Everyone starting from square one
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 8/8/2001

AMHERST - Fourteen weeks separate the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team from an actual game. While nine will pass before the NCAA allows teams to begin practicing, competition already has begun for starting spots and playing time.

Because the Minutemen are heading to Greece next week for a 10-day, four-game excursion, the NCAA allows them a week to practice and prepare.

New head coach Steve Lappas said he watched no tape of the Minutemen this summer in an attempt to give everyone a fresh opportunity to make an impression on the staff. That process is in full stride.

"I told them I've watched zero tape on purpose," Lappas said. "I don't want to have any preconceived notions. I want them to feel like everybody has an equal shot starting now. This is a chance to make a good first impression."

The players were pleased to have a clean slate.

"We appreciate that," junior center Micah Brand said. "This gives everybody a chance to come out and practice hard."

Crooks said the desire to impress the coaches has increased the intensity of practice.

"Everybody was real aggressive, trying their hardest, trying to make a good first impression on the coach," Crooks said. "I just tried to play as hard as I can, like I normally do."

Following is a look at the position battles that will develop into the fall.

1. Point guard - Despite missing last season, sophomore Anthony Anderson this week got a leg up on incoming freshman Kyle Wilson, who won't be on campus until the fall.

Lappas has repeatedly praised Anderson's early efforts.

Senior Shannon Crooks could see time here, too, in the event of foul trouble or struggles for the two rookies.

2. Shooting guard/small forward - In terms of the numbers of participants, the battle for minutes at the two wing positions should be interesting.

The addition of Anderson and Wilson has allowed Lappas to move Crooks back off the ball, a position both think will allow him to better utilize his scoring instincts. His sheer physical strength has allowed him to comfortably guard bigger players in the past.

Lappas has singled out Crooks early for his leadership and his ability to adapt to the new system.

Beyond Crooks, however, who will play where and how much remains to be seen.

Nobody may have needed a fresh start more than sophomores Jameel Pugh and Willie Jenkins, who both sat on the bench for most of last season. Raheim Lamb, who practiced last year but was ineligible, enters the mix as one of the leading contenders as well.

Pugh and Jenkins have a chance to earn playing time at either wing position and get a leg up on incoming freshman Brennan Martin with strong play this week.

Wilson could see some time at shooting guard with Anderson in the game. At 6-foot-8, Ronell Blizzard's position is never obvious. Is he a small forward? Is he power forward? But if he can build on a strong second half of last season, he should see minutes somewhere.

Power forward/center - With or without foul trouble, it's likely that the foursome of Kitwana Rhymer, Micah Brand, Jackie Rogers and Eric Williams all will see time, with Blizzard a possibility here too.

Brand and Williams, who both have range on their jump shots, stand to benefit from the change to Lappas' motion offense, which allows big men more of an opportunity to shoot from the perimeter.

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