he Steve Lappas era begins in earnest on Sunday afternoon when his Massachusetts Minutemen take on the Boston Athletic Basketball Club (BABC) All-Stars in exhibition action at the Mullins Center.
It will be the first chance for Lappas, his coaching staff and all UMass fans to get a glimpse of the 2001-2002 Minutemen.
Coming off a disappointing 15-15 season that saw the Minutemen miss the postseason for just the second time in the past 12 years, Lappas and company will be looking to find some positives in Sunday's performance from which they can build a successful campaign.
"The best value of these exhibition games is to be able to take the film afterwards and watch it with them to show them the mistakes and what we want," Lappas said. "It's one thing to tell them on the court and it's another thing to watch it. I think that's the biggest benefit that you get out of this."
Joining Lappas in making their Mullins Center debuts will be five newcomers, four of whom are expected to contribute from the opening tip. Freshmen Kyle Wilson and Brennan Martin will join sophomores Anthony Anderson, Raheim Lamb and Paco Kotaridis in donning the Maroon and White in game conditions for the first time. Anderson is expected to get the start at point guard with Wilson backing him up off the bench.
With Wilson and Anderson firmly entrenched as Lappas' one-two punch at the point, senior tri-captain Shannon Crooks will need to get used to a new position. After starting at point guard for the past two seasons and helping find shots for Monty Mack, the second leading scorer in school history, Crooks slides over to the two-guard slot in the UMass starting lineup. Crooks averaged nine points per game last year and should see that number increase as the team's No. 1 backcourt option.
While the backcourt has seen significant shifting and shuffling from last season, the frontcourt remains pretty much intact. Senior captain Kitwana Rhymer returns alongside junior Micah Brand to form one of the most fearsome low post combinations in the Atlantic 10. Rhymer, the reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, averaged nearly 10 points and seven rebounds in 2000-01 while his partner in crime, Brand, averaged 8.4 points and 4.7 boards. If those two get into foul trouble on Sunday or at any point during the season expect to see either Jackie Rogers or Eric Williams get up off the bench and replace them. Rogers and Williams will also fight for probable sixth man honors.
The lone change up front for the Minutemen will be at small forward where no less than five players will be vying, not only for the starting role, but for any available minutes. Senior Ronell Blizzard, Martin, and a trio of sophomores, Willie Jenkins, Jameel Pugh and Lamb will all be looking to impress their new coach in their penultimate tune-up prior to the Nov. 16 opener against the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. Blizzard, a native of Waterbury, Conn., played the most out of those five last campaign, but it will be Jenkins who gets the starting nod against BABC.
"I think that's what's going to happen Sunday," said Lappas, about his decision to start Jenkins. "But there is nothing set in stone for this season. This is the way we are going to start this first game but I can guarantee you there is somebody on that bench that will start the season out of the rotation that will end up in that rotation."
No matter who starts or who comes off the bench for the Minutemen, the action promises to get underway Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
MHERST - The last time James Brown played against the University of Massachusetts, the 6-foot-7 forward had to tangle with John Tate inside, while his teammates chased a young backcourt of Jim McCoy and Anton Brown.
The NIT-bound Minutemen prevailed 76-60 against Boston University that night 11 years ago.
At 6-foot-7, Brown is the tallest and among the oldest players the Minutemen will encounter Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Mullins Center, when they play the BABC All-Stars in the team's first exhibition of the season.
Three Minutemen - Raheim Lamb, Brennan Martin and Kyle Wilson - will make their UMass debuts. Anthony Anderson won't play, as he's been suspended for violating team rules.
Wilson will start for the Minutemen at point guard. He'll be joined on the perimeter by senior Shannon Crooks and sophomore small forward Willie Jenkins. Senior Kitwana Rhymer and junior Micah Brand are returning starters inside.
The Boston Amateur Basketball Club is a highly successful AAU program in eastern Massachusetts that has produced several Division I players over the years, including current Minutemen Crooks and Lamb.
The BABC team Sunday will feature several former members of that program.
New UMass coach Steve Lappas actually recruited Lloyd Mumford when he was an assistant coach at Villanova before leaving to become the head coach at Manhattan. Mumford played at Villanova with current UMass assistant Chris Walker before transferring to Cal-Irvine.
The team's younger players include ex-UTEP guard Eggie McRae and Boston University forward Jean Abebe.
Crooks said it would be odd to play against the BABC.
"I could never picture myself playing against BABC since I've been playing with them for so long," he said. "A lot of the guys they said were coming in I used to look up to when I was younger."
Crooks expected some playful trash talk.
"It's going to be fun, a chance to see them on a different level. I'm sure they'll enjoy playing against me, too," he said. "I know they're going to try to get on me during the game, talk trash and stuff like that. They're real good guys. They want the best for me."
Lappas said he plans on playing everybody. Of the two exhibition games, this one is more of a teaching exercise, the other being more of a dress rehearsal.
"It'll much more loosey-goosey in this one. The next one is the last real tune-up until we play for real," said Lappas, who said the specific things he would look for from his team are "execution of the things we've worked on in our offense, (and) our man-to-man defense. Probably those two things more than anything else."
Height could be a problem for the BABC team, with just four players over 6-foot-4 and nobody over 6-7, while the Minutemen feature five players listed taller than 6-8.
niversity of Massachusetts men's basketball fans who were awaiting the debut of point guard Anthony Anderson will have to wait a little longer. He has been suspended for the exhibition vs. the BABC All Stars on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Coach Steve Lappas said Anderson violated team rules. He added that Anderson is expected to play in the next game, a Nov. 12 exhibition against the EA Sports All-Stars.
The sophomore point guard, who sat out last season as an academic non-qualifier, is slated to be the starting point guard after strong play during UMass' trip to Greece and an impressive preseason.
Freshman Kyle Wilson, who also has drawn praise from the coaching staff, will start in his place, along with Kitwana Rhymer, Micah Brand, Willie Jenkins and Shannon Crooks.
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Senior Jackie Rogers is battling minor injuries but likely will play.
"He's banged," Lappas said. "He has a back and an ankle (injury), but I think he'll be OK."
Jameel Pugh (ankle) and Wilson (hand) have overcome their respective injuries and will play.
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Former UMass guard Jonathan DePina, who previously had been considered a possibility to play for the BABC All Stars, is not expected to be in their lineup.