Approach clean-cut for Flint
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 9/21/1999

The question recently was about whether last season's losing record was forcing Bruiser Flint to lower his recruiting standards. It's nice to have good citizens, but hey, he needs guys, and now.

"If I were lowering my standards," the University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach said, "I'd be signing people."

The current NCAA-sanctioned recruiting period ends Sunday, though kids can't sign until November. And as the pressure to win intensifies, so does the pressure to mortgage the program's ethical soul for a quick fix.

Flint says he's nowhere to the point where to get a kid, he'd sell his soul to the devil. That's not a problem with many coaches, who are the devil, but it is with Flint.

UMass, under Flint, has had your occasional personnel problem. But it's been a clean program, and Flint says that won't change.

"We destroyed ourselves from the inside out," Flint said of that 14-16 season, the one that has some alumni howling like wolves for a coaching change. "But I'm not going to bring anybody in who will embarrass me, or the school."

Modern college basketball offers coaches three choices:

1. Win with ethics. This is what Flint, a man of strong upbringing and impeccable character, has always intended to do. But there is some doubt that anyone can do it in a world where the AAU coach often wears the hats of parent, coach, agent and mob boss.

2. Lose with ethics. This is what Flint did last year. He says it was due to bad chemistry, and he intends to win again his way, not with guys who you'll see on A&E's "Investigative Reports."

3. Win, no matter what. Sign Jeffrey Dahmer if he can shoot the 3. More alumni are demanding this than you might think.

"Just taking bodies you never do that," said Flint, ignoring that many coaches do. "I won't bring a kid here just for him to fail."

That's the choice he had in 1998 with Scott Clark, whose shooting touch would have helped. Clark wanted to come here; in fact, he reportedly still does, even as he attends junior college in Fresno, Calif.

But Flint was convinced Clark needed to grow up before tackling life at a big university. So UMass and Clark parted company.

Flint, much more embattled now than then, claims he'd handle that situation the same way today.

"We've never had anybody (become academically) ineligible or flunk out since I've been here," he said. "I take pride in that."

But the fans yearn for victory, and an increasing number aren't fussy about the details. A kid wants a car? What model?

Flint, though, would be a lousy crook even if he tried. If he ever tried to pull some sleaze to get a stud player, even the parents would break out laughing.

Of course, it's not as easy as just saying Flint is too honest. Adam Harrington didn't ask for Flint to break any rules; he just wanted to be told he was needed.

At the time, Flint wasn't convinced, and he said as much. It caused a rift that has never healed.

This year's crop, not counting transfers, includes center Micah Brand, who signed early last year before the roof caved in and JoVann Johnson, a junior college guard. A forward from Boston, Raheim Lamb, has made a verbal commitment for next year.

Otherwise, the Minutemen are on everybody's lists, but now that Susan Lucci has won an Emmy, UMass runs the risk of becoming America's Runner-up.

Flint says he'll win, and he says he'll win with guys who may need a tutor but won't constantly need a lawyer. I don't know if he can do it. But I'm one of the dreamy idealists who hope he can.

"The hard part with recruiting is that with the rules as they are, you don't get to know the people," Flint said. "But our recruiting is done the same way it's always been. I think we'll sign kids that way, and I think we'll win that way, too."

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