ext year, the NIT will not be enough.
It barely was this season, as rumors flew all season about Bruiser Flint's status with the Minutemen.
Fair or not, John Calipari had this team in the Final Four in 1996 and Flint has now missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons. That will just not do, nor will the fact that the good folks of western Massachusetts are no longer packing the Mullins Center every night.
Forget that he still has two years left on his contract, some expected Flint's ouster after the Minutemen finished the season 17-16 with a one-point loss to Siena in the first-round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Instead, three days after the loss to the Saints, athletic director Bob Marcum came out in support of his coach, though it could also be construed as a shot over Flint's bow.
"Bruiser, Chancellor David Scott, and I met today to conclude our evaluation of the season and talk about the direction of the program," said Marcum. "It was a very positive meeting, and I think we all left feeling very excited about our prospects for the 2000-2001 season."
Translation: Win now.
Flint made his way through the ranks as a fine recruiter for Calipari but is also known as a solid floor coach. Still, without players like Marcus Camby and Lari Ketner hanging around in Amherst, Flint will have to coach up a group of players who have yet to establish themselves as viable on the national level.
That puts the pressure squarely on his shoulders to find the remedy for a program that is not only no longer among the national elite, but hardly among the upper tier in the watered-down Atlantic 10.
The calls for his head were audible last season. If he doesn't win in 2000-01, they will be downright deafening -- and appropriate.
Who'll Be Back
Of the nine players who averaged more than five minutes of playing time last season, seven are back. Make that six with an asterisk.
Monty Mack could return, bringing the 19.7 points he averaged last season with him. Mack, however, has to graduate on time to earn the extra year. Thus far, all signs point to the affirmative.
If Mack is not back, Shannon Crooks will be the leader and has the goods to be one of the nation's top point guards. The 6-2, 222-pound St. John's transfer had a solid sophomore campaign, averaging 11.7 points and three assists while shaking off the rust of a one-year layoff. He might be the strongest player on the team and is a decent couple of years away from playing for pay.
Kitwana Rhymer was supposed to caddy for Micah Brand last season, but ended up playing twice as much and could emerge this season as a major force in the A-10. His 7.8 points and 7.6 rebounds have to be considered breakout numbers for a player who picked up the game late, growing up in the Virgin Islands, and came to UMass regarded as a major project.
Brand returns and will again serve as an answer to Rhymer. Though he didn't start a game last season, his 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds proved invaluable as the Minutemen struggled badly when he was lost for the final games of the season with pneumonia. Like Rhymer, he could be poised for a big season.
Jonathan Depina was a part-time starter last season, and will probably be the first guard off the bench this season. Ronell Blizzard and Winston Smith were also in the rotation last season and are expected to play reserve roles this time around, too.
Losing Chris Kirkland will hurt. A gutty 6-6 power forward, he blossomed into a dependable scorer and rebounder, dropping in 14.9 points and pulling down 6.1 rebounds. The other major loss is Mike Babul. His 3.5 points per game made him an offensive contributor, but at 6-6 his ability to guard just about anybody on the floor was his real contribution. He will also be tough to replace.
There will be a little bit of West Virginia in the UMass lineup this season, as a pair of former Mountaineers promise to strengthen the Minutemen.
Jarrett Kearse is the best of the newcomers, having averaged 12.2 points and 4.4 rebounds a game for WVU two seasons ago, starting 27 games. He also led the team in assists (128) and 3-pointers made (57). He will start immediately and serve as a nice partner for Mack.
"Jarrett is a proven player who has already had success on the collegiate level in the Big East Conference," Flint said. "He is capable of playing both guard spots and at small forward, and will really help to raise our talent level."
The other WVU transfer is Jackie Rogers, who averaged 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds last season at Barton County (Kan.) Community College. A 6-8, 230-pounder, Rogers played 24 games for the Mountaineers as a freshman before skipping town.
"Jackie is a big kid, who can score inside and rebound the ball," Flint said. "He always plays with a lot of energy, and he will help to give us the kind of inside presence which we lacked last season."
The best of the freshmen appears to be Anthony Anderson (5-11, 175), a two-time player of the year in the Northeastern Conference in suburban Boston. He just missed averaging a triple-double as a senior, accounting for 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Also coming on board is Raheim Lamb (6-5, 190), Jameel Pugh (6-4, 200) and Willie Jenkins (6-6, 200).