Adjustment time for freshmen
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 12/3/2000

PORTLAND, Ore. Jameel Pugh would like to have the problem Willie Jenkins had.

In Jenkins' second college basketball game, the University of Massachusetts freshman stripped off his warmup gear a little too slowly and casually for coach Bruiser Flint's tastes, and Jenkins wound up playing only one minute in a loss at Marquette.

At least Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 swingman from Memphis, Tenn., was asked to come off the bench. Entering last night's game at Oregon, Pugh hadn't received such a call in UMass' first three games.

For the first time in his life, the 6-5 freshman guard from Sacramento, Calif., is a benchwarmer, not a star. He says he knows his day will come, and when it does, he promises to be ready."

"I'm just trying to stay patient," said Pugh, considered a high school dunking great. "When I get my opportunity, I want to make the most of it, and until then, I'll wait my turn."

Jenkins and Pugh represent the UMass future, and given the buildup that preceded them, there's some natural curiosity to see them in the present. That's especially true of Jenkins, who swished two 3-pointers against Holy Cross last week, and played 16 minutes.

The Marquette episode can now be chuckled about.

"In high school, I probably could have gotten away with that," Jenkins said. "But while I was pulling down my warmup pants, I think Marquette scored a basket.

"Coach Flint pulled me aside, but he didn't scream or fuss," he said. "He just told me what I did wrong, and he's been here longer than me. I can learn from anybody."

Jenkins says he has particularly learned from UMass guard Monty Mack.

"To me, Monty's the best player in the country," the freshman said. "I knew if I could hang with him in practice, I could play with anybody."

"As everyone can see, Willie is a little bit ahead of Jameel," Flint said. "But Willie also came in with a different work ethic, and that's why he's ahead."

"My coach back home told me I might have been the man in high school, but we'd only come across a Division I college player once in a blue moon," he said. "Here, everybody's a Division I player. That helped get me prepared."

Jenkins' shooting touch has caught the eye of UMass fans, but he doesn't think he has had a good game yet.

"I need to rebound," he said. "The shots will be there, because other teams will key on Monty, Shannon (Crooks), Jackie (Rogers) or Kit (Rhymer). But I thought if I could have had two or three more rebounds against Holy Cross, we might have won."

As for Pugh, Flint compares him to Chris Kirkland, who spent much of his early UMass years on the bench before becoming a star.

"Jameel is starting to come around a little," Flint said. "He was homesick for a little while, but now he's got to get to the gym, do his work and also work on his conditioning."

Flint may think Pugh is facing a adjustment, but Pugh hardly sounds awed.

"I've been playing against college and pro guys since I was 16," he said. "This isn't any different."

But Flint has spoken with Pugh about patience, and the freshman says that counts.

"I think it's important that a player be clued in on what needs to be done, so he knows his effort will go to a goal or achievement," Pugh said. "You don't want to practice, not knowing what to work on, because you wind up making the same mistakes."

He now sees he'll have to wait longer than expected for his chance. While Jenkins is eased into the lineup, Pugh can only wait and be ready.

"It's a matter of time before I learn what I have to do and where I have to be out there," he said. "But my chance will come."

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