UMass basketball notebook: Rahsool Diggins re-energized after birth of daughter ahead of return to hometown Philadelphia vs. Saint Joseph’s

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-20-2023 6:52 PM

Rahsool Diggins didn’t leave the bench the first time he returned home to Philadelphia as a college athlete.

UConn didn’t include him among the nine Huskies that took the floor Feb. 5, 2022, at Villanova. Diggins only appeared in nine games his freshman season and only played double-digit minutes once.

The Archbishop Wood high school product transferred to UMass this offseason and will have a proper homecoming Saturday when the Minutemen visit Saint Joseph’s on Saturday (1 p.m. ESPN+).

“Fans talk. They’ll say whatever they want to say,” Diggins said of the environment in Philly college basketball. “It will be enough where basically we’ll have a home court advantage. That’s how many people I bring in, hopefully.”

Diggins will go in with a renewed confidence. He’s started UMass’ past two games in place of Noah Fernandes and played more than 20 minutes per game, averaging seven points and 2½ steals per game. That came after not getting off the bench against La Salle in the Mullins Center and playing just three minutes at George Washington and against Saint Louis at home.

Diggins didn’t play at Saint Bonaventure because he was attending the birth of his daughter, Raya.

“I had a chance to go home and got a few days off for the birth of my daughter. Then had a meeting with coach Frank (Martin), and he gave me an approach,” Diggins said. “He sat me down and he said you’ve got to get back in the mode you’re going to play, you’re going to win, you’re going to compete. Ever since then, I’ve been in the gym, and things have been going better for me.”

Martin wasn’t going to force him back in before he was ready. Diggins contributed heavily to the team’s Myrtle Beach Invitational championship then wavered as the due date approached. Martin remembered being overwhelmed when his son Brandon, now a grad student with the Minutemen, was on the way at age 33.

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“It’s hard for me to focus on my job. I can only imagine what it’s like at 18, 19. It’s a choice he’s made in life, and the adults in his life that are trying to help him, our job is to help him through this moment,” Martin said. “I’m not going to pressure a guy to be more committed to basketball when he’s getting ready to enter being a father for the first time in his life. Now that moment has passed and he’s starting to be at peace. And he’s starting to mentally get to a better place again. He’s practicing better, and that means he’s playing better.”

His contributions in practice go beyond the court. Martin said he is the funniest Minuteman.

“It’s fun to have him around. He’s got great personality. He makes people laugh,” Martin said. “He’s got one of those infectious personalities that makes you smile. When everyone is worked up, he makes you feel better.”

Knowing he has a family to support now brought a renewed focus for Diggins.

“Before she was born I felt like I was just going through the motions. I knew I could play through a higher standard than I was playing,” he said. “Once I had the child, I have to. There’s no ifs ands or buts. I have to play basketball to make money to take care of my family.”

HAND DOWN MAN DOWN – Saint Joseph’s possesses the most potent 3-point shooting attack in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks (8-10, 2-4 A-10) hit 9.1 triples per game, which leads the league, at a 34.5 percent clip (seventh in the league).

“I see a team that has guards that knows what their coach wants. When you have guys that have played together before for the same coach, the first thing that comes out is offensive spacing. They’re all in the right place,” Martin said. “That’s the most complicated thing to get players to understand when they start playing in a new system together. They don’t know where to go and they’re not as committed to getting there because they’re still trying to figure it out.”

Erik Reynolds II averages a team-high 17.3 points per game – fourth in the league. He makes 37 percent of his 3-pointers and forms a lethal pairing with Cameron Brown, who shoots 45 percent from deep and scores 14 points per game.

“You see elite shot making from those two guards,” Martin said.

The Hawks have won their past two games against Loyola Chicago and La Salle after an 0-4 start in league play.

“Defensively they’re an aggressive bunch. I don’t like using he word junk, but defensively they junk it up. They press, they trap, they change defenses on you almost every single possession,” Martin said. “They’re constantly challenging your minds to make sure you can be consistent with how you attack.”

TRAVEL BENEFITS – UMass is 0-3 on the road in A-10 play this season. The Minutemen switched up their travel routine in response. Rather than than practicing in the morning and traveling in the afternoon, they left Amherst in the morning and practiced once they arrived in Philadelphia.

“This would be a very good chance for us to see what we can do on the road,” UMass junior Dyondre Dominguez said. “We just have young guys who have to get used to handling their their environment.”

INJURY UPDATE – RJ Luis will be available for UMass after the freshman missed the past two games. Noah Fernandes also hasn’t played in two games, but he wasn’t available fully in practice Thursday. He’ll be re-evaluated before game time Saturday.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>