Commitments come early
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 8/27/2000

All of a sudden, kids are banging down the doors to play basketball for the University of Massachusetts, or so it seems.

First, highly touted guard Eddie Basden of Greenbelt, Md., said he was coming here in 2001. Then last week, Jeremiah King, a guard from New Jersey, joined the ranks of the verbally committed.

For the first time under Bruiser Flint, UMass is ahead of the game on prep commitments, as opposed to previous years when some last-minute scrambling was needed just to fill spots with junior college players (Anthony Oates, JoVann Johnson) who often didn't pan out.

So you have to ask the question: What's going on here? Why suddenly all the good news, and is the news really as good as it seems?

The answer depends on your view of verbal commitments from teen-age kids. Never forget this: Verbal promises have no legal binding power whatsoever.

But given that Flint's staff has been criticized for not locking up quality early recruits in the past, they deserve credit for doing so now. Besides, Basden and King sound pretty sure of themselves.

Beyond unofficially adding two good players to the fold, though, the Basden and King pledges also point out two other interesting developments in the world of Minuteman recruiting. One is UMass is evidently not as reliant on departed assistant coach Tony Barbee as it once seemed.

The other is there was apparently some basis to Flint's occasional lament that the Marcus Camby mess crippled his early recruiting efforts. His critics have treated this as sour grapes, but the more Camby fades into the past, the better Flint and associate coach Geoff Arnold have been doing, with or without Barbee.

Flint and Arnold have always worked hard at recruiting, but for years, they always seemed to wind up on players' short lists, only to be unable to bring home the prize.

Now, they seem to be winning those battles even though the prevailing theory is if Flint's team doesn't reach the 2001 NCAA tournament, he may not get a chance to serve the final year of his contract in 2001-02.

If he looks to be in trouble this season, and Basden and/or King have yet to sign their letters of intent, they could change their minds and go somewhere else. That would put UMass recruiting back at square one, and it's not farfetched because Basden and King say they're basing the decisions largely on their comfort levels with Flint and the staff.

Worrying about that now seems like pretty negative thinking, though, given the success of the summer recruiting season. Of course, Flint has also adjusted his recruiting standards just a bit, as coaches sometimes do when the guillotine is swinging from above.

He still doesn't want the hard-core trouble cases, but he's in no position to be terribly fussy about academic risk cases. That has already cost him a junior college transfer in Jarrett Kearse, who literally didn't make the grade and won't be coming this fall.

Basden is not sure to be eligible as a freshman, and King will be attending his third high school this fall. But taking a chance on an academic risk can have its rewards remember Tyrone Weeks? and besides, this recruiting approach makes UMass no different than anyone else, unless it's Duke or Stanford you're talking about.

What will be interesting will be the administrative reaction if UMass starts slowly this year. Flint was granted another year partly on the strength of his incoming recruits. It remains to be seen if the insurance policy of recruits for 2001-02 will grant him more any elbow room this year.

But for now, the verbal commitments of Basden and King suggest a bright UMass basketball future. Now all Flint must do is win this year so that the future, which he is crafting so carefully, also includes him.

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