The Commonwealth team started practices on Wednesday night and wrapped up Saturday night in Amherst to prepare for the basketball tournament (TBT). Practices were held in the Champions Center and the Recreation Center to help the team prepare for their game against the Virginia Dream. The Commonwealth was initially supposed to play The Rhody Way (Rhode Island Alumni), but The Rhody Way had to withdraw due to unforeseen circumstances.
The Commonwealth consists of players from both the Derek Kellogg and the Matt McCall eras as well as players that have connections into the team. The team includes Anthony Lee, Brison Gresham, Carl Pierre, CJ Anderson, Chaz Williams, Donte Clark, Ethan Wright, Freddie Riley, Luwane Pipkins, Maxie Esho, and Terrell Vinson. Cady Lalanne and Jabarie Hinds are still with the team, but they will not be playing due to injuries. With that, the Commonwealth added Anthony Lee (Temple and Ohio State), Brison Gresham (UMass, Houston, and Texas Southern), and Ethan Wright (Princeton and Colorado). All of these players have connections with players that were already on the team. The coaching staff consists of Mike Mannix, Paul Chmura, Javorn Farrell, and Patrick MacWilliams.
Anthony Lee played at Temple while they were still in the Atlantic 10, and played against Freddie Riley, Maxie Esho, Cady Lalanne, Terrell Vinson, and Javorn Farrell while they were at UMass. Through AAU, Lee also played against and/or with Esho, Vinson, and Farrell in Maryland. “My favorite moment was the Atlantic 10 conference [tournament], and Javorn just reminded me about it today. They beat us,” Lee said. “I think it was 2012 they actually beat us and just in that game, I think I played well. It was one of my big games where I started to get more recognition. We lost, but I started to show myself as a player.” Temple left the Atlantic 10 to go and join the American Athletic Conference after that season.
Ethan Wright is the youngest player on the team just finishing his final year of eligibility at Colorado. Wright is a Newton, Massachusetts native who spent his first three seasons at Princeton. Wright was a part of the Colorado team that UMass played against in the Myrtle Beach Invitational during the 2022-23 season.
Brison Gresham spent his freshman season at UMass before transferring to Houston. “I hadn’t played at all in the first 12 games. My first game I had a put-back dunk against UCF,” Gresham said. “I think that was one of my favorite plays.” After transferring to Houston, during Gresham’s senior year the team made a NCAA Tournament run. “That was wonderful. It kind of changed my life. It changed my perspective on basketball,” Gresham said when being asked about his experience in the NCAA tournament and the final four.
During the practices, all of the players were very vocal and constantly talked to each other through plays while they were scrimmaging each other and during the quick breaks in between drills. When shareholders of the team or other basketball alumni were at practice, the guys were always talking to them before and after and constantly talking about different memories with each other or even with the shareholders.
A vast majority of the players have at least one year of playing at the pro level whether it was in the NBA G League or playing overseas. Some of the countries that the players played in include Canada, Germany, Dominican Republic, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland, France, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Lithuania, Chile, Argentina, Slovakia, Austria, Denmark, Cyprus, Kosovo, Egypt, Poland, Macedonia, Libya, Hungary, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Puerto Rico, Italy, Portugal, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Israel, Colombia, Republic of Kosovo, Uruguay, Georgia, the United Kingdom, Romania, and Qatar. Riley played for the Harlem Globetrotters, Anderson spent time with a G League team for two years, and Pierre played for the Maine Celtics and the Rockets G League teams.
The team has used the term “brotherhood” to show the connection that they all have with each other. “I’ve always stood behind it,” CJ Anderson said. “We’re just a family, and I’m not home and I really truly feel at home when I’m here in Amherst.” Brotherhood means so much and represents something different from every player’s perspective. “Brotherhood to me is just having each other’s backs to picking things,” Freddie Riley said. “Sacrificing whatever you need to sacrifice in order for you brothers to succeed.”
Creating an alumni team full of UMass alums has been on Javorn Farrell’s mind for quite some time. “We’ve been talking about doing TBT for four or five years,” Farrell said. “I think three years ago or so we were close. We had guys like Gary Forbes, Stephane Lasme, [and] Ricky Harris. Those were the guys that were really excited, but we could never get the funding together.” Farrell knew when they were coming up with the roster for the team that there were players he wanted on the team. “This year I knew that if you were doing anything with UMass you have to have Chaz [Williams],” Farrell continued. “Chaz, Donte [Clark], Maxie [Esho], and CJ [Anderson].”
“Oh, it was a no-brainer for me,” Williams said on being asked to join the Commonwealth. “Anytime I get to share the court with you know some of the guys I’ve shared the court with before, and some of the guys I didn’t get a chance to it’s always a blessing for me.” Williams did not play with Pierre, Anderson, Lee, Wright, Gresham, or Pipkins while he was at UMass.
“Oh I was down,” Jabarie Hinds said about competing with some of his old teammates. “I’m seeing it from a different perspective because I’m not playing. I want to see the TBT experience anyway.” Hinds is not able to play due to recently having surgery on his knee. Joining him on the sidelines will be Cady Lalanne. Lalanne injured his hamstring and is not able to play.
The Commonwealth traveled to Syracuse on Sunday for their game against the Virginia Dream on Monday at 9 pm. The game will be on national television on ESPNU. The winner will face the winner of the Blue Collar U (Buffalo Alumni) or the Big 5 (Penn, La Salle, Saint Joe’s, Temple, and Villanova Alumni).
Featured Image: Chris Tucci, UMass Athletics
Kaily “KG” Godek is a current student at Western New England University. She has been a supporter of UMass Athletics for over 15 years. Kaily focuses on both UMass Basketball teams, and will occasionally focus on the other Women’s Basketball teams in the conference. While writing for A10 Talk, she is a manager for the Men’s Basketball team at WNE. When she graduates from WNE she is looking to go into Sports Broadcasting and Journalism. You can follow Kaily on Twitter @kgumass23.