2015-16).
Duquette served as an assistant at St. Michael's in the Northeast-10 for two seasons from 1995-97, and coached against Hammel.
"He was a great guy and a great coach," said Duquette.