MHERST — Bruiser Flint says he hears the same question every October.
And every October, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach gives the same answer. He says it's too early to make firm projections about his playing rotation — and that even though a sense of urgency is being attached to this year's success, it's no different now.
"You can't say now what the rotation will be," Flint said yesterday, less than two weeks before Midnight Madness opens the 2000-2001 season Oct. 13 at the Mullins Center. "We've got a lot of new guys, and some good returnees, and it will take some time for guys to get comfortable with each other and learn the system."
Flint said he will not change his wait-and-see approach, just because of the perception that time is of the essence. UMass has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1998, and hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1996, the year John Calipari took the Minutemen to the Final Four.
A slow start would raise new questions about Flint, who begins this season with two years left on his contract. And with road or neutral games against Marquette, Oregon, Ohio State, Connecticut and North Carolina before New Year's, the need to determine roles on this team would appear more urgent than ever — especially since Flint's past UMass teams have spent much of November and December with evolving (and revolving) playing rotations.
But according to Flint, formulating the lineup before practice starts is just useless speculation, especially with such a mixture of returning players, freshmen and junior-college transfers to sort out.
"A high school player coming in doesn't understand the intensity at first," he said. "Practices are tougher than what they've known, and they're not used to that all the time.
"After the season starts, we ease off a bit on practice, and the young guys often pick up their games," Flint said. "But then they might hit another wall later in the season."
This year's questions about the rotation are increased not only because of Flint's status, but because UMass' talent is coming from so many different sources. He has three freshmen (Jameel Pugh, Anthony Anderson, Willie Jenkins) a junior-college transfer (Jackie Rogers) and a Syracuse University transfer who sat out last season (Eric Williams), as well as seven returning players.
Most college teams have trouble finding playing time for more than seven or eight players at once. UMass has 10 or more who figure into the mix, which creates room for great potential, but also potential problems.
Flint would rather have to deal with too much than not enough.
"I'm just happy we have enough guys so that we can worry about that," he said.
So time will tell whether Anderson, a highly-touted guard from Lynn, is ready to earn playing time at the point. Among other decisions, Flint must also choose how to utilize centers Micah Brand and Kitwana Rhymer, since Brand can also play forward, how to use new power forwards Rogers and Williams, and how to take some of the scoring pressure off shooting guard Monty Mack.
The doors will open at 10 p.m. Oct. 13 for Midnight Madness. (Webmaster's note: UMass has said doors will open at 10:30) Admission is free. Flint is anxious to get started, whether such an important UMass season begins on unlucky Friday the 13th or not.
"I enjoy Midnight Madness," he said. "We've had some great ones here. It's good for recruiting, good for the kids, and good for the program."