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Freshman Massinburg proving a quick study for UB

Freshman CJ Massinburg is the surprise of the season so far for the University at Buffalo basketball team.

The 6-foot-3 guard from Dallas scored a team-high 17 points Saturday to help the Bulls to an 80-64 victory over Binghamton.

Massinburg scored 17 on Duke last week. He ranks second on the UB team in scoring at 11 points a game, and he’s playing 24 minutes a game.

Not bad for a guy UB didn’t even know about until after his senior high school season ended. Massinburg was a late commit to UB, signing in May.

“Nobody anticipated 24 minutes a game, nobody anticipated 17 at Duke, 17 again tonight,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “He’s playing great.”

Massinburg averaged 23.8 points as a senior for Dallas’ South Oak Cliff High School, and he made the 20-man all-state team in Texas’ large-school classification. He had offers from plenty of small Division I schools, such as Prairie View, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Texas-Arlington and LIU-Brooklyn. He thought he could do better, so he held off making a commitment.

Oats still needed another guard in his recruiting class after being named UB’s head coach in mid-April. Oats heard about Massinburg through a friend, Dusty May, who was an assistant at Louisiana Tech. Oats had sent one of his Michigan high school players to Louisiana Tech a few years ago.

“Dusty said you should look at this kid; we looked at him at Louisiana Tech but decided not to take his position,” Oats recalled. Oats put assistant Jim Whitesell on the case. Whitesell liked what he saw and got Massinburg up to Buffalo for a visit on May 8.

“I had never seen him play live,” Oats said. “I told him, ‘Look, are you willing to come here, fight for minutes, maybe not play much as a freshman, maybe be a down-the-road guy?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever you want.’ He committed the day after the visit.”

“During my recruiting process, I got a little down and didn’t know where I was going to go,” Massinburg said. “I was about to settle for a junior college.”

“When I got a call from Buffalo, I didn’t know what Buffalo was, I didn’t know where it was, I never heard about it,” Massinburg said. “Once me and coach Whitesell started to talk, I started to do my research, and he told me they were the MAC champions and went to the NCAA Tournament. I started looking into the program. I felt the timing was perfect.”

Fast-forward seven months, and Massinburg is playing like a legitimate college scorer.

Midway through the first half against Binghamton, Massinburg hit three three-point shots, went coast-to-coast for a fast-break layup and converted a three-point play when he drove the lane, scored and was fouled. Boom. Fourteen points in four minutes.

He’s shooting 45 percent from the field, and his 14 three-pointers are second most on the team.

“I didn’t expect him to be this good,” Oats said. “This kid plays hard. He’s not babied, he’s not pampered.”

Oats likes the fact Massinburg is tough-minded.

“He plays well and you still see him stay after practice,” Oats said. “He still comes in on his own. It’s not like he plays well and gets comfortable. He’s a kid who takes coaching. I’ve probably got on CJ as much as I’ve got on anybody through the fall and early practices. … He looks you in the eye. ‘I’ll get it coach, my bad. I got it.’ Then you put him in the game and he brings some more energy. He’s a big piece of what we’re doing right now.”

If Massinburg can keep it going, he gives Oats depth and versatility in the backcourt, behind starters Lamonte Bearden and Jarryn Skeete.

Massinburg played solely at shooting guard in high school. But he has been able to handle the ball well when Bearden or Skeete have needed a rest.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play the combo in college, especially since I didn’t play it in high school,” Massinburg said. “But following behind Lamonte’s footsteps and learning from him every day on what to do at the point guard, I feel like I’ve progressed a lot.”

Bearden was sensational against Binghamton, scoring 14 points and dazzling 3,031 at Alumni Arena with his scoop shots. UB also got a strong game from junior forward Blake Hamilton, who had eight points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals.

UB (5-5) is off for a week until Saturday, when it plays host to Montana State.