Coverage from:
The Charleston (WV) Gazette - 4/2
The Boston Globe - 4/3
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 4/3
The Springfield Union-News - 4/3
The Massachusetts Daily Collegian - 4/9


excerpt from: Herd in search of big man
By Mike Whiteford, The Charleston (WV) Gazette Staff Writer, 4/2/1999

(Marshall head coach Greg) White also said that former Wheeling Park star Rafael Cruz, who played at the University of Massachusetts last season, will make an official visit later this month after spring break and may transfer. Cruz, a sophomore guard, averaged 2.5 points and seven minutes of playing time last year with the Minutemen.


UMass guard Cruz appears headed for Marshall
By The Boston Globe Staff and Wires, 4/3/1999

Marshall University basketball coach Greg White said yesterday that University of Massachusetts sophomore guard Rafael Cruz has contacted him about transferring. The 1996 West Virginia High School Player of the Year, Cruz, of Wheeling Park, W.Va., was one of the Minutemen's best perimeter shooters. He played sparingly through much of last season, averaging seven minutes and 3 points per game. Turnover problems often hampered his playing time. UMass officials last night said coach Bruiser Flint is out recruiting and could not be reached for comment. The Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette reported that White said he has spoken with Flint about Cruz's release. ''Now, it's just a matter of Rafael visiting us and us coming to agreement on the terms,'' White said.


Cruz may leave UMass
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 4/3/1999

AMHERST - University of Massachusetts sophomore guard Rafael Cruz is exploring the possibility of transferring to Marshall, but the move is not yet a done deal.

Photo
Rafael Cruz
Courtesey: UMass
According to Marshall coach Greg White, there may not be a scholarship spot available for the 6-foot-2 combo guard.

"I don't know yet," White told the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette. "We don't need guards. All of our guards last year were freshmen and sophomores."

The Thundering Herd only has one scholarship left to give and it is currently pursuing several big men.

White said that Cruz, who played high school basketball in Wheeling, W. Va., will have an official visit later this month.

"Now, it's just a matter of Rafael visiting us and us coming to agreement on the terms," White told the Associated Press.

If Cruz does leave, he would have to sit out a year under NCAA transfer regulations. Cruz scored four points in 11 minutes in the Minutemen's 88-66 loss to the Herd last season.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint is on the road recruiting and was unavailable for comment.

* * *

Since his team's season ended last month, Flint's luggage has been getting plenty of use.

In an effort to improve his roster for the 1999-2000 campaign Flint has been on a busy recruiting schedule.

The Minutemen have already signed Milford (Conn.) Academy center Micah Brand to a letter of intent leaving them with two scholarships to offer prospective recruits. That number would increase to three if Cruz departs.

Getting added scoring and players who can contribute right away has led Flint to several potential players in the junior college ranks.

The success of Maryland's Steve Francis, Cincinnati's Pete Mickael and Auburn's Chris Porter has brought many longtime skeptics into the junior college recruiting arena.

UMass' top priority appears to be Shon Coleman, a 6-foot-7 power forward who helped lead Indian Hills (IA) Community College to its third straight junior college national championship last month.

Coleman, who is from Statesville, N.C., originally committed to Wake Forest out of high school but didn't qualify academically and enrolled at Indian Hills.

After averaging 16 points and eight rebounds this season, Coleman has narrowed his choices to UMass, Providence and South Carolina. He is expected to visit Amherst sometime in the next few weeks.

DeMarcus Minor and Lamont Roland played in the junior college championship as well, but their Barton County (Kan.) Community College team fell to Coleman and Indian Hills.

Minor and Roland could be teammates again next year as both list UMass as one of their final choices.

Minor stands at 6-foot-5 and can play either guard position as well as small forward. A native of Garland, Tex., he has reputation as a good defender and penetrator. He spent a year at Marquette before transferring to Barton County.

In addition to UMass, which he will officially visit next weekend, Minor is also considering Minnesota and Kansas State.

Roland, who is originally from New Albany, Ind., was the "newcomer of the year" at Ball State as a freshman before going to Barton.

