First-year UMBC head basketball coach Jim Ferry has some challenges ahead of him as the Retrievers enter the 2021-22 season.
After posting a 14-6 overall record (10-5 America East) during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, UMBC has had to adjust to a coaching change, the loss of two critical players to Utah State and season-ending injuries to two prominent frontcourt players.
But Ferry, who most recently coached at Penn State (2017-2021) and Duquesne (2012-2017), has been able to retool his squad to compete in the America East. The Retrievers were picked to finish fifth in the conference in the America East preseason poll, and Ferry is working to establish an identity as the season approaches.
“I just worry about my team. I worry about our guys. We focus one day at a time,” Ferry said of the expectations for his team on Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 29. “All the expectations, that’s great for the fans, and they should feel that way. Each team’s different, especially [in] college basketball. … You’ve got to figure out who you are.
“We’re building this program, I wouldn’t say from scratch, but whenever there’s a coaching change there’s change, there’s adjustment, different style. We had to bring in a bunch of guys. We lost some really good players. Heck, you lost two first-team all-league guys. … That’s a new team. We’re starting over.”
Former head coach Ryan Odom’s departure for Utah State triggered much of the recent change within UMBC’s program. After Ferry was brought on to replace Odom, Ferry was charged with replacing two of the program’s best players — forward Brandon Horvath and guard RJ Eytle-Rock — who contributed both size and scoring prowess to the Retriever starting five before joining Odom at Utah State.
But the openings on UMBC’s roster allowed Ferry to get creative in adjusting the depth chart to his liking. Ray Salnave, a fifth-year senior and transfer from DePaul, fits into the new-look Retriever scoring attack. He averaged 6.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season, but ratcheted those numbers up down the stretch, showing the ability to be a significant offensive contributor.
“Ray’s a unique player. He’s a really physical, strong, versatile guard,” Ferry said. “If you look at his stats when he was at Monmouth, man, he made a living at the foul line, so he’s really physical and aggressive.”
UMBC’s style of play will be different this year as well. Season-ending injuries to 6-foot-9 forward Anyang Garaba (torn patellar tendon) and 6-foot-7 forward Tre Edwards (torn Achilles) will force Ferry’s squad to rely on mobility instead of size.
Returning senior guards Keondre Kennedy, L.J. Owens and Darnell Rogers will contribute to those small-ball lineups. All three averaged at least 8.2 points per game last year. Kennedy and Rogers entered the transfer portal after Odom’s departure but elected to stay at UMBC.
“We’ve had to kind of recreate ourselves over the past couple of weeks, so we’re going to be playing small ball,” Ferry said. “We’re going to be playing four guards and have a three-headed monster at that [center] spot, where they’re all different.”
Change hasn’t just come to the roster — there have been some changes to the schedule as well. UMBC played four games against Division II or III opponents in its last full season of play (2019-20). This year, the Retrievers will play just one — Penn State York in the home opener Nov. 15.
“We’ve got a really tough schedule this year. … We’ve really upgraded the schedule,” Ferry said. “It’s something [UMBC president Freeman Hrabowski] wanted to do. It’s something [athletic director Brian Barrio] wanted to do and myself. Since we beat Virginia, let’s elevate ourselves and start playing some of these other schools, certainly in the local area as well.”
But despite injuries, transfers and new faces, Ferry sees a common thread between this year’s UMBC team and the squads he has coached in the past, including when he was the interim head coach at Penn State last year.
“We’re going to be unselfish, we’re going to be tough and we’re going to be disciplined,” Ferry said. “… We’re a team that plays at a real aggressive pace. We’re high in assists, which means the team likes each other. We’re scrappy, we’re tough. For anybody that saw our team play last year for Penn State in the Big Ten, we were outmanned, we were small, but man, we were tough as heck. And those are what you want — guys that just want to fly around and love the game of basketball.”
UMBC will tip off its season against Massachusetts Nov. 9.
For more from Ferry, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Ian Feldmann/UMBC Athletics