MHERST — With coaching issues dominating the discussion at both schools, the University of Massachusetts and Rhode Island men's basketball teams still plan to find time to fit in a game tonight.
The 9:30 game at the Mullins Center comes amid uncertainty over who will coach either team next year — and until last night, who would coach Rhode Island tonight.
It's now known that the Rams' coach tonight will be Jerry DeGregorio, who announced Feb. 12 he would not be back next season, but would finish this year.
DeGregorio then missed two games last week as he was treated for exhaustion. Yesterday, doctors cleared him to return.
As for UMass, Bruiser Flint would rather focus on this year, even amid speculation about his own future.
"We've still got a chance to win it," he said, referring to the A-10 regular season title. "I know Saturday (an 84-52 home loss to Temple) was disheartening, what with a big crowd there and all that stuff.
"But we're still 9-3 in the league," he said. "We're still right there."
Actually, UMass (11-12, 9-3 A-10) is almost right there. St. Joseph's (11-1 A-1) leads by two games with four left for each team. Xavier (10-3) is in second.
For UMass to catch St. Joseph's, it must win at St. Joseph's Feb. 27 and get some help. The most likely chance for help comes tomorrow when St. Joseph's visits Dayton, which is always tough at home.
But any title talk is based on the knowledge that UMass cannot afford to lose again — certainly not to Rhode Island (5-21, 1-12), which has lost six straight and 13 of 14.
Flint admitted that three years of public debate about his future have worn on him. He told the Boston Globe that he loves Amherst, but is leaving the door open to considering other open coaching jobs, since he can't be sure of his status at UMass.
Flint, whose contract has one year left, said family and career concerns were forcing him to consider other options unless he received an administrative endorsement that may not come.
One coaching opening next year, ironically, will be at Rhode Island. One candidate is Rhode Island assistant George Blaney, who coached the Rams last week in DeGregorio's absence.
Rhode Island administrators, meanwhile, have already spoken with Rick Pitino about their open position. But Pitino officially pulled out over the weekend. Rhode Island also reportedly spoke to former Indiana coach Bobby Knight, who also said no.
Understandably, Flint sympathizes with DeGregorio.
"It's tough on somebody when you hear every day that your job is on the line," Flint said. "People have families, they have to walk around and sometimes hear snide comments from fans.
"It's tough enough winning and losing, and now the job has gone far beyond that," Flint said. "You've got all these (Internet) chat rooms, and you've got media reporting what's being said in the chat rooms. You've got to have a tough skin in this business, but I can see Jerry getting worn down."
MHERST - The challenge for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team is to prove that Saturday's miserable performance against Temple was an aberration, not the start of a slide.
Rhode Island, on the other hand, needs to prove that it hasn't given up on its season, as coach Jerry DeGregorio returns to the sideline.
The two teams meet tonight at 9:30 at the Mullins Center.
DeGregorio resigned last Monday, but was expected to coach the rest of the year. But shortly after he made that announcement, he checked into the hospital for exhaustion.
Assistant coach George Blaney, who has been the head coach at Holy Cross and Seton Hall, has coached the Rams' last two games, losses to George Washington and Xavier.
"When you have somebody with Jerry's work ethic, he was running himself ragged and he wasn't sleeping," Blaney explained.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said he knew his team was in trouble Saturday when it gave an underwhelming effort in practice Friday night. If that logic holds, the Minutemen stand to be better tonight after a strong practice Monday.
"It was a real good practice," Flint said. "(Saturday) got their attention. They know how serious they have to be from this point on."
The Rhode Island team the Minutemen will face is considerably different from the one UMass pasted, 78-46, three weeks ago.
Leading scorer and rebounder Tavorris Bell has returned from an academic suspension. His 19.9 points and 5.8 rebounds make the Rams significantly better.
Flint expressed high praise for Bell.
"He's the best player on their team," Flint said. "He makes them much more athletic and gives them another perimeter scorer. Last year we played them here and we beat them pretty good (89-50) and that kid played harder than anybody on the floor."
Combining Bell with guards Zach Marbury (17.5 ppg.) and Dinno Daniels (11.9 ppg) gives Rhody three potential double-figure scoring options.
For the Minutemen, senior center Kitwana Rhymer has struggled lately, but vows to emerge from his five-game slump.
"I've been thinking too much out there," Rhymer said. "I've been looking for every little thing. I just need to get out there and play."
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Flint, who has seen his own job security questioned for the past two years, sympathized with DeGregorio.
"It's tough every day to hear your job is in jeopardy," Flint said. "You still have to live everyday life. It's tough enough worrying about wins and losses, and then to hear about your job security all the time... You walk around the streets and people make snide remarks. This job is tough that way.
"People complain about how much coaches get paid," Flint continued. "That's why. You need a thick skin in this business. It goes far beyond wins and losses and you can't pay someone enough for that."