He has a reputation as an impressive offensive player and told Insider's Report that he would like to play for a black head coach in college.

Neosho Community College 6-foot-7 power forward Anthony Evans and 5-foot-9 Khalid Coursey, an undersized point guard from Dixie Junior College in St. George, Utah, also have UMass on their list of college possibilities.

The Minutemen also haven't given up on high school players.

Josh Kroenke, a 6-foot-5 sharpshooting two-guard at New Hampton (N.H.) Prep has UMass on a list that includes Rhode Island, Iowa, Missouri and Texas. UMass could gain an edge however by that fact that all of those schools except for Texas have either changed coaches or are in the process of doing so.

* * *

Despite rumors otherwise, Ronnell Blizzard is apparently staying at the University of Massachusetts for now according to his AAU coach Wayne Simone.

Simone acknowledged that for his former player to be successful at UMass, he needs to change his attitude.

"It's on Blizz. If he's not going to buy in and work harder then he's going to have to find another place to play," Simone said. "It looks like he's going to stay. He knows he has to change his approach and go in and work hard and buy into what Bruiser is trying to do there. He didn't do that until the last six weeks of the season last year. He needs to grow up a little bit and mature."

Information from several Internet recruiting sources was used in this article.


Flint confirms Cruz likely will transfer to Marshall
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News Staff Writer, 4/3/1999

AMHERST - University of Massachusetts basketball guard Rafael Cruz is in the process of transferring to Marshall, a move that is not yet definite but appears very likely.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint said yesterday that the 6-foot-2 sophomore has contacted Marshall coach Greg White, and that the two coaches have spoken about Cruz transferring to the Huntington, W.Va., school.

"He's wanted to go somewhere where he could play more," Flint said. "I was a little surprised, because he was playing a lot more at the end of the year for us."

Even so, Flint said that Cruz, who must still visit Marshall, isn't definitely leaving yet.

"He's not sure what he's doing," the UMass coach said. "But we have given him his release."

In quotes carried by the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, White sounded more definite that Cruz, who is originally from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, but played high school basketball in Wheeling, was on his way back to West Virginia.

"Now it's just a matter of Rafael visiting us and coming to agreement on the terms," White said.

Cruz played in 24 games for UMass (14-16) last season, averaging 2.3 points and 6.6 minutes. He shot 31.9 percent (15 for 47), and though he occasionally showed an ability to drive to the basket, most of his shots came from 3-point range, where he was 10 for 31.

He also hit 16 of 21 free throws for 76.2 percent, second to Monty Mack (77.8) on a team that shot only 59.9 percent from the line.

Cruz was runner-up for the West Virginia high school player of the year award in 1996 and 1997. Known as a capable scorer with defensive and ball handling deficiencies, he began seeing time at point guard toward the end of last season, despite Flint's concern over his propensity for turnovers.

He had shown his scoring touch with 16 points in 21 minutes against Duquesne in January. But his career assist high of six (in only 15 minutes) came in the season's final game, a 72-68 loss to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinal.

UMass, however, is planning to use Shannon Crooks at the point next season. Crooks becomes eligible after sitting out this year following a transfer from St. John's.

Cruz has been considered more suited to shooting guard, but that spot is taken by Mack, the team scoring leader.

"Raffy saw himself as never being more than a third or fourth guard with us," said Flint said.

The coach never promised Cruz anything more, but said he'd miss Cruz, who was also an honor roll student, if the player left.

"As a kid, I really like him," Flint said.

Neither Cruz nor White could be reached for comment yesterday.

Marshall was 16-11 last year, including an 88-66 win over UMass in December. Cruz scored four points in 11 minutes in that game.

If he transfers, he'll have to sit out the 1999-2000 season, according to NCAA rules.

The possibility of transfers was raised as the UMass season progressed, and it became clear that several scholarships were tied up in players whose futures with the program were unclear. Sophomore point guard Jonathan DePina, whose struggles opened the door for Cruz at the point, says he'll be back next season.

Freshman forward Ronell Blizzard said he expected to return, too, though he was less definite than DePina.

