MHERST, Mass. -- University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Steve Lappas has reinstated freshman forward Stephen Briggs (Houston, Texas) to the Minuteman program, effective Jan. 17, 2003.
"This has been a very difficult situation for everyone involved," Lappas said. "Kids sometimes make mistakes, and Stephen has paid a pretty big price for his. In continuing to review and evaluate the situation since our initial decision, and in talking with Stephen and his family, I just believed it was best to give Stephen another opportunity.
"He'll practice with the team for the rest of the year, hit the books, and then have four years of eligibility beginning next year, provided he takes care of his school work," he added.
The 6-9, 212-pound Briggs averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds as a senior at Houston's Westside High School. The school's team captain and MVP a year ago, Briggs helped Westside to the 2002 district championship, and earned All-State, All-District and Regional All-Star recognition.
One of four players to sign with UMass during the 2001 early-signing period, he selected Massachusetts over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Texas.
he University of Massachusetts announced Friday that Stephen Briggs, a freshman forward who was dismissed from the team in October for an undisclosed violation of team rules, will be reinstated Jan. 17.
"This has been a very difficult situation for everyone involved," Lappas said in a university released statement. "Kids sometimes make mistakes and Stephen paid a pretty big price for his. In continuing to review and evaluate the situation since our initial decision, and talking to Stephen and his family, I just believed it was best to give Stephen another opportunity.
"He'll practice with the team for the rest of the year, hit the books and have four years of eligibility beginning next year, provided he takes care of all the things he needs to."
Briggs, a 6-foot-9 forward from Houston, will begin practicing with the Minutemen, Jan. 17, but will sit out this season.
Briggs got interest from other schools after his dismissal, but had he headed elsewhere he would have lost eligibility because he left within a year of signing his official letter of intent.
He could have played next year at mid-season with 21/2 years of eligibility, or he could have waited until the 2004-05 and had three full years left.
Briggs averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds for Westlake High School in Houston. He chose UMass over several Atlantic Coast Conference schools and Texas. He was just inside or just outside the top 100 players on most recruiting lists.
Briggs will join a corps of inside players next year that includes returnees Gabriel Lee and Alassane Kouyate and freshman Rashaun Freeman, who is sitting out as an academic non-qualifier. Freeman is 6-foot-8 and could play power forward or small forward.
Briggs will essentially fill the scholarship vacated by Kyle Wilson, who decided to transfer earlier this week.
With New Jersey guard Art Bowers also signed, UMass has two scholarships remaining. The Minutemen have been heavily recruiting Roman Narmbaye, a 6-foot-10 forward who is originally from Chad, but is playing at Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J., the same school that produced UMass guard Mike Lasme.
Lappas said earlier in the week he wasn't sure if UMass planned on recruiting a guard to replace Wilson.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
niversity of Massachusetts freshman forward Stephen Briggs, who was dismissed from the basketball team Oct. 11 for a violation of team rules, has been reinstated by second-year coach Steve Lappas but will not be allowed to suit up for the Minutemen until next season.
Lappas said Briggs, a 6-foot-9-inch, 212-pounder from Houston, will practice with the team and will have four years of eligibility but will remain suspended for the rest of this season. Lappas said his decision to allow Briggs to return will take effect Jan. 17.
Lappas, who has also coached at Villanova and Manhattan, said it was the first time he has reinstated a dismissed player.
''The big thing is that I got to know the parents as well as the kid from recruiting, and from that I know that Stephen's problems were a complete shock to everyone, completely out of character,'' said Lappas, who refused to say what prompted Briggs's dismissal.
''[Briggs] started calling me about six weeks ago saying that he wanted to come back. Initially, we told him no, but he kept calling,'' Lappas added. ''He said, `I don't want to go to LSU or Arkansas. I want to play for you.' He promised me that everything would be fine and that he would do well in school. So, I told him that the stipulation was that he would be suspended for this season.''
The Minutemen, who enter today's Atlantic 10 contest against St. Joseph's with a 6-7 record, could use another frontcourt player, and Lappas said he could have made Briggs eligible to play immediately. But, Lappas said, ''He will be suspended for this season, and then he will start all over again next season with a full slate.''
