UM past, present, have a ball
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 7/7/2000

SPRINGFIELD - Standing just behind the college 3-point line at the top of the key, he collected the ball and released it without hesitation. As it dropped in, the shooter smiled as he backpedaled down court to set up on defense.

The scene was the Boys and Girls Club, on opening night of the Greater Springfield Pro Am League, where everyone shoots and defense at times appears to be optional.

This shooter was Micah Brand, the 6-foot-11 University of Massachusetts center/power forward, whose game is rarely compared with that of pros Reggie Miller, Larry Bird or any other long-distance sharp-shooter.

But Thursday night, as he helped Cover Technology defeat the Health Nuts, 81-78, Brand looked at times more like a wing player than someone who clears 7 feet when he hasn't seen a barber in a while.

He hit a pair from long-distance range and although the shots were only worth two points because the GSPA uses an NBA 3-point line, the hoops drew happy gasps from a decent-size group of UMass fans.

In the league's up-and-down style, Brand even brought the ball up the floor from time to time. But it wasn't all perimeter play for the former Milford Academy star. Despite facing a legitimate big man on the Health Nuts, Brand scored at will when he got the ball in the post, netting a game-high 25 points. That figure included a sprinkling of dunks that came on put-backs as well as on the fast break.

Brand grinned when talking about his performance.

"You come in and have fun and try to work on everything in your game," he said. "I just came in and tried to work real hard to try to get ready for next season."

That preparation includes trying to pack pounds on his slender frame as well as expanding his offensive game.

"I'm trying to get stronger and put on some weight," Brand said. "Bru (UMass coach Bruiser Flint) gave us all individual workouts for things he wanted us to do in the summer, and mine includes a lot of post-up stuff as well as perimeter stuff. Not necessarily out to the three (point line), but a lot of 15-footers here and there."

The Health Nuts featured a pair of Brand's current teammates, Shannon Crooks and Jonathan DePina, and a former one, Chris Kirkland.

Crooks was erratic at times, but was effective driving to the basket. DePina ran into trouble driving too deep too often.

Kirkland put on a dunking exhibition with a few athletic one-handed jams. The 6-6 former UMass forward hopes to be invited to an NBA team's camp, but also is exploring the possibility of playing overseas.

"I'm just working on my perimeter game," Kirkland said. "I'm trying to find out when the (overseas) tryout camps are."

Several other former and current Minutemen were there, including senior Monty Mack, whose team opens its GSPA season Thursday at 8 p.m.

Anthony Oates, who plays on the league's Stop Handgun Violence team, was there supporting his former teammates. Oates has a semester to go to complete his degree and plans to return in the fall to earn his diploma.

Another former UMass player, Mike Babul, received plenty of attention from the crowd, when he and his girlfriend arrived halfway through the first game. After deciding to hang up his high tops, Babul reconsidered and also is looking for overseas professional opportunities.

He's spent most of his summer in Atlanta working out with his twin brother Jon, who will be a senior at Georgia Tech, as well as several prominent Yellow Jacket alums, including Stephon Marbury, Jon Barry and Matt Harpring.

While Babul is hanging out with NBA players this summer, Brand may have become a little more of a Celtics fan. His Milford teammate, Jerome Moiso, was Boston's first-round draft pick.

"I knew he would get drafted," Brand said. "Sometimes he had a tendency to slack off a little, but I know if he works hard he can be good."

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