MHERST - Shannon Crooks insists that changes weren't necessary in the first place. Now he'll have his chance to prove it.
"I think I'm up for the challenge," said Crooks, the starting point guard for a University of Massachusetts men's basketball team that had visions of unprecedented flexibility at the point — only to see those plans go up in smoke.
Shannon Crooks looks to run an effective point for the Minutemen in 2000-01.
The ball is in the hands of three close friends from Eastern Massachusetts this season. It starts with Crooks, a 6-foot-2 junior from Everett who is not considered a prototypical point guard, but an athlete who can pass or score.
It continues to backups Jonathan DePina and Monty Mack of South Boston. Mack, the starting shooting guard, will probably play the point only in stopgap situations.
At a position of periodic concern over the years, the old reliables are still in charge. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not was what expected in the spring, when UMass signed junior-college transfer Jarrett Kearse and Lynn High School senior Anthony Anderson for insurance at the point.
But before a ball was bounced in earnest, both were gone. Kearse, who could also play on the wing, failed to qualify academically.
Then Anderson, who was considered coach Bruiser Flint's first "pure" point guard — was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Anderson is attending classes at UMass, but cannot play or practice until next year. For all the possible changes, the ball is back in Crooks' court, if ever it had left.
"I know both those guys, and I wanted them here," said Crooks, who can also play on the wing and figured to be in the lineup somewhere, even if Kearse and Anderson had qualified. "I just want to win."
Crooks sat out 1998-99 after transferring from St. John's, then played much better as last season went on. He finished with 99 assists, 89 turnovers, an 11.6-point scoring average, and an expanding role as a leader.
"Monty and Jonathan are my best friends," Crooks said. "I'm helping Monty learn things like the backup dribble. And Jonathan's been quiet since he was little, but he gets the job done better than most people see."
UMass is counting on DePina nearly as much as Crooks. The 5-9 senior has been dogged by inconsistency, and the addition of new faces was expected to affect his minutes the most.
But after all that's happened, DePina is still in a key spot.
"I was always hoping to contribute," he said. "No matter what."
If he does, Mack may not have to play the point at all. But the 6-3 senior is getting ready, just in case.
"I played it a little before college, but this is different," said Mack, who is practicing with the team but remains suspended for the two preseason games and the opener against Iona, the result of an October shoplifting incident.
"I know all the plays," Mack said. "The more I practice, the better I can do it. If I have a question, I go to Shannon or Jonathan and if they can't solve it, I go to the top (the coaches)."
UMass is counting on Crooks, DePina and Mack to provide answers, not questions. Crooks says his friends are up to the task, and so is he.
"I consider myself a guard, not just a point guard," he said. "Someone who gets the job done."