MHERST — The freshman class of the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team is willing to give new coach Steve Lappas a chance.
The likelihood is bleaker that the incoming recruiting class will ever show up in Amherst.
All four UMass freshmen are expected to return, rather than transfer in the aftermath of coach Bruiser Flint's forced resignation. Forward Willie Jenkins and guard Anthony Anderson said yesterday they'd be back.
Forward Raheim Lamb was slightly less committal, but also said he expects to return.
Soon after Flint's departure, guard Jameel Pugh expressed plans to return. Lappas met with the team for the first time Monday.
As for the recruits, however, it still looks like Eddie Basden, Mauricio Branwell and Jeremiah King will go elsewhere.
Basden, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., is considered the prize of the recruiting class and a national Top 75 pick. He has begun the process to escape his letter of intent.
UMass athletic director Bob Marcum has said he'd release players who changed their minds after the coaching change.
Basden's high school coach, Glenn Farello, said yesterday that Lappas had left a message for Basden, but that nothing had otherwise changed in the situation.
Branwell's coach, Bill Barton of Fitchburg's Notre Dame Prep, said he wasn't aware of any contact from Lappas. Barton said if he had to predict, he'd expect the 6-8 forward would not to go to UMass.
"My gut feeling is still that it wasn't UMass that attracted Mauricio, it was Bruiser," Barton said. He added that a number of schools, including several from the Big East, are waiting to talk to Branwell if he pulls out of UMass.
The third recruit is 6-2 guard Jeremiah King, who began the year at Winchendon School and finished at Philadelphia Christian Academy. King's AAU coach in Paterson, N.J., Jim Salmon, said Lappas has not contacted King.
"Jeremiah has requested his official release from UMass, and no one has given him reason to revisit that decision," Salmon said.
Among UMass' returning young players, by contrast, there's an acceptance that it's Lappas' team now. The only sophomore on this year's team, forward Micah Brand, said Monday he'd be back.
Yesterday, those feelings were echoed by the freshmen.
"I'll definitely be back," said Anderson, a point guard from Lynn who could not play or practice this season because of academic rules.
"I know coach Lappas, because he recruited me in high school and I feel comfortable with him," Anderson said.
"Right now, I'm comfortable," Jenkins said. "I have no reason to leave."
The only somewhat noncommital freshman was Lamb, who could not play this year because of academic rules, but practiced with the team. The 6-5 forward from Boston stopped short of guaranteeing he'd be back, but is leaning in that direction.
"I'm going to wait until the end of the year and see what happens," Lamb said. "But as of right now, I'm coming back."
Flint's job search continued yesterday with his second interview at Drexel yesterday. He visited Northeastern for the first time Monday, and is planning to attend the Final Four, where he will meet with Duquesne officials for a second time.
"I think whatever happens will be wrapped up by next week," Flint said. "That seems to be everybody's timetable."
Northeastern athletic director Ian McCaw said his first meeting with Flint went well, and that a decision on the Huskies' job will probably come next week.
ew University of Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas pledged Monday to do whatever he could to try to convince Eddie Basden, Maurecio Branwell and Jeremiah King, the three players who committed to UMass in the fall, to come despite the absence of Bruiser Flint, who was forced to resign March 12.
Basden figures to be a tough sell. Even though he was interested in Villanova before committing to the Minutemen, the hiring of Lappas, who coached the Wildcats for the past nine years, hasn't changed his desire to head elsewhere.
"I'm not interested (in UMass) anymore," Basden said when reached by phone Tuesday morning. "I have no desire to play for that university anymore."
Basden has asked for a release from his letter of intent.
Branwell's coach at Notre Dame Academy in Fitchburg, Bill Barton, said his player also had asked for his release, but may be more receptive to changing his mind than Basden.
"I don't know right now," Barton said. "Coach Lappas is a good guy. I sent Aaron Matthews down to him at Villanova and I've worked at his camp. I think he'll probably call down here to talk to Maurecio."
King was not available for comment, but his AAU coach, Jim Salmons, was critical of the university on March 14.
"He will not attend UMass. He's upset, as am I," Salmons said. "I intend to call the school and find out if he can be released from the letter of intent. He came there to play for James Flint. He doesn't wish to attend a school that makes decisions that way."
FLINT TOUR WRAPPING UP: Former UMass coach Bruiser Flint met with Northeastern officials Monday to discuss that school's vacant head coaching position. Flint also has interviewed at Duquesne and Drexel.
hile the University of Massachusetts was introducing Steve Lappas as its new basketball coach yesterday, Northeastern stepped up its courtship of Bruiser Flint, as the former Minutemen coach met with NU's search committee.
''I was shocked, really, with all the things they've done on campus and with all the new buildings they've put up,'' Flint said. ''But I think it went really well. They treated me really well.''
While Flint said there was some talk about salary and contract, no offer was made.
''Mostly, we just talked about what it would take to get things back to where they were before,'' Flint said. ''We just discussed what a coach needs to have and what a coach needs to do in order to be successful at Northeastern.''
Asked what his biggest concern would be in taking over NU's program, Flint said, ''You've got to be able to recruit, that's the biggest thing. I just think that the most important thing is being able to recruit and that the school is able to take care of the kids academically. If you can do both, then you can have a happy marriage.''
NU athletic director Ian McCaw will go to the Final Four Thursday and meet with several other candidates before making a decision. McNeese State head coach Ron Everhart is expected to interview today, and former Celtics coach Chris Ford is expected to meet with NU officials tomorrow.
While he was expecting to resume talks with NU before heading to the Final Four, Flint said he was also planning to speak with officials at Drexel and Duquesne.