Coverage from:
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Springfield Union-News

UMass men ready to run
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 10/13/1999

AMHERST - Stop me if you've heard this one...

The hot topic of discussion at the annual University of Massachusetts men's basketball media day this year was that the Minutemen are planning to switch to a more up-tempo offense.

But this was the same game plan that coach Bruiser Flint unveiled a year ago at media day, and once the season arrived, his team reverted to its half-court style.

Flint said this year's personnel are more suited to pick up the pace.

"We're going to play different," Flint said. "Anybody knows you run when you have guys that can run and you walk when you have guys that walk. So we're going to run, we're going to press. We'll be fun to watch, I hope. We actually have the personnel that can do it this year. We tried to do it last year, but after the second exhibition game we couldn't run up and down the floor.

"There's certainly things that you need to be a running team," Flint continued. "A lot of it starts with your guards. You need to have guards that can run and forwards that can run the floor. We're a little bit more athletic than we were last year. We're more suited for it."

Mike Babul
Senior forward Mike Babul can't wait to play in the new system.

"I was hoping it would happen last year," Babul said. "If we run, that would get everyone more chances to score in the open court, which would be more exciting."

* * *

Senior shooting guard Monty Mack was in good spirits despite the stress fracture to his foot. He needed crutches to get around and kept his foot iced and elevated during most of the interviews, but he expected to be back for the opener and promised to be back for the team's second game against defending national champion Connecticut.

"I'm just going to take it one day at a time. If I don't feel right, I'm not going to rush, but I won't miss the second game," Mack said, smiling. "It's frustrating. When the doctor told me, I wanted to cry, but I'd rather have it now than in December."

Mack also confirmed that he is on track to get his degree in four years, which would earn him back another year of eligibility.

"I'm actually ahead," he said.

* * *

The event was the first official function as members of the Minutemen for three players - Micah Brand, Eric Williams and JoVann Johnson. Williams has to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer regulations after leaving Syracuse.

When he becomes eligible, he will be the first player to wear No. 21 for the Minutemen since Marcus Camby. Brand and Johnson, who are eligible immediately, will wear Nos. 40 and 4, respectively.

UMass ready to run
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 10/13/1999

AMHERST - For the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, the running game has so far been a running story line, but nothing more.

Last year, the Minutemen went into the preseason with plans to pick up the tempo, but two exhibition games convinced coach Bruiser Flint to abandon the plan because he didn't think he had the personnel to do it.

But a new season beckons, and this time, he says UMass will run and press. Really.

"If I could win by playing like Princeton, that's what I'd do," said Flint, insisting he is not philosophically opposed to any style, including a quicker one.

"My first two years, I enjoyed playing half-court, smash-mouth basketball - because we won," Flint said. But last year, UMass was 14-16, averaging an unspectacular 64.3 points per game and rarely scoring an easy basket.

"We tried to pass it up the floor, but teams scouted us and they knew they had to defend that," Flint said.

With that in mind, the coach says he's more committed to changing the style this season than a year ago, when his change of plans stemmed largely from a conviction that point guard Charlton Clarke wasn't suited to a full-court style.

Flint has spoken with Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino about up-tempo play, and the UMass coach is as concerned with its effects from the defensive standpoint.

"Turnovers, you can do something about," Flint said.

But he wants his pressing defense to remain alert enough not to allow a flood of easy baskets by getting burned at the other end.

"You can play fast without playing wild," he said.

On paper, though, a faster game should not only make this team more fun to watch, but better. Seniors Monty Mack, Chris Kirkland and Mike Babul all favor athleticism to muscle, and backup point guard Jonathan DePina has never looked confident in a set-up game.

Up front, UMass will be smaller but quicker this year, and center Kitwana Rhymer seems better equipped for a full-court game than Lari Ketner, who graduated.

And the new point guard is sophomore Shannon Crooks, whose strengths include the ability to break down defenses and either score or dish off to the open man.

It remains to be seen if UMass will be able to make its transition to the transition game smoothly, especially against early opponents like Connecticut, Villanova and Detroit. Flint says the Minutemen may control their running tendencies, depending on the matchups.

What's clear, however, is that the players want this style to get a fair chance.

"I think it's going to be fun," said Mack, who is sidelined until early November with a stress fracture in his left foot. "I'm looking forward to it, because I think a lot of our talent will show through."

"I've been looking forward to it my whole career," Babul said. "It just didn't work out last year."

"I've been waiting to run since my freshman year," Kirkland said. "I like to run, jump, trap and get up and down the floor. That's what I see college basketball being about."

"In St. Thomas, all we do is run," said Rhymer, speaking about his Virgin Islands background. "We never sat back in one offense."

But the test of whether the new style will work may come when it doesn't work, especially at first.

"It's going to be ugly at first, but I think we've got to stick with it," Babul said. "We have to learn to play full speed.

"But it will be different," he said. "Every team that's played UMass for about eight years has seen a rugged, pound-it-in team, not one that presses and runs."

Flint knows that similar words were spoken last preseason, including by him. But he also believes that this year's lineup will find a way to make it work.

"This year, we're going to play differently - we're going to press, and we're going to run," he said. "And we're going to be more fun to watch. I hope."

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