Minutemen get some respect
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News Staff reports, 11/6/1998

PHILADELPHIA -- Beware of preseason predictations.

After all, Duquesne picked up one first-place vote in the Atlantic 10 Conference men's basketball preseason media poll announced yesterday, even though the overall vote placed the Dukes last in the West Division.

Nonetheless, the Univerity of Massachussetts received a decent share of the preseason respect yesterday, both in the A-10 poll and two national surveys. It wasn't spectacular, but it showed the Minutemen remain a force on the national stage. UMass was ranked 24th in the Associated Press and No. 23 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches survey. And in the Atlantic-10, media voters placed UMass second in the East Division, giving the Minutemen 12 first-place votes with Temple the strong choice for first.

At yesterday's conference media day at the Spectrum, Atlantic 10 coaches praised the overall quality of the league, which they feel has surpassed the Big East as a power conference.

"We got five teams in the NCAA tournament last year, and I think it will be an upset if we don't get five again," Dayton coach Oliver Purnell said.

"The Atlantic 10 is no longer a secret. I think we're seeing that in recruiting, too, because the league in now getting more quality big guys, and they're the hardest to recruit."

UMass senior center Lari Ketner landed a spot on the preseason all-Atlantic 10 first team announced yesterday. Senior guard Clarlton Clarke was a third-team member, and junior forward Mike Babul was named to the all-defensive team.

Temple, a No. 7 pick in both national polls, picked up 34 or the 48 first place votes in the East Division. Then came UMass, followed by Rhode Island, which was picked third and the gained the other two first-place votes. Even with Tyson Wheeler (who played on the Team Fokus in last night's exhibition game against UMass) and Cutino Mobley, Rhode Island was No. 23 in the AP Poll and No. 25 in the coaches survey. Much of the Rams' appeal is based on 6-foot 9 freshman Lamar Odom, a talent of almost mythical proportions who is already being labeled a future NBA star -- before playing his first college game.

"People ask me if he can live up to the hype, and I think he can," Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick said. "It gets him nervous, though. I tell him he doesn't have to get 20 points and 10 rebounds every night -- a just a triple double. Just kidding."

Rhode Island went to the NCAA Elite Eight last year, and Harrick doesn't think the Rams national ranking is misplaced.

"We weren't exactly chopped live last year, and we really came together when (center) Luther Clay and (forwards) Antonio Reynolds-Dean came around," Both Clay and Reynolds-Dean have returned.

Xavier was the overwhelming pick to win the West Division of the Atlantic 10, taking 39 first-place votes. George Washington, which will be led by new coach Tom Penders, received six votes, Dayton two and Duquesne has the other vote -- a surprise even for rookie coach, who said he was hoping only to be competition this season.

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