ith six days off between games as his players take final exams, University of Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas has lessened their basketball workload in the early part of this week to concentrate on academics.
"That's the most important thing right now, that they finish the semester strong," Lappas said.
Instead of full practices, the players have been doing individual workouts with the assistant coaches.
"We have so many young guys that only had individuals for six weeks in preseason, so this is a chance for us to work on some parts of their games," Lappas said.
Sophomore big man Gabe Lee, who sat out last year as an academic-nonqualifier, has been working on post moves with Andrew Theokas, while Chris Walker and John Leonard have been working on shooting drills with Jeff Viggiano and Mike Lasme.
"Gabe is very athletic and has done some things in transition, but he's trying to be better in the half-court offense," Lappas said. "Jeff has been working his perimeter shooting and Mike has been working on pulling up in the lanes and his perimeter shooting as well."
Lappas said freshman big man Alassane Kouyate had been making considerable improvement until recently.
"He's benefiting from the individual instruction because that's what a guy like him really needs right now," Lappas said. "He had been making great strides in practices, but when we've had him on scout team, running other teams' plays, that's messed him up a little. He's a bit discombobulated right now."
Lappas said it's been a strong semester academically.
"They've done a good job. There's nobody I'm worried about right now," he said. "The guys know what we expect from them."
Lappas was looking forward to UMass' long winter break.
"That's going to be great, have five weeks or so just to concentrate on basketball," he said.
The Minutemen will resume team practices later this week to prepare for Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Lafayette in the Springfield Civic Center. The Leopards beat Ursinis (Division III) last night and will play St. Peter's Thursday prior to their trip to Springfield.
HAZELTON LIKELY HEADED ELSEWHERE - Connecticut announced that Somerville native Scott Hazelton has decided to leave the Huskies.
Hazelton, a 6-foot-7 forward, considered UMass and Villanova, which was then coached by Lappas, out of high school. But it's unlikely he'll head to Amherst.
Hazelton is a redshirt sophomore and because he's already used his redshirt year, he'll lose a year of eligibility if he transfers to an NCAA Divsion I school. He'd be eligible in late December 2003 and would only have three semesters of eligibility left.
By the time he would become eligible, he'd be competing for time with Brennan Martin, Raheim Lamb, Jeff Viggiano and Rashaun Freeman at small forward.
Hazelton could transfer to a Division II or III school or an NAIA school and be eligible right away with five semesters of eligibility.
RANKINGS: RPIratings.com has UMass' schedule strength ranked as the 11th toughest in the country, so far. Their current RPI rank is 120.
HALL OF FAME PROMOTION: The Lafayette game falls on the 111th anniversary of the invention of basketball. To commemorate that, fans who purchase a family package of four tickets for $50 will receive four admissions to the "Birthday of Basketball" Party at the Basketball Hall of Fame. The admissions are good for that day only.
Other people with single-game tickets to the game can get into the hall for $5.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.