Although invented by James. A. Naismith nearby in Springfield in 1891, basketball took several years to take firm root at UMass Amherst. Following the refitting of the old Drill Hall as a gymnasium in 1899, MAC students had a suitable, though unheated court on which to play during inclement weather
he game was introduced to the College by the class of 1901 during their freshman year in 1898-1899, with inter-class games following the next year.
During the 1899-1900 season, MAC scheduled four games against outside competition (none collegiate), winning their first game on Jan. 10, 1900, against the Northampton YMCA by a score of 14-9, but losing to the Ware Young Men's Association, the Williston School, and Chicopee Parish House. The first varsity slate was played in 1902, beginning with a 18-12 loss to Amherst College on January 18, followed by a 16-14 victory on Feb. 20 against Trinity College. The modest success of a 5-3 record on the year, however, did not ensure longevity. Not belonging to a league made it difficult for the college to schedule games regularly and the sport struggled generally to find popularity. In 1908, the student body voted to give the team a trial of one more year, at the end of which, basketball was dropped as a varsity sport.
Athletic director Curry Hicks revived basketball during the 1916-1917 school year, hiring alumnus Harold M. “Kid” Gore (1913) as the first coach. During 11 seasons, Gore ran up a record of 85-53, and his successor Fritz Ellert was even more successful during his four years at the college (38-19). The best single season, however, followed Ellert's final year at Mass. State, when new coach Melvin Taube led the team to a perfect 12-0 record.
After the Second World War, UMass joined the Yankee Conference for the 1948-1949 season. Although they enjoyed only mixed success for the next decade, the team won the Yankee Conference championship ten times, finding consistent success in the 1960s under coaches Johnny Orr and Jack Leaman (the program's winningest coach with 217 victories). The team from 1961-1962 was the first to be invited to take part in the NCAA tournament, and by the 1960s and early 1970s, the team attracted nationally-ranked played such as Julius Erving, Al Skinner, and Rick Pitino.
Following several down seasons after Leaman's retirement in 1978, the Minutemen rebounded under new coach John Calipari, who arrived in 1988. Under Calipari, the team became A-10 Tournament champions five consecutive years (1991-1996) and played in the NCAA Tournament seven times, appearing twice in the Elite Eight (1995, 1996) and once in the Final Four (1996). The team has subsequently shared the A-10 Regular Season championship in 2007 with Xavier and have played in the NIT twice, losing to Ohio State in the NIT championship game in 2008.