MHERST - The comparisons are hard to avoid, even if they put added weight on the shoulders of a 6-foot-11 freshman with a willowy 243-pound frame.
"He could be a special player, but he's still a freshman," University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint said of Micah Brand, who seemed to win the hearts of many of the 5,092 fans at the Mullins Center in Saturday's 82-52 win over Fordham.
"The other guys on the team have told him he could become another Marcus Camby if he gets serious," Flint said. "Micah has an unbelievable abundance of skills."
Brand has been getting more serious with every game, and Saturday, he grabbed seven rebounds with three points in 21 minutes. On a team that has often been predictable even when winning, Brand has become its most intriguing player — a big man with fluidity and grace, much like Camby, who was named the nation's player of the year in 1996.
"Micah can score, rebound, pass and put the ball on the floor a little," Flint said. "And his teammates trust him out there, which you can see because they pass him the ball in the post."
According to Flint, Brand also likes to be a little playful, an endearing trait as long as it doesn't get in the way of his development. For as Flint's comments indicate, there is no one on the team with as much upside as Brand.
"If he gets a little stronger, it could be scary," said Flint, mindful that Camby's thin frame was an issue at UMass, too. "We've got to get some more weight on him.
"But Micah picks at his food," Flint said. "Lari Ketner — he ate like a horse, two entrees when we went out to eat. Micah, though, he's a salad guy."
Brand made a splash in the preseason, scoring 16 points and hitting 10 straight free throws in his first game. But the games that counted were much tougher.
"In the beginning, I couldn't get a rebound," said Brand, who is averaging 13.4 minutes, 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds. "People would come over my back, or I'd just fumble the ball.
"But the week before the Providence game, I just concentrated on rebounding, and I had a pretty good game there," said Brand, who had seven boards in 12 minutes before fouling out of that Dec. 30 game. "I know I need to get rebounds."
Brand had his moments in the early games. His seven rebounds in the opener at Iona tied for the team lead, and he had nine points against Boston College Dec. 4.
As for the Camby comparisons, Flint says it's unfortunate that Brand doesn't have a teammate like Lou Roe, who gave Camby time to develop without pressure.
"When Lou was around, we didn't have to count on Marcus so much," Flint said. "If we had another Lou here, it would be better for Micah."
Brand is from Middletown, N.Y., but played his senior high school season at Milford (Conn.) Academy, where he averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. He was named as an honorable-mention All-America by Street & Smith magazine, and Athlon magazine ranked him seventh among the nation's prep post players.
He was also the class valedictorian at Milford, but the recruiting interest he attracted had its limits.
"He wasn't the hardest-working cat on the team, and that's why some schools didn't recruit him," Flint said. "But he's doing a better job of rebounding, and he's improved more than I thought he would to this point."
With starter Kitwana Rhymer often battling foul trouble, Brand seems assured of significant minutes for a team that hopes it turned a corner against Fordham, and plays Sunday at St. Joseph's. Brand thinks better days for UMass, and for himself, lie ahead.
"I think the team knows what we have to do to win," he said. "If we hustle and work hard, everything will come together."