After all, the then-first-year Minutemen basketball coach had just convinced ESPN.com’s No. 46-ranked player in the 2009 class to join his rebuilding mid-major-plus program instead of several high-major teams, including Cincinnati, Georgetown and Louisville.
Vinson, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound wing from St. Frances, said he couldn’t have been more oblivious to the hype surrounding his arrival in Amherst.
“I don’t really remember what I expected,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about college basketball, really, or how the game went and expectations on me. We only had about two or three guys who played on the team before. I just expected to win.”
For the first two years of Vinson’s college career, expectations of winning seasons fell short, as Kellogg’s squad compiled a two-year record of 27-35. But as a junior last winter, the former Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection lived up to his recruiting hype and played an integral role in UMass’ long-awaited basketball revival. The Minutemen finished the 2011-12 campaign with a 25-12 record, including a 15-1 mark at home.
Vinson emerged as UMass’ third-leading scorer at 9.9 points and second-leading rebounder at 5.1 in just 26.2 minutes per game, showing why he was so highly coveted coming out of high school, and cementing his status as one of Baltimore’s best college basketball players.
The beginning of Vinson’s college career may not have lived up to his four-star hype, but the former Panther showed flashes of his talent as UMass labored through a 12-20 campaign during a freshman season in which he put up 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. One year later, the Minutemen improved to 15-15, but Vinson averaged just 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game.
Offseason changes, Vinson said, made all the difference in his improvement from sophomore to junior year.
“We played a more running style, making plays for each other. It’s more of a team game,” now, Vinson said. “Just the pace of how we played [changed]. How we played was very different.”
In his first two years at UMass, Vinson said the Minutemen played a grind-it-out, half-court, slow-down game. Transitioning to an up-tempo system benefitted Vinson’s game and the entire program. During the 2010-11 season, the Massachusetts averaged 66.3 points. In 2011-12, the Minutemen – who fell to Stanford in the NIT semifinals – scored 76.9 points per game.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Vinson, who plays on the wing in UMass’ four-guard system. “[We] do a free style of playing, pick and pop. Lot of pick and rolls. … [Changing our strategy] helped me out a lot. Helped me clear my mind, how I played. [It was a] more comfortable style [than] how we played the first couple of years. Definitely a style I played in high school. [I] feel comfortable playing that style.”
For his last college season, Vinson is planning on taking on a bigger scoring load and hopes to lead UMass to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.
“We’re not a sleeper team this year,” Vinson said. “People who have seen us play are pretty aware that no one is going to take us lightly anymore. … People in Massachusetts are pretty excited to see us play. Everyone here in the area is excited for UMass basketball this year.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times