Flint: Minutemen must shove back: Team is being pushed around too much
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 12/17/1998

No solution is too remote, no problem too wild to consider where the UMass basketball team is concerned.

There was a team psychologist sitting off to the side in the locker room, silently taking notes as coach Bruiser Flint talked to his downtrodden Minutemen following Tuesday night's 66-55 loss to Villanova in Philadelphia.

``I felt that this was the type of team that might need one,'' said Flint.

It's not a stretch, obviously. UMass, billed as one of the biggest, most intimidating teams in the nation prior to the start of the season, is 2-5. A good portion of the blame for that record is because the Minutemen have not played up to their size. They were pushed around by Villanova, a hulking 9-2 team in the classic Big East tradition. But the Minutemen have also been pushed around by little guys, like the College of Charleston and Marshall.

Of all the problems Flint envisioned, a need to hand out Charles Atlas tough guy manuals was not one of them. Enter the sports psychologist, a concept that is not foreign to the UMass program. Former coach John Calipari occasionally attempted to pick the minds of his players via this method - a practice that gave Flint his present idea. But those UMass teams always played bigger than their collective size.

This one seems to be melting. This one seems to cower the moment someone hits back.

``At this point in time I've tried a little bit of everything,'' said Flint. ``I just told our guys that we have to play with some (expletive deleted) heart.''

At this stage, Lari Ketner qualifies as an enigma. The 6-foot-10 center had another problematic night, this time during his Philadelphia homecoming. He shot 5-of-16 and at his most frustrated, he missed an open dunk, sending the ball into orbit off the back of the rim.

But Ketner does not take this one on the chin by himself. There is a weird kind of chemistry at work across the board. It's not that the Minutemen have been strangely intimidated by their opposition.

``Nah, it's not that we get intimidated,'' said Flint. ``We get tight. And that's something we talk about all the time. Right now I'm telling the guys to go out, have fun and then we'll start winning games.''

It's naturally hard to have fun at a time like this, as Charlton Clarke's clenched - make that frozen - jaw will attest. Like everyone else, the UMass captain is at a loss for answers.

``These guys just have to come out and play with fire,'' he said. ``When we're up 10-0 or 12-0, it's great. But when the other team pushes you around, are you going to push back?

``It's like the coach says, some guys just want to make the hero plays instead of getting through the game.''

For Flint, the frustrating part is what he sees in practice. The Minutemen, out of view of a game night crowd, have no shortage of ferocity and heart.

``If you had seen our practice (Monday), you would have thought we would have won the game by 20 points,' said Flint of the hustle the Minutemen showed.

``It's nothing technical. It comes from within.''


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