n Wednesday night at the Mullins Center, UMass basketball fans will get a preview of the 1999-2000 team when the Minutemen face the California All-Stars in the first preseason game of the season. Prior to the game, head coach Bruiser Flint spoke about the progress his players are making in the post Lari Kenter-Charlton Clarke era.
We have been practicing almost three weeks now, and I don't hesitate in saying that this year's team is a great group to work with, the best since I have been a head coach.
I am very aware of making such bold statements, and I don't make them lightly. The thing that separates these players from others in my first three years is that they do a great job of listening. They're paying attention and doing a great job of implementing our game plan.
So far, any time there has been any confusion on the floor, the players are asking questions. I don't mind questions, because we are all trying to improve as a team. I would rather a player ask a specific question than continue to make the same mistake over and over again.
The good thing about having a constant dialog on the court is that practice runs smoother and I don't lose my mind! With this year's team, the coaching staff hasn't had to coach emotion, we are coaching kids how to play basketball.
Listen, players are smart. Often they know if they ask a lot of questions they'll get a break. They're not stupid. Believe me, I know when the question is serious as opposed to when the guys just need a breather.
I am happy to say that the group has been great, but that shouldn't mean we haven't had our days when practice doesn't run as well. But last year was a smack in the face. The players understand that we want to return to the postseason. They want to win as much as I do, so they have come into practice with more focus and a better attitude.
Overall, our environment has been positive. Everyone is competing hard and having fun playing basketball. It's the way it should be.
In the early season, we have had some injuries, losing some players to the flu. At one time or another, Monty Mack, Chris Kirkland, Ronell Blizzard and Jonathan DePina have all been out with assorted aches and pains and illness. The good news about that type of situation is it gives us a chance to evaluate everyone on the roster, especially the young kids who don't figure to get as much playing time early in the season.
The weather has been tough on our guys: one day it is 50 degrees, the next day it's 70. I have to be careful myself not to catch a cold.
The first two weeks of practice were primarily spent with drills and fundamentals. We didn't scrimmage that much. Only in the last week or so have we broken down into 5-on-5.
Jonathan DePina is one player who has distinguished himself in practice. He's shooting the ball with more confidence and playing well in our up-tempo game. Jonathan gives us important depth in our backcourt along with Monty and Shannon Crooks. We'll need his 15 or more minutes a game if we are to compete against teams with strong backcourts, like Pepe Sanchez, Lynn Greer and Quincy Wadley of Temple.
All of the preseason college basketball publications are now hitting the newsstands. Everyone seems to agree that Temple is the class of the Atlantic 10, and I agree. The Owls have a terrific team coming back from last year's NCAA Elite Eight season. I think Temple can play with anyone in the country. Some people are picking St. Bonaventure to have a breakthrough season and we are picked either third or fourth in the East Division. We'll play the games and see how accurate the experts are.
I am looking forward to seeing everyone on Nov. 3 against the California All-Stars as we begin our new season.