here is never a dull moment for the University of Massachusetts basketball program. Players are taking finals and the academic year is winding down. Preparations are being made for summer camps and, most importantly, the team will begin the 1999-2000 season without longtime coach John Robic, who recently accepted the head coaching position at Youngstown State. Coach Bruiser Flint recently took time from his schedule to discuss the issues facing his team and prognosticate on the current NBA playoffs, a personal passion.
Contrary to popular belief, basketball coaches do not hibernate in the late spring and throughout the summer. I can't speak for every coach, of course, but my schedule remains full during the close of the school year and throughout the summer months. There really is no off-season for the University of Massachusetts basketball program.
There's a lot to update you on, so I won't waste any time. Here goes:
John Robic. As you may be aware, associate head coach John Robic has resigned after 11 years at the university to become head coach at Youngstown State. The coaching staff often jokes that any head coaching job is a good job. Seriously, though, I am very happy for John. We have been together for a long time, we grew up together at UMass. Billy Bayno (UNLV head coach), Robes and myself frequently sat down as assistants and talked about being head coaches and running our own programs. Now it has come true for most of Cal's (former coach John Calipari) staff. When you add former assistant coach Ed Schilling (Wright State head coach) into the mix, you'll quickly see that good things have happened to all of us.
During John's time at UMass, our program has appeared in seven NCAA and two NIT tournaments and Robes has distinguished himself as a top-notch coach. That type of experience, knowledge and expertise will be hard to replace. Plus, John has been at the university longer than any member of our coaching staff, including myself, so there is a legacy he leaves behind. Without a doubt, John's departure means we will have big shoes to fill. Third-year assistant coach Geoff Arnold has been promoted to associate coach and we will conduct a national search for the assistant coaching slot. There's been plenty of interest in the opening. I have received over 100 calls from coaches from all around the country. What will be looking for is a coach who can do a little of everything -- teach, recruit, help players get better, analyze the opposition and aspire to be a head coach down the line.
Two former UMass players and coaches, Tony Barbee, who is an assistant coach at Wyoming and Derek Kellogg, who has a similar position at George Mason, are strong candidates for the opening. We are not going to limit ourselves to a narrow search, though, we want to make the right decision, one that will be in the best interests of our program.
Eric Williams. There has been a lot of talk about how Eric (who recently announced that he will transfer to UMass) will fit into our program. First off, remember he has to sit out a year after transferring from Syracuse. He doesn't become eligible until the 2000-2001 season and will have two seasons to play in Amherst. For background, Eric is a 6-foot-9 athletically gifted player from Brooklyn. He can score and rebound, block shots and do a little of everything on the court. Most importantly, he knows how to play the game, a trait I hold with great importance. When he becomes eligible, Eric will be the type of player we need to compete at our scheduling level.
Some people have speculated that Eric left Syracuse on bad terms, but that's not the case. He was simply part of a numbers game. Syracuse already had Eton Thomas playing the power forward position and Eric wasn't going to see much playing time. The Syracuse staff wanted to keep him, but he just didn't fit into the rotation. The staff gave him rave reviews, saying he worked hard on and off the court. As I said, he'll be a good addition to our program.
UMass summer basketball camps. Our first camp is the popular Father/Son overnight on June 11-13. We offer two team camps in June and July, an overnight camp in June and July, a day camp in June and July and NBA camp on August 1-5. In you're interested in attending any of these camps or would like to receive a brochure, call assistant coach Mike Connors at 413-545-2613.
Micah Brand. I've heard rumors that Micah will redshirt next season. Let me dispel those rumors right now: Micah will not redshirt in the 1999-2000 season. Enough said on that subject.
Shannon Crooks. Everyone is absolutely wired about Shannon and his role next season. With five months before we open pre-season workouts, I have purposely held back from talking about Shannon. As we get closer to the season, I promise that I will talk about Shannon. As I hope you can understand, I've never been one to single out a particular player as the key to our team, especially when the player has missed an entire season of college basketball. It's obvious that Shannon will be a vital part of our success next year, and at the right time, I'll talk more about what he brings to the court.
NBA Playoffs. I am a huge NBA fan and the playoffs have been terrific. I have been watching as many games as possible. Part of the reason for the exceptional play is the rest the teams have been getting between games. There isn't the same type of grind as in past years, and with a shortened NBA season, most teams are entering the playoffs healthier and in better condition. I thought the Sacramento-Utah series was about as well played as any series in a long time. I am obviously happy for Philadelphia, the 76ers are my favorite NBA team. But, I am not sure they have enough experience to defeat Indiana. In the East, I think the Knicks will advance to the NBA Finals. I don't think there are other teams good enough to defeat them. Other Eastern Conference teams don't matchup up well with the Knicks. Miami had the best shot. In the West, I think Portland and Los Angeles are the top two teams. Because of Portland's versatility and depth, I think the Trail Blazers can advance to the NBA Finals. I'll give you my NBA champion in my next column in early June.