MHERST - Bruiser Flint would like to sell people on his Rodney Dangerfield routine. No respect can be an awfully good motivator, one he has used to prepare his University of Massachusetts men's basketball squad for the season.
"Everybody is writing that we're not going to be any good and that we've slipped and stuff like that," Flint said. "You want to go out and prove to yourself that that stuff's not true. Last year we lost to some teams we shouldn't have lost to."
But are the Minutemen really lacking respect? The range of opinions from the experts is varied. The debate centers around whether last year's 14-16 effort was just an off year or part of a downward trend. Some preseason publications have picked UMass as low as fifth in the Atlantic 10 East, feeding into Flint's perceived slight, but many others have listed the Minutemen as high as second in their half of the league, including the preseason poll released by the Atlantic 10.
The UMass players have bought into Flint's "something to prove" approach.
"We're not getting as much respect going into this season as we have the past couple of seasons," said senior captain Mike Babul. "We want to prove people wrong and that we're a pretty good team. This is a talented team and everybody works hard. Everybody wants to win."
Despite what they believe everyone else thinks of them, the Minutemen are optimistic, and they might have reason to be. Their non-conference schedule is still difficult, but it's slightly toned down from a year ago. Also, the Atlantic 10 is rebuilding. If UMass lives up to any of its exhibition-season promise that featured two wins, there could be a lot of pushing and shoving as prognosticators jump on the bandwagon.
"Everybody is positive," said senior guard Monty Mack. "Everybody just wants to do positive things and go out there and work hard. If we do that, I think this team can go far."
That potential progress will depend largely on the success of the new up-tempo offense and increased pressing on defense, a style the players are enjoying so far.
"I like to run and get up the floor, dunk and get the crowd into the game and make it more exciting," said senior forward Chris Kirkland. "Guys enjoy seeing other guys dunk and get up the floor and trap and get steals and have fun."
Flint said the style change came out of necessity.
"We're going to play different. Anybody knows you run when you have guys that can run and you walk when you have guys that walk," said Flint, repeating a favorite phrase of his during the preseason. "So we're going to run."
They'll start Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Iona.