Briggs averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior at Houston's Westside High School. The school's team captain and most valuable player as a senior, he earned Texas all-state honors and subsequently chose UMass over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Texas.
''He'll practice with the team for the rest of the year, hit the books, and then have four years of eligibility beginning next year, provided he takes care of his schoolwork,'' said Lappas.
It marks the second personnel change in the program this week. Sophomore guard Kyle Wilson left the team Tuesday and announced he will transfer to San Jose State, citing a desire for more playing time and a wish to be closer to his home in British Columbia.
MHERST - Stephen Briggs admitted he was nervous when he walked into his first actual practice as a University of Massachusetts men's basketball player Friday.
This day was supposed to have come almost four months ago for the 6-foot-9 freshman big man from Houston and it wasn't supposed to be a momentous occasion.
But shortly before practice began in the fall, Briggs was suspended and then dismissed for an undisclosed violation of team rules, that Minuteman coach Steve Lappas had described as "serious."
After being reinstated by Lappas last week, Briggs wanted to restart his UMass career by getting right with his teammates.
"The gist of what he said was 'I'm sorry for doing what I did and I want you to take me back and I know it might take some time, but I'm going to work to do it,'" Lappas said.
Briggs got to watch the action from the bench on Saturday night.
"I appreciated them being willing to accept me back as a teammate and allowing me to work with them," he said.
Thus begins chapter two of the Stephen Briggs era at UMass, laying the groundwork for a storyline that could go in two directions:
1. If he runs afoul of Lappas again, both coach and player will look bad and Briggs' UMass career will certainly be over.
2. Briggs learns his lesson and has a successful career at UMass.
But both he and Lappas expressed confidence in the likelihood of the latter.
"I can't say for sure it's going to go well, because you never know, but I think it will," Lappas said. "He had things bothering him and he wasn't telling us and he was homesick and he wasn't telling us. It built up and he made a mistake. I think it's going to be OK."
The second chance wasn't easy to come by.
When Lappas dismissed Briggs in October, the coach was angry and didn't expect to hear from him again.
Briggs was free to sign at any school he wanted. He'd have to sit out a season and lose a year of eligibility, but Lappas figured the former Westlake High School star would leave his embarrassing episode behind and head elsewhere.
Internet recruiting sites had Briggs bound for the University of Houston even before his dismissal was announced. That's why Lappas was shocked when he picked up the phone in early November and heard Briggs on the other end asking for another chance.
"I was shocked. He was getting calls from schools. It's not like he didn't have a place to go," Lappas said.
The first call was followed by others, with Briggs' mother, Debra Young, dialing the numbers sometimes, too. Lappas was persuaded by both their persistence and Briggs' desire to undo his mistake.
"I took him back because of his mother and him calling and the amount of remorse I sensed," Lappas said. "I felt if this was my son or my brother, I'd want someone to give him a second chance.
"It says something about the kid that he wants to come back here that bad. He could have gone someplace else and started over and not have to apologize or do any of that stuff. But this kid wants to be at UMass. That tells me something. He didn't want that hanging over him. He wanted to make it right. He wanted to show that he made it right and that (the incident) wasn't who he is."
Briggs had originally arrived at UMass with a reputation as a good student and a solid citizen. He said it would have been contrary to his upbringing to run away from what happened.
"It's a part of growing up and being a man," said Briggs, who sat on the bench in a black warmup suit at Saturday's game. "You have to face up for what you do. I appreciate Coach Lappas giving me the chance to do that and make a statement here."
For now, Briggs' statements will be quiet ones. He'll practice with the team, concentrating on getting better, stronger and keeping his academics in order. But his play in practice Friday caught Lappas' attention already.
"We saw what we've been missing," he said. "He's a skilled post player. He's very athletic. He plays hard."
Briggs knows he's under a microscope and he welcomes it - the thinking being: the more people watch him the more they'll see he's on the right track.
"It's still a volatile situation. I have to walk lightly, but that's OK," said Briggs, who said he hoped to earn back his good reputation. "I have to keep pushing. Hopefully I'll gain most of that, if not all of that, back."
Lappas was more optimistic than cautious.
"I've always been a sucker for somebody telling me they're sorry. What more can they do. Now they have a chance to prove it," he said. "If this kid does what I think he'll do, he'll have learned the most valuable lesson in his life."
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.