e is sometimes lost amid the avalanche of talent on the Massachusetts men's basketball team. When given the chance to play, however, he unquestionably grabs his opportunity.
He is Ronell Blizzard, and despite being sometimes overshadowed by other Maroon and White towers, he has been one of the most valuable contributors to the Minutemen during his last three years. His rock-solid, ferocious defense has caused teams to restructure their offensive strategies in mid-game, and his abundance of athletic ability has wreaked havoc for the opposition.
"Ronell is very athletic, probably the most athletic player on our team," Head Coach Steve Lappas said. "He's versatile, because he can do a couple things for the team."
Defense, however, is where "Blizz" shines, especially when he humbles opposing centers as he redirects their meek shot attempts into the Mullins Center stands. The soft-spoken forward knows that defense is his forté, and that accentuating his specialty will contribute to a successful season.
"I think that I always have to be a defensive presence on this team. We have a very talented team; we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things," Blizzard said. "As long as everybody knows their role and accepts their role, I think that will contribute to us being successful."
At no point was the Waterbury, Conn. resident's defensive aptitude more apparent than against Boston University early last season. Blizzard, who had not played more than six minutes in the Maroon and White's first seven games, was finally given a chance to shine against the Terriers. And he was more than happy to oblige. Blizzard scorched BU with his fearsome blocking in his 25 minutes of playing time, forcing Terrier players to the outside because of their fear of being swatted by the 6-foot 8-inch forward.
He totaled career highs in blocks (seven), points (nine) and rebounds (14) that night, but more importantly earned a spot in the Minuteman rotation.
From that point on, Blizzard consistently played anywhere from 10 to 23 minutes a game until the end of the season. His solid play earned him a share of the team's Most Improved Player award along with Micah Brand.
Now with Coach Lappas' new system in place, he hopes to use his athletic prowess and defensive skills in order to contribute again to the UMass lineup.
"I think the best players in the motion offense are those guys who are athletic, and guys who can catch and shoot," Blizzard said. "I do pretty well at both, so I think it will work out well for me once I get used to it."
It seems that Blizzard has become more than "used to it" when it comes to the new offense. On the team's summer trip to Greece, he seemed to adjust as well as any of the other Minutemen, as he shot a team-high 56.3 percent from the field en route to averaging five points and just over two rebounds during the four-game swing.
His strong showing in Europe can be attributed partly to his dedication this past summer to improve for the upcoming season. Blizzard spent the three months off hitting the gym and the weight room instead of hitting the beach.
"In the motion offense, you have to be in better shape, so I did a lot more running and a lot more conditioning this summer," Blizzard said. "I stuck around basically the whole summer while guys went home and worked with the strength and conditioning coach just getting in better shape."
The forward envisions bright things ahead for the Minutemen after last year's lackluster campaign. One of the first priorities he sees for this season is for UMass to be able to win in its own barn after a 7-4 record at home last year.
"The first thing that I could hope for is that we defend our home court because we've got a lot of home games this year, and we'll do pretty well if we defend the Mullins Center," he said.
Moreover, with the tremendous depth in the frontcourt that UMass has with Blizzard and teammates Brand, Kitwana Rhymer and Eric Williams, he expects the Minutemen to move up in the Atlantic 10 standings.
"I think that because we have such size inside, we should do pretty well in our conference," Blizzard said. "I'd like to see us go a step further than we did last year.
"With the new coaching staff and the new changes, I think we'll be a much better team."