Lappas already in motion
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 10/7/2001

Steve Lappas likes to start work early, gulping coffee as he begins his daily fast break through the world he calls his own.

"I say, 'Let's go now,' " Lappas said in anticipation of his first University of Massachusetts men's basketball season, which celebrates Midnight Madness Friday. "I'm excited to see what we'll have when we go play some games."

There are many reasons to like coach Lappas. He has beaten Connecticut. He has brought the motion offense to a school best known for the motionless offense.

And for someone whose sideline expressions suggest a man whose belt is two sizes too small, Lappas is in fact a most articulate, engaging and interesting person.

But to many UMass fans, Lappas is appealing for one reason: he's not Bruiser Flint. The public was ready for a change.

Lappas? Fine. Fran McCaffery, Jim Baron, Gene Hackman from "Hoosiers," sure, the public cried out. Anybody, they said anybody but Bruiser.

Lappas, a friend of Flint, doesn't want that. He wants his own stamp, and a four-game August tour of Greece left him thinking he's on the right track.

"I was pleasantly surprised by how well our guys ran the motion offense," Lappas said. "In fact, they ran the motion offense better than they ran the set plays."

Having watched how this team ran set plays last year, UMass fans might not be all that surprised to hear this. Even the post players, brought in to play Flint's much different style, are catching on.

"Eric Williams and Micah Brand are very good in the motion offense, because they can step out and shoot," Lappas said. "Kit Rhymer and Rogers can be good in it, too, because they'll have more room in the paint."

Lappas also has made some recruiting headway. Even Mike Lasme, a guard from New Jersey who reportedly pulled out of a verbal commitment, now is reportedly anxious to come here after all.

Whether Lappas accepts this give-and-go attitude and still takes him in 2002-03 remains to be seen. As for 2001-02, Lappas goes in with some advantages on his side.

One is UMass has two point guards, which until now has been as rare in Amherst as Republicans.

"I think we have two very good point guards (Kyle Wilson and Anthony Anderson)," Lappas said. "Kyle has a good feel for the ball, and he can shoot."

Lappas, who does not share Flint's reluctance to give minutes to rookies, says Wilson and Anderson will play together at times. He was asked if Shannon Crooks would play some point, too.

"Not a second," the coach answered with rim-rattling clarity.

But Crooks remains a key player, at shooting guard or perhaps small forward. UMass fans may also be happy to hear that Jameel Pugh, the people's choice, performed well in Greece and has a chance to break into the rotation.

And for the first time since 1971, UMass' first three games are at home. Sure, the opponents include Marist and Arkansas-Little Rock, but Flint lost to a couple of teams like that, too.

The question is now whether the public will care. The old motto was "Refuse to Lose." The new one may be "Wait and See."

"I've been concentrating on recruiting and basketball, but as the season gets closer, I expect to be more involved with promotion," Lappas said. "Of course, you can be the greatest promoter in the world, like John Calipari was, and you still have to have the product, like he did."

For five years, Flint lost the endless comparisons to Calipari. Still 0-0 at UMass, Lappas is winning the comparisons with Flint.

His success will come when the comparisons fade away, and his program is judged on its own. With his infectious enthusiasm and coffee in hand, the new coach hopes that day is not far away.


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