Freshmen bring ‘inner-city toughness’ to revamped UMass basketball

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THURSDAY ON ASN: Temple at UMass, 7 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings and live stream link)

In Luwane Pipkins and DeJon Jarreau, UMass head coach Derek Kellogg sees two young guards with the ability to put his program back on a winning track.

So far, the former four-star recruits have lived up to their high school reputation as freshmen starters for the Minutemen (1-1). Pipkins is their top scorer at 16 points per game and is also first in steals (6.0 per game), while Jarreau is the team’s assist leader (6.5 per game) and second in scoring (14.5 ppg) and rebounds (5.5 per game).

They’re both able to play either guard position but are also as opposite as can be in appearance. The 5-11, 185-pound Pipkins is a strong, tough native of Chicago who sat out last season as an academic non-qualifier. The New Orleans-born Jarreau has a wiry build with 182 pounds on his 6-5 frame but has great length and versatility.

“Their backgrounds really exemplify who they are: They’re great kids who bring us inner-city toughness,” said Kellogg, whose squad plays Temple (1-1) Thursday on ASN. “Luwane comes right at you and tells you ‘I’m from Chicago and here I am’ and is up in your shirt for 40 minutes. DeJon does it a little differently, in part because of his body right now. He is proud to tell you he’s from New Orleans but lets you know it by how hard he plays and goes after you.”

Both Pipkins and Jarreau went after UMass Lowell last Friday as UMass opened the season with a 91-76 win. Pipkins tied a school record with eight steals and scored 14 points, while Jarreau finished with a team-high seven assists and two steals.

“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Pipkins said of putting his name in the UMass record book. “I just go out there and play every game like it’s my last. It starts with my defense; my defense is always going to be my offense.”

The Minutemen suffered a last-second, 90-88 loss Monday at Ole Miss, but both of their freshman guards came up big in defeat. Jarreau fell just short of a triple-double with 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Pipkins added 18 points and four steals.

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For Jarreau, the Ole Miss game was a homecoming of sorts as he saw several familiar faces in the crowd. The Minutemen led 88-79 with under four minutes to play, but Ole Miss closed with an 11-0 run to win the game.

“A bunch of my family — my mom, my dad, my brother and his family and a couple of my cousins — came up to watch me,” Jarreau said. “Knowing we were playing close to my hometown and that they were there gave me more of a spark. I just tried to help my team win. We should have won but let it slip away.”

As tough as the Ole Miss loss was, Pipkins is just grateful to be playing basketball again. He signed with UMass over schools including Valparaiso, DePaul and La Salle after averaging 27 points and five steals per game as a senior at Chicago’s Bogan High but was not allowed to practice or play last season due to academics.

Pipkins made the most of that time away from the UMass program, which added six newcomers in the offseason looking to bounce back from a 14-18 campaign.

“All of that kind of helped me in the long run,” Pipkins said. “I learned that I’ve got to stay in my books. That obviously has to come first if you want to play college basketball. It’s helped me get stronger and smarter as a person, and it’s great to know I have four years to play here.”

Pipkins added that he and Jarreau — also known as “Deeky” — have already grown close in a short amount of time together on campus.

“Me and Deeky are good friends,” Pipkins said. “Both of us are good teammates and good people. We’re just trying to help each other.”

Recruited by a slew of big-name programs, Jarreau signed with the Minutemen — as did his former McDonogh 35 High teammate Brison Gresham — after narrowing his choices to UMass and Miami. Jarreau, who averaged 16.9 ppg as a prep senior, was recruited by UMass assistant Shyrone Chatman, a native of Baton Rouge.

Jarreau is still adjusting to the quicker pace of the college game, but playing alongside Pipkins has helped with his transition.

“We usually guard each other in practice, and that’s helped us create a relationship,” Jarreau said. “We’ve worked well together. I know how to get him the ball, and he knows how to get me the ball. His defense creates easy offense for us, and it’s great to have another ball handler on the court.”

It’s early in his college career, but Jarreau is confident in UMass turning things around this season.

“I feel like we can go far this year,” he said. “Everybody just needs to buy in and do their part and we’re going to be successful.”

Kellogg has similar expectations for his team and two young guards.

“It’s probably the first time in a long, long time that I’ve started an all-freshman backcourt, but in basketball a couple of guys can help change the trajectory of a program,” Kellogg said. “I think those two guys have been able to do that already as freshmen.”


Above: Luwane Pipkins courtesy Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics.
Middle: Dejon Jarreau  courtesy Thom Kendall/ UMass Athletics.

Joshua Parrott

Joshua Parrott is a freelance writer based in Houston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaParrott.