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After the dazzle, new era begins
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 10/13/2001

AMHERST - Ten years ago when the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team began practice, there were no dance teams and no fireworks.

The spectacle at the school's third Midnight Madness on Oct. 15, 1991, was, by current standards, a quiet one at Curry Hicks Cage.

But that night began the journey of what would be the first truly magical season in the school's most treasured athletic era.

On that fall night late in the first George Bush administration, Lou Roe had never scored 30 points on national television. Mike Williams had never been suspended or hit a game-winning shot and some UMass fans were still wondering why the Minutemen even gave Derek Kellogg a scholarship.

It was their first time even wearing the uniform and while no UMass fan sitting in the Cage's confines could imagine what that group would accomplish over the next four years, there was still the warm feeling of hopeful optimism that accompanies the start of every season.

On that night, the Minutemen still had favorable buzz from their trip to the NIT Final Four the previous spring, but they were still little more than a local story, a few months away from being a national curiosity and quite a distance away from being a phenomenon.

In local eyes, the 1991-92 season wasn't the first chapter of John Calipari's miracle run in Amherst, but that season certainly marked the program's first glimpse of a national attention. It was a year that saw the Minutemen upset Oklahoma in Springfield, finally beat Temple and beat West Virginia for the Atlantic 10 title.

It climaxed when Harper Williams earned his share of NCAA Tournament lore as his 3-pointer beat the buzzer and Syracuse to send the Minutemen to the Sweet Sixteen. And it crashed when Calipari was called for the leaving-the-coach's-box technical against Kentucky.

In most places, Midnight Madness has become a dead concept as the novelty has worn off. Some schools don't participate anymore, but with a new coach and some renewed interest, it remained a good idea at UMass.

Now, some 10 years after that first night at the Cage, Midnight Madness will be special in Amherst again. The opening pages of the next chapter will be written, the first of the Steve Lappas era, in the warmth of that same hopeful optimism that blanketed the Cage in 1991.

Last night at midnight, there was a lot more flash and more dancers than an American Bandstand episode, but underneath the dazzle and fireworks, sneakers squeaked and the ball bounced and another basketball era began in Amherst.

UMass fans welcome Lappas
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 10/15/2001

AMHERST - After Friday night's Midnight Madness, new UMass coach Steve Lappas might wish Brian Loyd still had some eligibility left.

The former Tulsa guard, who is Lappas' director of basketball operations, displayed an impressive shooting stroke in a 3-on-3 game between students and members of the coaching staff. His play was a rare hoop highlight at a Midnight Madness that was long on atmosphere and short on much basketball.

After a stirring rendition of the national anthem sung by Allison Boyce, along with seemingly every fan in attendance, the crowd of between 4,000-5,000 gave Lappas a warm reception at his first Mullins Center event.

Lappas encouraged them to come back.

"If you come to all our games like you came tonight we're going to win a heck of a lot of games," Lappas said over the public adress system.

Afterward, while he praised the execution of the event, his mind was thinking toward about 15 hours later.

"This was the best one I've seen. The way the athletic department put it on and the student body was tremendous," Lappas said. "This was good because it was fun. The kids enjoy it. The fans like it. But my job begins tomorrow. That's when I go to work."

Video clip: Madness highlights.
External link 6.8mb
Courtesey: Daily Hampshire Gazette
He promised a difficult preseason early on.

"I'm throwing a lot at them in terms of our man-to-man defense and our offense. I'm throwing four or five plays at them tomorrow," he said. "I have a timetable. I'd like to have all the man-to-man stuff certainly, and at least a couple of our defenses, by the first exhibition (Nov. 4). We're going to be adding new stuff every day for the first few weeks."

Perhaps to avoid injury, there was no scrimmage this year, so the only time the fans saw the players in action was during the skills competitions.

Pugh's status as reigning dunk champ was hardly contested.
Sophomore Jameel Pugh won the dunk contest for the second straight year with dunks that weren't as impressive as last year's, beating a field that featured Ronell Blizzard, Raheim Lamb and Micah Brand.

Neither freshman Kyle Wilson or Brennan Martin took part in the skills competition, but Wilson still had a good time.

"It was nice. As a kid you grow up waiting to be in that situation. It was nice to be in the moment and just be a part of it," said Wilson, who said he's adjusted well to college life "It's been everything I expected and more. I've been very impressed by everybody and everything that's gone on here. I'm very ready to get started."

Wilson and Martin will both be called upon to help provide the outside shooting that is necessary in Lappas' motion offense, especially with Loyd's lack of eligibility.

Despite Loyd's marksmanship, he and assistant coach John Leonard and staff assistant Paul Culpo fell 15-14 to their student foes.

* * *

Minuteman-to-be Stephen Briggs, who has given UMass a verbal commitment, was in attendance for his official visit, as was Damion Grant, a 6-foot-10 big man from Jamaica whom the Minutemen are recruiting. He attends Brewster-Wolfboro Academy in New Hampshire. So far, UMass is the only school he has officially visited, and he has no other official visits set up. Both players were also in attendance at Saturday's football game.

Video clips

All clips in MPEG format.
Video clip Senior captain Kitwana Rhymer makes his entrance. (file size = 336k)
Video clip New coach Steve Lappas gets welcomed by the crowd. (702k)
Video clip Micah Brand gets the assist from the glass. (168k)
Video clip Brand's offering into the week's sports bloopers. (480k)
Video clip Ronell Blizzard takes flight with his foul-line dunk. (272k)
Video clip Blizz scores highly with the mid-air turn-around. (248k)
Video clip Raheim Lamb goes reverse. (200k)
Video clip Marcus Cox makes it look easy. (184k)
Video clip Jameel Pugh make it into the finals with ease. (288k)
Video clip Blizz tries to get crafty and de-throne Pugh as the dunk champ. (183k)
Video clip Pugh slams home a perfect score. (1400k)
Video clip Icing in the cake: Pugh goes soaring. (1403k)

Midnight Madness 2001 Pictures

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Courtesey: Daily Hampshire Gazette

Raheim Lamb

Anthony Anderson

More pics at MassLive External link

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