Mike Babul has some of the natural prerequisites to play small forward. He's athletic, with a talent for getting his share of offensive rebounds. He can defend just about any sort of scorer.
Babul has shut down both shooters and slashers during the last two seasons. No surprise there. UMass coach Bruiser Flint considers Babul as good a defender as there is in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Babul also likes to think he has a fairly quick first step, but there's a problem here. Babul has sometimes found it hard to drive past his man when that player is playing 3-to-5 feet off him or cheating back to double-team UMass center Lari Ketner.
Not many players on this team are urged by Flint to drive or shoot, but with room like this, Babul is one of them.
After last week's career-high 15-point performance in a 73-69 loss to St. John's, Flint is going to stop asking. As of this week, the coach is demanding that Babul take more of an offensive initiative.
"I told him that he raised the bar for himself in that St. John's game," said Flint. "I just want Mike to be more aggressive with his rebounding and taking it to the hoop when he has the opportunity. That, for me, is being aggressive. If you take it to the rack, you're going to get fouled, too. Then you're at the line.
"Like I told Mike -- no more three-point, two-rebound games. I won't accept that anymore."
Babul acknowledged that he is on notice to expand his offensive production.
"Yeah, I had a good game and it helped me realize what I'm capable of doing," he said yesterday. "But I was also in that game for a long time. I don't know if I'll ever play that much time again -- 38 minutes.
"But they're definitely emphasizing it now. I've been working a lot over the last three years to try and improve this."
Rarely, however, has this team had such a glaring need for an offensive threat who isn't a center, power forward or shooting guard.
An increase in Babul's productivity would obviously help unlock the cage of defenders that now surround Ketner.
Beyond Monty Mack, and occasionally Charlton Clarke, the Minutemen have not had a player capable of breaking zones and double-teams over the last year.
In the case of Babul, Flint would be happy if opponents simply played the forward "honest" the rest of the way.
"They've been playing off of him. He has to do something," said Flint.
"I wouldn't say that I'm shy with the ball, but sometimes it's a matter of thinking too much, instead of just doing it," he said. "You're out there trying to please the coach, and you're trying to think of how to do that. Sometimes he doesn't like it if you come down and shoot a quick one."