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The Daily Hampshire Gazette
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Lappas takes media in stride
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/6/2001

PHILADELPHIA - As he stood in his University of Massachusetts warm-up suit at the annual Atlantic 10 Conference media day in the Spectrum, new head coach Steve Lappas already had fielded a steady stream of similar questions from the many Philadelphia media outlets.

They all were basically inquiring about his first trip to the city in an official capacity since leaving Villanova in late March.

"The things everyone keeps asking is, 'How does it feel the first time you're back in the city representing someone else? What are your memories of Philadelphia?'" Lappas said.

Almost immediately, another reporter jumped in.

"Steve, having been a Big East guy, how does it feel to be in the A-10?"

Lappas laughed.

"I get this one a lot, too. That one's No. 3," he said.

He answered all questions patiently, but is looking forward to the day when he's no longer a novelty.

"We're going to be coming here every year," Lappas said. "I have to think it's eventually going to be a non-factor."

After the small group of media in front of him got set to move on to other coaches, another microphone-wielding radio reporter approached him.

"Steve, what is it like to be back in Philadelphia?"

He smiled at the timing coincidence, then began:

"I had a great experience here," he said. "I spent nine years here. I have a national championship ring from being an assistant. How can you not have positive feelings about it?"

* * *

Lappas was one of six new coaches in the Atlantic 10, along with Jim Baron, who moved within the league from St. Bonaventure to Rhode Island.

Richmond becomes the league's 12th member, making its coach, John Beilein, one of the A-10's new faces. Ex-Nebraska coach Danny Nee took over for Darelle Porter, who was fired at Duquesne, and former Maryland assistant Billy Hahn is now in charge at La Salle.

After Skip Prosser left for Wake Forest, former Butler coach Thad Matta replaced him at Xavier, while ex-Pepperdine boss Jan van Breda Kolff has Baron's old office in Olean.

Because of the mass immigration, the new coaches seemed to agree it was a good time to join the league.

"I know when I went to the (Western Collegiate Conference), I was the only new coach in the league and I was trying to learn all their styles and they were trying to learn my style," van Breda Kolff said. This year there are seven new coaches, so you probably throw the book out of what a certain team did the year before."

Nee agreed.

"This is a good year to come into the league because it's in transition,": Nee said. "The old scouting reports, half of them are out the door. Coming in new it's advantageous to all of us."

Beilein was excited about the upgrade for his program.

"Richmond moving to the A-10 is every dream I've ever wanted," Beilein said. "The (Colonial Athletic Conference) was a good league, but to be able to play against two top 20 teams (St. Joseph's, Temple) now is great."

The returning coaches seemed to welcome the new ones.

"I'm very happy with the new coaches that came in, Lappas and Nee and some of the other guys," Temple coach John Chaney said. "And if La Salle does better with that guy than they did with Speedy, I'll feel very good about them.

"They certainly bring a lot of new ideas," Chaney said. "A lot of them bring a lot of experience from other conferences. It's going to mean a lot for our league."

* * *

In the preseason poll, the Minutemen were picked to be third in the Atlantic 10's East Division. In the five years that the A-10 has been divided into divisions (it wasn't last year) UMass has finished third in all except the first year.

St. Joseph's was a unanimous pick to win the East with all 48 first-place votes. They were followed by Temple, UMass, Fordham and Rhode Island. Xavier was the top choice in the West with 41 first-place votes. Dayton was second with the other seven. Richmond was third, followed by La Salle, George Washington and Duquesne.

The Associated Press' preseason top 25 also was released Monday. Two A-10 teams were ranked, led by St. Joseph's at No. 10 and Temple at No. 16. Xavier was in the also-receiving-votes section.

The Hawks' conference and national rankings were due in large part to the reputation of its talented backcourt. Both Marvin O'Connor and Jameer Nelson were named to the league's preseason all-conference first team.

Reigning player of the year David West of Xavier was the team's only player from a non-Philadelphia school, as Temple's Lynn Greer and La Salle's Rasual Butler rounded out the first team.

Kitwana Rhymer was the only Minuteman to make any preseason unit. He was named to the second team and to the all-defensive team.

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