Hey, Minutemen, let's get serious
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 12/26/1999

Motivation. Some players get it through prayer, others through intimidation. Some coaches produce it by massaging egos, or battering them, or manipulating them.

If motivation could be manufactured like Toyotas, every team would play to its potential every game, and the best team would always win.

But as the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team saw at the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic, their fluctuating level of determination has affected their play so much that it's no longer clear how good or how bad they are.

This weighs heavily on Bruiser Flint, who knows his team's future, and likely his own, depends not on a new lineup or new plays. It depends on his team becoming serious about winning, and not just competing, every time out.

Competitive indifference cost UMass Tuesday's game against Southern Illinois, which won the battles for every loose ball and key rebound. The Salukis had been losing close games all season, and seemed ready to lose another one.

"They tried to give it back to us," Flint said after the 65-63 loss. "But we wouldn't take it."

Boston College offered no such choice. Bent on avenging an earlier loss to UMass, BC leisurely traded baskets for a few minutes, then buried the Minutemen 83-59.

Something was missing from the heart. Was this Flint's fault? His players? Everybody's? Finding the answer is essential, but elusive.

But it won't be found in the playbook or on film. It's deeper, more complex and more psychological than that.

"The thing is that almost everybody's playing," Flint said.

Only JoVann Johnson hasn't received an extended look at a key time, and he's not the answer to all ills.

Should Flint play whomever gives the best effort? Any short list would include Winston Smith and Anthony Oates, but Smith doesn't score much. Oates has scored three baskets in two years.

Play three guards? Intriguing, given the absence of small-forward production. But it might hurt rebounding, where UMass is already deficient.

A more exotic theory is to make Monty Mack the point guard. This would put the ball in your best player's hands, and Mack sometimes seems like the team's best passer in transition.

Flint has never looked at this seriously. Even in the best scenario, it would put overwhelming burdens on one player, because Mack would be expected to bring the ball up and shoot it, possibly with no other players touching it.

On the other hand, watching the other players touch it makes you wonder if more Mack might not be a better idea.

Flint conceded Thursday that he was temporarily out of ideas. But at least he has a few days to re-evaluate.

He's stopped belittling his players by name in public. That works with some athletes, but it's never worked with Flint's teams.

Besides, as people, he likes these guys. Dumping on them publicly has begun bothering him more and more.

In Flint's defense, these are just young men in an unpredictable age bracket. But they are not younger than the players of Southern Illinois or Boston College.

"I told my guys they weren't going to quit on me," Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber said after the Salukis had rallied from 14 down Tuesday.

"I'm very proud," Boston College coach Al Skinner said Thursday. "It was our guys' fourth game in five days. They could have packed it in."

These coaches' messages got through.

The answers for UMass will not be found in the playbook, but in the hearts, minds and egos of the players.

And in their coach's ability to reach them.


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