DePina should be starting
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/17/2001

AMHERST - Some images are hard to shake. For University of Massachusetts fans, watching Jonathan DePina struggle - throwing the ball away in key spots, missing late-game free throws, and looking generally lost against some opposing point guards - falls into that category.

It was these memories that caused many of those fans to cringe whenever UMass coach Bruiser Flint inserted DePina into games during the past three years.

But despite that history, Jonathan DePina should be the starting point guard for the UMass men's basketball team. Right now, he's playing like a starting point guard, and Shannon Crooks isn't.

Crooks isn't an easy guy to criticize. He brings as much intensity as anyone and takes losing harder than most people. Opposing guards would list him as one of the toughest defensive players in the Atlantic 10. He wants to be a leader, and his teammates do listen to him.

But watching him, especially recently, it's hard not to draw the conclusion that this guy is not wired to be a point guard. His 44 turnovers compared with 40 assists accentuate that point.

True playmakers like the NBA's John Stockton and Mark Jackson are an endangered species, but point guards still need some court vision and passing instincts, things Crooks seems to lack.

Saturday against St. Bonaventure, Crooks took off down the court handling the ball on a three-on-one break. Rather than dumping the ball to Mack when the defender committed to him, Crooks leapt toward the basket and was called for an offensive foul.

It's a scenario that has played out countless times before and Crooks almost always gets whistled for the charge.

If things had played out as Flint had hoped in the offseason, the Minutemen would have had Jarrett Kearse, a former Big East All-Freshman-team point guard, sharing floor-general duties with talented freshman Anthony Anderson. But academics KO'd both of them, leaving Flint with the same two point guards he had a year ago.

But given another opportunity, DePina has played pretty well, staying within himself most of the time. His numbers, both scoring and passing, are better than at any other time in his college career. He's averaging three assists and nearly five points per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.75-to-1, markedly better than Crooks' .91-to-1.

He still struggles against speedy, quick-handed point guards, but Tim Winn and Shawnta Rogers no longer roam the A-10, and DePina wouldn't have to face guys like that very often.

Making DePina the starting point guard wouldn't have to eliminate Crooks' contributions. In fact, history shows that when he doesn't have to worry about getting other people involved he can be a prolific scorer.

In two games that Mack has missed over the past year, Crooks has been impressive at off-guard, scoring 29 points against Fordham and 20 against Iona. He's the only current Minuteman other than Mack to score 20 points in a game, a mark he's reached four times.

Flint has used Crooks as the third guard in a three-guard set on several occasions, with DePina at the point and Mack and Crooks on the wings.

Putting Crooks in position to be a better scorer would give the Minutemen another option on a team whose offense is stagnant at times. He'd be able to come off screens at times too, which would increase his shooting percentage considerably.

The Minutemen wouldn't suffer very much on defense, either, as the 6-foot-2 Crooks, who has the build of an NFL safety, can use his strength to overcome whatever height differences he encounters.

The margin for error for the Minutemen, who need a brilliant A-10 run to salvage their season, is minuscule. Right now, DePina is less error prone as a point guard than Crooks, and, consequently, he should be the starter.

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