The fervor for the UMBC men’s basketball program is still high.
Graduate student forward Joe Sherburne and some of his teammates visited a Mexican restaurant in Catonsville recently and were the most popular diners that night.
“I was wearing my [school] sweatshirt, and people were like, ‘Thank you for what you did for the Baltimore area,’ ” he said Tuesday afternoon during a Baltimore basketball media day hosted by the Retrievers. “That was really cool.”
Sherburne’s experience illustrates the still-thriving joy the team delivered to the campus and the greater Baltimore area last season when it captured the America East Conference tournament championship, became the first men’s No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed when it upset Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament and set the school record for wins in a single season.
Seven months removed from the historic run, the program is still enjoying the fruits of its labor before the start of the 2018-19 season. Coach Ryan Odom was rewarded with a raise that nearly doubled his previous base salary, the team’s 74-54 victory over the Cavaliers was nominated for “Best Moment” in the 2018 ESPY Awards and the 6,000-seat UMBC Event Center figures to be more crowded in its second year as the home for the men’s and women’s programs.
Like Sherburne, Tyler Moore, a junior guard for the women’s team, said her college destination has become a topic of conversation among people in her hometown of Portsmouth, Va.
“Going home, people before that [upset] didn’t know what UMBC was,” she said. “Now I go home, and people are like, ‘Oh, you go to UMBC?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, you know where that is?’ So I think it has definitely put UMBC on the map. It was great for the entire community.”
Sherburne said Odom is not like many coaches who insist on forgetting about the previous season — good or bad. But Odom, who is entering his third year as the program’s coach, said there is one aspect he has emphasized with the returning players.
“I think the biggest thing I’m going to try to encourage them to do is, don’t try to re-create that moment. We’ll always have it, be proud of it, love it,” he said. “You don’t even have to shy away from talking about it. I’m not worried about that. But we’re going to try to go out and create new and exciting moments, and that’s what it’s all about to me.”
Replicating last season’s run got exponentially more difficult in the offseason. Gone from that 25-11 squad is the starting guard tandem of Jairus Lyles (20.2 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 3.2 assists per game) and K.J. Maura (11.3 PPG, 5.0 APG and 2.2 RPG) and another key guard in Jourdan Grant (7.5 PPG, 2.6 APG and 2.4 RPG).
The team does welcome back three starters in Sherburne (10.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG), junior forward Arkel Lamar (10.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and 6-foot-9, 215-pound sophomore forward Daniel Akin (3.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG). Two other forwards in 6-9, 205-pound junior Max Curran (4.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and 6-7, 220-pound senior Max Portmann (4.1 PPG) are in the mix.
Odom said the Retrievers’ reputation will precede them when they begin to navigate a schedule that includes nonconference opponents such as the Big East’s Marquette on Nov. 6, the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 16 and the Big Ten’s Penn State on Dec. 29.
“Especially now, we’re going to be hunted a little more than in years past, and we welcome that,” he said. “That’s where you want your program to be, right? You want your program to be in a place where others want to beat you and have it mean something if they beat you. Our goal each and every day is to get better. The guys are approaching it no different than they did last year. We’re certainly not a perfect basketball program. We’ve got holes that we’ve got to fill on both sides of the ball. We’re working hard right now to try to do that and put this team together.”
Phil Stern, Odom’s counterpart on the women’s team, said the success of the men’s team’s has served as a motivation for the entire athletic department.
“It kind of rejuvenates you, [especially] somebody like me who’s been around here 17 years,” he said. “With getting the new facility, it was the perfect storm. We’re so proud of the guys and really mostly how they portrayed themselves. They acted in such a classy manner the whole time. So we’ve talked about it as a team, that certain things can be done here. But it’s really inspiring.”
The America East preseason poll is weeks away from being released, but Sherburne, the 6-6, 220-pound forward, is already predicting that UMBC will not be voted first or second. Is that a sign of disrespect?
“I don’t really care,” he said before smiling. “They didn’t pick us to win last year, either.”