Pugh learning college game
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/7/2000

AMHERST - It's 2:20 p.m., 40 minutes before the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team's start of practice.

Jameel Pugh is learning the college game is more than just bam-jam-slam.
Jameel Pugh listens and nods as associate coach Geoff Arnold points to spots on the floor, while assistant coach Chuck Martin acts as a defender.

It's been a difficult start for the Sacramento native, who came to Amherst with a history of legendary dunks. He hasn't made it off the bench in any of UMass' four games.

"It's not at all what I expected, but it's something I have to work through," Pugh said. "I'm a little bit uncertain about what my role is down the road and what my role is right now. I'm just trying to work hard and find my opportunity."

While Pugh's athletic ability is apparent, his ability to translate that into success at the college level has lagged behind. UMass coach Bruiser Flint said a player taking time to adapt is not unusual.

"College is a four-year thing," Flint explained. "With Jameel I don't think it was as much his ability, but he wasn't ready mentally or physically to come in and do the things he needed to do. It's more than just running and jumping."

"The kid is going to be fine," Flint continued. "It's been a learning experience for him. It's been tough because he's been used to everybody going, 'Jameel, Jameel,' and 'Look at him jump over the top of people.' You have to be able to pick up concepts, run a play and know what you're doing on defense."

Pugh admitted his shortcomings and is using his pre-practice sessions to address them.

"Being out here an hour early is my time to work on things I need to do to get better," Pugh said. "I try to get myself mentally prepared for practice. If I work up a sweat going into practice, when things start I'll be ready.

"I can always use work on my shot, my footwork is key. Free throws I can work on. I'm working on thinking the game. Where I can be on the floor. Where I can get my shot. Just going over plays in my mind," he continued. "Defense is one of the major things I have to work on. It's not that I can't play defense, but I need to remember my spots and what our defensive scheme is, and how to be in the right position."

Flint said Pugh is improving.

"He's had his best practices the last week and a half, but he's not doing better than Winston (Smith) and he's not doing better than Willie (Jenkins), and those are the guys that are in front of him."

Pugh thinks he's getting closer to game action, but his goals are loftier than just getting off the bench.

"I want to get to the point where he has no choice but to play me," he said.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Pugh isn't planning to transfer and Flint isn't going to redshirt him.

"I'm still glad to be here," Pugh said. "Even though I haven't been playing, it's still great to be part of college basketball."

"I'm not thinking about redshirting him," said Flint, who has had other players talk to Pugh as well to keep his spirits up. "I think he can still help us. I had Kit (Rhymer) talk to him because he was in the same situation his first year. He didn't play in the first seven games, but by the end of the year he was the first guy off the bench."

Pugh expressed gratitude toward Arnold for the time he's put in with him as well.

"Coach Geoff has been the one person that has taken time out of his schedule to make sure I'm still learning and getting better," Pugh said. "Some coaches' patience might have grown short with me."

So for now, Pugh will stay on the bench waiting his turn, hoping to get the call.

His next chance could be Thursday, when the Minutemen play the Providence Friars at 7 at the Mullins Center.

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