MHERST - The key to the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team's offense last year wasn't exactly a big secret. Monty Mack was getting the ball and taking a whole bunch of shots, scoring about 20 points per game.
He averaged 29 percent of both the team's points (19.9) and shots attempted (16.6). With 1,617 points, he enters the 2000-01 campaign as the second leading active career scorer in Division I.
Stop him last season, and you went a long way toward stopping UMass.
The Minuteman offense is designed to give the wings - shooting guards and small forwards - a lot of shooting opportunities. This season, more help in the middle should take some of the pressure off the perimeter players.
Willie Jenkins looks for options against Statmaster.com.
For the past three years, Mike Babul and his 3.5 points per game have occupied one of those wings, leaving Mack a lot of shots and a lot of responsibility.
"We had Mike Babul for three years. I love the kid, but you didn't have to guard him," Flint said. "With the people that you have, you at least have to guard them."
Senior Winston Smith is the likely starter at small forward, but he'll probably be pushed by freshmen Willie Jenkins and Jameel Pugh.
"I always call Winston my safe guy. You can always put him in and he's not going to kill you. Some nights he brings a lot of energy to the table," Flint said. "I want to get that energy to be a little bit more consistent. I'd imagine he's going to start early on. I don't want to put that much pressure on the young guys. It's better for them to watch and learn a little bit."
Smith had eight points in the exhibition game against Statmaster.com. Asked if people could expect to see more offense from him this year, Smith was emphatic.
"Yeah, you are. You better believe that. I've been working on my game before practice every day," he said. "My jump shot is improving a lot. I feel more comfortable when the ball is swinging to me."
Jenkins and Pugh will spend time at both wing spots during the year, but so far Jenkins is further along in his development.
Bruiser: Jameel Pugh needs to work on more than just his dunking.
No matter who is on the perimeter this year, he likely won't see as much tight defense as last year's wing players did. The addition of scoring help inside will force some teams to double-down, freeing the outside shooters for clearer looks at the hoop.
Mack doesn't mind giving up some of the shots.
"It takes a lot of pressure off me. Being confident in other people to score is great. In past years, if other people didn't score, I put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "I don't think I have to do that this year."
The Minutemen begin their regular season at 7 p.m. Saturday against Iona at the Mullins Center.