PHILADELPHIA - For now, at least, Ronell Blizzard says he'll be back with the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team next season.
Jonathan DePina says he'll be back, too, and DePina sounds much more definite about it.
The two UMass players have been the subject of speculation that they'd consider transferring, since sophomore guard DePina's playing time decreased this season, and freshman forward Blizzard's career has never managed to get off the ground.
"I can't really say, but I guess right now, I'd say no," said Blizzard, who played nine minutes with four points in yesterday's 72-68 Atlantic 10 Conference quarterfinal loss to Xavier at the Spectrum. "There's always the possibility, but I think transferring might not be in my best interest."
Blizzard was a medical redshirt as a freshman last season. This year, the 6-foot-8 Waterbury, Conn., native was the talk of preseason play as a potential scoring force.
Prior to yesterday, though, he had played a total of 1 minute in the last 18 games. UMass coaches have said Blizzard needs a better work ethic in practice to earn more time, but Blizzard said he still respects Bruiser Flint.
"I said at the beginning of the year that I just wanted an opportunity, whether it came in the first game or the last," Blizzard said. "Bruiser is a young coach, and I think as he develops as a coach, that will help me develop as a player."
While Blizzard kept open the option of transferring, DePina seemed to close the issue yesterday by saying it never really existed.
"I never said anything about leaving," the 5-9 Boston native said after scoring four points with three assists in a season-high 25 minutes. "I'm coming back. This game gives me a little confidence that I can play here."
The two situations are not similar. Blizzard has been considered a potentially big talent who has not adjusted to college basketball's demands, while the questions about DePina have focused on whether he's capable of playing at a high-level Division I school. Flint used DePina in 56 of his first 57 games over two years, but kept him on the bench for the final three regular-season games.
Next season, Flint expects Shannon Crooks to start at point guard. Crooks sat out this season after transferring from St. John's, and DePina may find himself competing with Rafael Cruz (two points and a career-high six assists yesterday) to be the backup - unless Flint recruits another guard.
"I thought Jonathan and Raffy both played hard (against Xavier)," Flint said. "That's all I can ask."
UMass assistant coach Geoff Arnold missed the first half when his wife, Stephanie, went to the hospital to check out a heart fluctuation. She was soon determined to be doing well again, and Arnold was on the bench for the second half.
At one point in the first half, the UMass lineup included only one player (Monty Mack) who began the season as a starter. Also playing were Chris Kirkland, who began starting in midseason, and reserves Winston Smith, Kitwana Rhymer and Cruz.
After only playing a combined 10 minutes in two games since New Year's Day, Ronell Blizzard played nine minutes in Thursday's loss to Xavier, scoring four points and grabbing one rebound.
Blizzard had only played in nine games all season. After playing in the first seven, he spent most of his time on the bench, prompting rumors that the 6-foot-8 Waterbury, Conn. native might be contemplating transferring.
Blizzard took a long pause before answering when asked about those rumors Thursday.
"I can't really say," he began. "I'd say no. There's always a possibility, but I don't think that's in my best interest. (Bruiser and I) have a great relationship. I think the best thing for me is that he is a young coach and he's had a lot of experience with young players. I think as he develops as a coach, he'll help me develop as a player."
If Blizzard did decide to leave, he would lose a year of eligibility, because he sat out last season as a redshirt.
Transfer rumors had also involved sophomore point guard Jonathan DePina, who was pressed into the starting lineup Thursday to replace the injured Charlton Clarke. DePina denied that he was planning on leaving.
"I haven't heard about them yet," DePina said of the rumors. "I'm happy here. I'm going to work hard for next season."
DePina was pleased that he was chosen to start in Clarke's place.
"It just showed that coach has confidence in me still. I knew if I played hard, I'll be all right. I know that if I keep working hard, I'll be all right here."
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Monty Mack will have to wait until next year to score his 1,000th point. He needs 15 to reach the plateau.
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Ex-Minuteman Ajmal Basit, who was dismissed from the team last month, has been in contact with several schools about the possibility of transferring. Rutgers is reportedly the leader.