MHERST, Mass. - The UMass men’s basketball team will kick off its 1999-2000 season on Wednesday night, Nov. 3, at the Mullins Center with an exhibition game against the California All-Stars. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m. The All-Stars feature a lineup of 10 former college players, and are coached by Phil Bryant.
The game is a chance for the Minutemen to show off their new, up-tempo style of basketball. In addition, it will be the first time that fans can check out the exciting new additions to the UMass lineup, such as sophomore point guard Shannon Crooks and freshman center Micah Brand. Crooks, who was a 1996 Boston Globe “Super Team” and Boston Herald “Dream Team” selection, comes to UMass from St. John’s, where he appeared in 23 of the Red Storm’s 32 games as a freshman in 1997-98. Brand was an all-Northeast selection at Milford (Conn.) Academy last year, and was rated the No. 7 high school post player in the country by Athlon. He was ranked in the top 90 seniors in the 1999 recruiting class by several national publications as well.
Tickets for the game are available by calling the UMass Athletic Ticket Office at (413) 545-0810, and can also be purchased the night of the game.
MHERST - JoVann Johnson's face lit up when he was asked about making his University of Massachusetts debut tonight.
"I'm very excited," Johnson said. "This has been a dream for me to play at this level. I'm just happy I'm here."
Johnson and the Minutemen open their exhibition slate tonight against the California All-Stars at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
Johnson won't be the only Minuteman making his debut. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, sophomore guard Shannon Crooks will make his debut, as will freshman center/forward Micah Brand.
The Minutemen will be without seniors Monty Mack and Mike Babul. Mack is recovering from a stress fracture to his foot that he suffered early last month. He will be X-rayed Thursday to determine how much his foot has healed and when he can begin running and practicing on it.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint isn't too worried about Mack falling behind learning the team's new offense.
"Most of the plays are to him anyway so he'll pick up quick," Flint said with a laugh.
Babul suffered a strained muscle in his lower back last week and should return soon.
The Minutemen plan to press more on defense this year, but the absence of Mack and Babul will leave the Minutemen a little short-handed tonight.
"We probably won't be able to press as much because we don't have enough guys to be able to keep rotating in like that," Flint said.
Whether the California All-Stars run the backdoor bounce pass or not remains to be seen, but they do have a pair of ex-Princeton players - Mitch Henderson and Gabe Lewullis - on the roster. Princeton is well-known for its backdoor plays.
Like most barnstorming teams, the All-Stars aren't overflowing with household names. Former Michigan guard Robbie Reid is among the more recognizable players who will suit up on a team that features only two players who actually played college basketball in the Golden State.
For Flint, it doesn't matter if his team is playing the California All-Stars or the Alaskan All-Stars - he just wants to give his team a chance to work on its new offensive game.
"I just want to see who has been playing well in practice that doesn't play well in the game and I want to see who hasn't been playing well that goes in there and plays well," Flint said. "You have to see what happens when the lights go on with some of these guys."
In addition to Springfield's Dwayne Early, who is a new walk-on this year, Dale Menendez also has joined the UMass squad. Menendez, a sophomore guard from East Moriches, N.Y., transferred to UMass after playing a year at C.W. Post. That means he has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but he is allowed to practice, which, as a walk-on, is mostly what he would be doing anyway.
The Minutemen will have one more exhibition game, Nov. 10 against the Converse All-Stars, before opening their regular season on Nov. 20 at Iona.
MHERST — For starters, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team will be missing two starters tonight.
That's what preseason games are for, though — to see the new players and try out new lineups.
So tonight at the Mullins Center, UMass will play the California All-Stars without Monty Mack and Mike Babul, which means the final score may be even less significant than is usually the case in these games against touring post-college players.
The 7 p.m. game is the first of two preseason contests for UMass, which opens its regular season Nov. 20 at Iona. The Minutemen play host to the Converse All-Stars Nov. 10.
"It will give us a chance to see if the players who are practicing well can carry it over to a game," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said yesterday. "And it will let us see if some players who haven't been practicing well can do better. We've been practicing pretty well, but you never really know until the lights go on."
Mack is out with a stress fracture in his left foot. He will be examined by doctors tomorrow, and his status for the second preseason game is doubtful. UMass still hopes to have him against Iona.
Babul has a muscle strain in his back. The absence of both players could mean starting roles for point guard Jonathan DePina and 6-foot-3 junior-college transfer JoVann Johnson, who normally plays guard but could also slide into the small forward spot.
The featured attraction, however, is expected to be Shannon Crooks, who makes his debut in a UMass uniform. The 6-2 sophomore from Everett takes over as the starting point guard after sitting out last season, which followed his transfer from St. John's.
Crooks is expected to offer a slashing, athletic style not always seen from past UMass point guards. His talents suit Flint's declared commitment to pick up the tempo — a plan he had in mind last year, but squashed after the preseason because he didn't believe it suited point guard Charlton Clarke's style.
The Minutemen went back into their half-court mode, but struggled through a 14-16 season.
Crooks averaged only 1.9 points and one assist per game in his brief, 23-game tenure at St. John's in 1997-98. But Crooks said he comfortable in the UMass system, and two of his closest friends are backup point guard DePina and Mack, the only proven outside threat.
Kitwana Rhymer replaces current Chicago Bulls forward Lari Ketner in the pivot, and will make his debut as the starting pivotman.
And senior Chris Kirkland, who blossomed into a star last season, will start at power forward.
UMass fans can also expect to get a first look at 6-10 freshman Micah Brand, who played for Milford Academy last season and has looked good in practice.