Crooks weathers changes
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 8/14/2001

You want change? Shannon Crooks can tell you about change.

How about transfer- ring from St. John's to the University of Massachusetts after his freshman year, landing at a school he first rejected out of concern for what the Marcus Camby scandal might mean for the men's basketball program?

How about taking over as point guard, a job for which, at the college level, he does not offer the prototypical style?

And now, more adjustment. Crooks is a holdover from the Bruiser Flint regime, which was driven from power by those demanding new blood. Steve Lappas is scooping up recruits left and right, there's change in the air and Crooks, whose team plays its first of four exhibition games in Greece today, is proving he can adjust to this most wrenching change of all.

"I'm real excited about this (motion) offense," the 6-foot-2 senior said as he prepared for his fourth college season spread out over five years with his third coach. "Bruiser's offense was more structured. Maybe it had to be.

"But the motion offense allows me to be a lot more aggressive," said Crooks, unshackled now. "It's still an adjustment, getting used to coaches who don't know us, and we don't know them. But I'm excited."

Lappas did one thing Crooks appreciates greatly. He told him that just because a new day was dawning, that didn't mean the incumbents would be swept aside.

"Shannon is a leader," Lappas said. "I can see that."

It was a message Crooks needed to hear.

"You never know," Crooks said. "A coach could be down on the seniors, because he's got his own guys coming in. But he told me what he's looking for, and he said he believes in us."

Lappas and Crooks have crossed paths before. In 1999 at the Mullins Center, Crooks hit a decisive 3-pointer in the final seconds, sending Lappas' Villanova team home with a one-point loss.

"Crooks was shooting 28 percent on 3s," said Lappas, who figures to give Crooks much freer 3-point reign than Flint did. "Why did he have to make that one against us?"

As the only experienced guard on a team which will eventually rely heavily on perimeter play, Crooks could serve as a bridge between the very different programs of Flint and Lappas. How well he succeeds may not depend so much on his leadership, which is unquestioned, but on the consistency of his outside shot, which is not.

But if Crooks seems more like a blocky, rugged Flint type than a jump-shooting Lappas creation, that might be because he's never played Lappas' style before. Even at St. John's, Fran Fraschilla's set offense was more Bru-like than Lap-like.

But the early indicators are showing Crooks to be a valuable holdover, not a leftover until the hotshot recruits take over.

"He's been very good," Lappas said. "He understands our offense, and he's physical."

Crooks still communicates with Flint. He always will. When Crooks' father died a few years ago, Flint became his father figure. But with such uncompromising loyalty comes the knowledge that all things change.

"I just adapt," Crooks said. "Everyone understands (with coaching changes) it's a business. Life goes on."

Crooks accepts change so well, he even created one himself. Always considered an Everett native, he declared this year that he considers Boston his hometown.

What hasn't changed, in this transitional time for UMass basketball, is that Shannon Crooks remains a very important part of this program.

"He's been our best perimeter player at practice," Lappas said. "His shot selection has been excellent. And if Shannon takes good shots, he'll make them."

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