UMass currently has two scholarships open. Flint has been scouting the junior college ranks, looking for any offensive help he can find, but he has said he would like to improve the backcourt.


Cruz's plans may backfire; Ketner set for workouts
By Aaron Saykin, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian Columnist, 4/9/1999

The carnival is over for Rafael Cruz, and if he doesn't act fast, his ship may be headed for a sea of trouble.

The sophomore guard had planned on transferring to Marshall. In fact, that was the only place he had in mind. UMass coach Bruiser Flint cleared him to play for the Thundering Herd, but it seems as though they don't want him now. With a roster full of guards, Marshall coach Greg White was looking for a post player. And now Cruz has no place to call home.

"I've called some [other] schools for him myself, but I think he has his heart set on Marshall," Flint said. "If the Marshall thing doesn't work out, I don't know if he has a plan B."

One particular option Cruz will not have is a return to the Minutemen. Given the nature of the departure, Flint has no plans on allowing him to stay in Amherst, but he will ensure that Cruz finds another Division I program.

"He's not coming back. I just want to make sure he gets into school somewhere," Flint said. "I just wish he had an idea, other than Marshall, where he wants to go. I thought the Marshall thing was all set. Come to find out, a couple of people have come to me and said they've been saying [something else] in their newspapers. But we'll find something for him."

Although occasionally known for his scoring and passing ability, Cruz will not be missed by Flint, who was aggressively recruiting other guards long before Cruz considered transferring.

His 1998-99 season was highlighted by two breakthrough performances, the first of which was a 16-point showing against Duquesne on January 13, and a five-assist turnout on February 17 at George Washington. Despite his ability to contribute offensively, Cruz's playing time was significantly decreased because of his struggles on the defensive end.

And with St. John's transfer Shannon Crooks likely assuming the starting point guard duties next season, Cruz would have faced a return to the bench, where he was already competing for playing time with sophomore guard Jonathan DePina. The prospect of also battling new recruits may have made Cruz's decision a bit easier.

"I was going to recruit a guard anyway. In that respect it doesn't change things," Flint said of his current back court situation. "I told [Rafael] I was recruiting another guard, and we have Shannon coming in, so he thought his prospects of playing somewhere else were better."

In addition to Cruz, rumors of a possible DePina transfer had surfaced numerous times during the season. The South Boston native had, at best, an up-and-down 1998-99 campaign and was also considering a move, perhaps one nearer to home at Boston College or Boston University.

After starting for an injured Charlton Clarke in the final UMass game of the season, DePina seemed optimistic about his future with the Minutemen. But Flint's recent pursuit of backcourt recruits leaves DePina in a bit of a fix.

"I told Jonathan the same thing I told Raffi, that I'm going to recruit another guard, and he said OK," Flint said. "He's still thinking about it. We've discussed some things, but as of right now, he's OK."

Murmurs of transferring have also spread to the UMass front court. Second-year freshman Ronnell Blizzard had entertained such thoughts at times during the regular season, but seemed to dispel them after an outstanding finale against Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

"I think, in terms of Blizz, (and not just in the Xavier game), once he started to figure out some things, he was a little better," Flint said. "He got an opportunity to play. What people don't realize is the [talent] of the two guys he played behind, Chris Kirkland and Kit Rhymer. They played pretty good for us, so that was one of the things we discussed."

Soon-to-be graduate Lari Ketner will head to Phoenix next week to partake in the NBA pre-draft Desert Classic. Despite an extremely disappointing season, the 6-foot-10 center still clings to legitimate hopes of an NBA career. If Ketner can somehow reproduce the form he had during his sophomore and junior seasons, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for him.

"I know if he plays well out there, [NBA] will start to bring him in and working him out," Flint said of Ketner. "People keep telling me that they still think he's going to be a first-round pick. These post-season [workouts] sometimes are even more important than what you do during the season. If he does well, you never know."

But, as the case has always been with him, Lari Ketner's worst enemy is Lari Ketner. He better hope that the "happy" Lari appears in the desert. But even if it does, it may be nothing more than a mirage.


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