UMass abandons trademarks
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, 11/20/1998

With Wednesday's disappointing defeat to St. John's already in the books, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team has 11 days to find itself.

Despite preseason talk that this season would be different - that this year the Minutemen would reassert themselves on the national scene - Wednesday night's Minutemen looked an awful lot like the same group that lost to Saint Louis in March - tentative and too often rudderless.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing about Wednesday's effort was that outside of Mike Babul, who was brilliant on both ends of the floor, the Minutemen abandoned their trademarks of rebounding and defense.

The undersized Red Storm outrebounded the Minutemen, 49-37, and the usually tough Minuteman defense gave up far too many easy baskets.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint figuratively threw his arms in the air after the game.

"They gotta come ready to play," he said. "Some guys didn't come out. They played a little afraid.

"I can't put on the uniform and play for them," he continued. "With this team, a lot of it is not physical, it's mental. We couldn't get ourselves out of the funk."

Comparing Flint to his predecessor, John Calipari, is unfair. Rare is the time that a Steve Young is waiting in the wings to replace Joe Montana. But saying the Minutemen lack the motivation of their predecessors is a fair criticism, and part of coaching is getting players mentally ready to play.

Even if Flint deserves a portion of the blame, it's easy to wonder if anything will motivate some of these players.

Flint could have said nothing prior to tip-off and the players should have had ample reason to be up for the game.

For one thing, on national television the Minutemen had a chance to make a statement with the eyes of the nation, and all their friends, watching. It also was a chance to beat a team from the rival Big East, a team coached by Mike Jarvis, who has embarrassed UMass repeatedly in the past and knocked the Minutemen out of the Atlantic 10 Tournament last year.

Further, a win would have sent them to Madison Square Garden, still among the sport's grandest stages, for a chance to play Stanford, a team ranked in the top three in the nation.

For Charlton Clarke and Ajmal Basit, two of the biggest offenders Wednesday, this game was just a stone's throw from their homes in the Bronx and Brooklyn, respectively.

How could they not be motivated?

It was the same story a year ago against Connecticut, when the Huskies smacked the Minutemen 72-55. Playing a nationally ranked traditional rival, the Minutemen were flat. After that, Flint said he thought too many Minutemen were busy worrying about their ride home instead of the game - a reason, perhaps, but not an excuse.

Two games do not make a season, but they can set a tone. The Minutemen rebounded from a tough run last year to pound George Washington, 79-48.

In 11 days the Minutemen will step onto the floor in South Carolina against the College of Charleston, a team that is not as good as St. John's but likely better than Niagara.

If the Minutemen show up ready, and more important, willing, it is a game they should win and one they can use as a springboard to the rest of the season.

If not, UMass is in for a long, tough haul.


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