Lappas happy with Greece trip
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 8/25/2001

AMHERST - His body was still on Greece time, but even some mild jet lag didn't temper new University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Steve Lappas's enthusiasm for his team's recently completed four-game 10-day trip.

"It was a great trip. I thought it did a lot for our guys from a cultural standpoint as well as a basketball standpoint," he said. "They were very much into it. They danced Greek and enjoyed the sightseeing and touring that we did. I thought it was a very positive experience for everybody."

The Minutemen went 1-3 on the trip, winning the third game against Team Hellas, 73-63.

Senior forward/center Eric Williams, who was a reserve last year, made a good first impression on the new coaching staff, leading the team with 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

Lappas coached against Williams when they were at Villanova and Syracuse, respectively. He gained a new respect for the 6-foot-8 big man this summer.

"He had really stood out in practice the week before. If you had asked me in the beginning if it was a surprise, I would have said yes, but after I saw him practice I was not surprised," Lappas said. "He can shoot the ball and post up. The things Eric can do will fit in very well with the way we want to play. Eric was a guy that really made the biggest strides."

Williams was glad to make a good first impression.

"Overall I was happy that Coach Lap got to see the way I play. The way I pass the ball and the way I handle the ball," Williams said. "I thought I played well, but I got to keep working.

"For me personally I've been hurt every year, and I didn't play the way I thought I should have been playing every year," Williams said. "That's why I wanted to come out here and show coach I can be a go-to player in the clutch."

Still lacking was a consistent shooting presence, a problem Lappas hopes to correct before the regular season.

"I think we have a chance to be pretty good, but I think from a basketball standpoint a lot is going to depend on how we shoot the ball," Lappas said. "The one area I didn't see any consistency in was what kind of a shooting team we are. We have some guys on this trip that maybe didn't shoot as well as maybe they can. I hope. It's not fair to make an evaluation based on two weeks."

Help should be on the way, though.

"The guys coming in (swingman Brennan Martin and guard Kyle Wilson), I think they're both pretty good shooters," Lappas added.

Shooting aside, while he was happy with his team's effort and performance, Lappas was less than thrilled with the Greek officials, whom he said were favoring the home team and allowed significant shoving to go uncalled. Still, Lappas was pleased with the way his team handled the adversity.

"They showed spunk, yet they didn't get out of hand. They showed a lot of self-discipline because there were a couple of really tough things that happened," he said. "One of the guys got stepped on. There were some things that were not good, but I thought our guys showed a great deal of discipline and restraint."

More than the basketball, however, Lappas was pleased with the way his team conducted itself.

"I like the way they behaved on the trip. I like the way they responded to the discipline and the way that they responded to the things that we did like eating the food and things like that and the way they acted with people. The way they were prompt about all the different times and meetings that we had. I do like them. They are a lot of really good guys. Hopefully they will become a really good team.

"I know them a lot better. You don't really get to know somebody till you live with them," he added. "We lived together the week we had camp and the week-and-a-half we were away. It really was tremendous."

Lappas appreciated the way his players interacted with his wife and two children, who were on the trip.

"The players on this team were tremendous with my kids. Better than I've ever seen," he said. "My kids and my wife commented on that. They were great with us. That was great for my family because they feel more together with the team. My family is always a big part of the program."

Seven weeks separate Lappas from his next chance to assemble his team on a basketball court. When he does, Martin and Wilson will be part of the mix. Lappas is already excited.

"I want to put everything together. Put the new guys in with the guys that we have," he said. "Let's tee it up and see what happens."

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