Lappas optimistic about future
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/9/2002

It will take Steve Lappas a little while to shake the taste of Thursday's overtime loss to Xavier. The last one is always tough to get over, but his frustration with the officiating makes this one extra difficult.

But despite his frustration, Lappas saw enough positives from his first season as the head coach of the University of Massachusetts to feel optimistic about the future.

"I thought we did a lot of really nice things this year. A lot of things happened to build off of, especially at the end of the year," he said.

Priority No. 1 as the offseason begins is filling the team's final scholarship spot that opened when rarely-used sophomore swingman Jameel Pugh opted to transfer. The Minutemen have targeted several small forwards and could have a verbal commitment from one of them within the next few weeks.

Whoever does sign will join several new faces on the UMass roster. Mike Lasme, a guard from the Ivory Coast, by way of New Jersey, joins 6-foot, 8-inch big men Stephen Briggs of Houston and Alassane Kouyate, who is from Mali playing in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The freshmen are expected to enroll in summer school and can participate with their new teammates in summer pick-up games.

The school also signed Schenectady native Rashaun Freeman, who will be an academic non-qualifier and will sit out next season.

The group will replace seniors Shannon Crooks, Kitwana Rhymer, Eric Williams and Ronell Blizzard.

Once their recruiting is complete, Lappas and his staff will take a working vacation together at the Jersey Shore to evaluate the just-finished campaign and plan strategy for the immediate future.

"We just want to get together away from everything and talk about what we liked and didn't like and what we need to work on for next year," said Lappas.

The NCAA allows players to get individual instruction from coaches for two hours every week. Lappas said mapping out what each player needed to work on during those sessions would also be part of the trip.

Lappas said the players can expect an arduous offseason.

"Lifting is going to be as hard as it can be," he said. "Individual instruction will be tough as its ever been. Athletically and academically we'll be expecting a lot from them.

"This is the time when you establish your program," Lappas continued. "Last year I didn't l know what these guys were yet. Now I know what they are."

He said familiarity will help the players during individual instruction.

"When we were doing individuals last April and May, they didn't know what we were instructing them toward," Lappas said. "They had no idea how, what they were practicing fit in.

"Now they really know why they're learning it. They see how it fits into a game."

The team will welcome three players who sat out this season - Gabriel Lee, Jackie Rogers and Marcus Cox - into the mix. Rogers, who redshirted, will be a senior. Cox sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. Lee was an academic non-qualifier.

Lee will not be allowed to participate in individual instruction with the coaching staff in the spring, but will officially become a scholarship athlete beginning this summer.

Sophomore Anthony Anderson expressed high hopes for next year.

"We're going to be real young next year. I think it's going to be real exciting," he said. "We're going to run a lot. It's going to be a lot more up and down. I think we're only going to get better."

SCHEDULE OPEN - There are five games still to be added to next season's schedule.

In addition to their trip to the Maui Classic in November, UMass has home games scheduled with Boston College, Marshall and North Carolina State and a road game scheduled at Connecticut.

CROOKS-RHYMER WRAP UP - Crooks finished his career ranked in the top 10 all-time at UMass in four categories: assists (No. 10, 310); steals (tied fourth, 142); three pointers attempted (No. 10, 313) and made (No. 10, 97).

He finished at No. 28 on the school's scoring list with 1,073 points and is one of only four players in school history to amass 1,000 points and 300 assists.

He ranks No. 14 on the school's career scoring list of players that played fewer than four years.

Rhymer is fifth on the school's all-time blocked shots list with 184.

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