Ask the Coach

Note from

UMass Minutemen Coach Steve Lappas was kind enough to offer readers of an opportunity to ask him questions. Though this question period was held from February 11-15, Lappas did not have time to answer them right away due to the volume of submissions and the limited time available while the season was still in progress.

Only questions that were answered (and most were) appear below.

Thanks for your participation and for visiting!

Dear Friend:

Thank you for taking the time to e-mail with your questions about the Minutemen. I really appreciate your interest and support of our program.

Hopefully, we will be able to do something like this again next year, because I know that you have a sincere interest in our efforts and this is a great way for us to communicate. It was important to me that I answered your questions personally, so it did take a bit longer than I would have liked it to.

Best wishes for an enjoyable summer, and thanks again for the questions. I look forward to seeing you at our games next year.

Go UMass,

Steve Lappas
Head Basketball Coach
University of Massachusetts

Mike G., Feb. 11
The team's struggles this year in large part, have been due to poor rebounding. To the average person the motion offense appears to keep the big men outside and not put them in good position to get offensive rebounds. Could you explain a little bit about motion offense basics and rebounding.

Coach Lappas
“There's no doubt that we had a lot of problems this year rebounding the basketball. I believe that was more due to our softness inside as opposed to our offense. My teams have always been very good defensive rebounding teams, but being a motion offense team really has nothing to do with your defensive rebounding. Now, it may have something to do with your offensive rebounding. But, the motion offense allows us to shoot a much higher percentage than a lot of teams do. When you do that, there aren't as many offensive rebounds because you believe in spreading the floor and having good spacing and things like that, those things are more important to you in having a good, flowing offense. Again, when you do that, and you don't have your big men standing on the block the whole time, it is going to affect your offensive rebounding some. But, we think that having an offense that uses the entire court is more beneficial to us than whatever benefits we would get from a couple of extra offensive rebounds because we shoot a higher percentage.”

Mike G.
As someone who drives two hours each way to go to the games, the sometimes lack of inspired play by the current roster is making it difficult get excited about next year's season. Could you write a little bit about the new players coming in next year - Freeman, Briggs and Bowers and how you think the team's attitude may change and what will they bring to the team that is not present this year?

Coach Lappas
“I think that people should be very excited about next year's roster. First of all, the thing people don't realize is that we had to take this program apart and put it back together. In a way, it is a lot like a puzzle or a model in that we have started from scratch. Next year's team will have seven or eight freshmen and sophomores, depending on how many kids we bring in. I think people are pretty excited about Jeff Viggiano and Gabe Lee, in terms of the potential that they've shown. I think when you see the next group of guys that we have coming in, people will be very excited about what we are trying to do.

"On next year's team there will only be one player back who was recruited by Coach Flint, and that's Anthony Anderson. So, we are going to be very, very young, but this team is going to be built and coached in the manner that my teams have been in the past, and I don't see any reason why we won't be as good or make the strides that we need to make next year so that we can have a quality program at UMass once again."

Bob L., Feb. 11
What are your plans next year for addressing our lack of rebounding. Do you expect Briggs and Freeman to make an immediate impact?

Coach Lappas
“There's no doubt that rebounding, as I said in the previous answer, has been a big factor. Rashaun Freeman is 6-9, 260; Stephen Briggs is 6-8, 230. They both are very aggressive kids who play very hard. When you see the kind of kids we bring in here, you will see a significant difference in the aggressiveness on the glass, which we certainly lacked this year.”

John M., Feb. 11
Considering how this season is playing out, how will you define success next season? And as fans should our expectations be more in line with a winning record as oppossed to an NCAA tournament berth?

Coach Lappas
“I would define success next year as obviously an improvement over this year. But, as I've said, we are going to have seven or eight freshmen and sophomores next year, and probably only one junior is going to even play. So, the team is going to be extremely young. I think improvement next year would be if we are fortunate enough to have a winning record and get in the NIT, that would be a great step for a young program that is really going to return the entire roster the following (2004-05) year, and most of the team for two years.”

Robert B., Feb. 11
Hi Coach- it is pretty obvious that you will need some serious size next year so that rebounding can get better which will allow you to compete with the better teams... who do you have coming in and what current high school players are you recruiting...also, players like Jeff V. are doing great, but in order for someone like him to continue improving, do you have drills for him to work on for improving his outside shot as well as getting tougher on rebounding (ie weights and summer camps)...Thanks coach...hang in there and GO UMASS.

Coach Lappas
“We are going to have a lot of drills for our guys to do over the summer in order to improve. Jeff Viggiano, obviously, needs to improve his three-point shooting, but he also needs to improve being able to go off the dribble and make a 12-14 foot jump shot. So, we have a number of things that we give our kids to work on in the off-season. Plus, we'll have the next month and a half where we are allowed to work with the kids until the end of school to show them the things we are going to want them to work on over the summer.”

James P., Feb. 11
Will you be looking to sign a big man during the spring recruiting period?

Coach Lappas
“Right now, we are not sure if we are going to look to bring in another big man. As I've said, we have Rashaun Freeman and Stephen Briggs in the same class. To have a third big kid in that one class is a difficult thing. We believe that between Rashaun, Stephen Briggs, Gabe Lee and Alassane Kouyate, that for next year, anyway, we can get it done with that group. That way, we could kind of spread it out a little bit and bring in someone else the following year.”

James P.
Considering the enormous amount of minutes he has to play each game, will you be recruiting a backup point guard for Anthony Anderson?

Coach Lappas
“Anthony Anderson did log a lot of minutes at the point guard spot, probably a few too many because of our depth at that spot. We'll just have to see how things shake out with regard to Anthony's minutes next year.”

Brad W., Feb. 11
I have two questions. What are your plans to improve the rebounding? We have been getting beat up on the boards all year and we lose our two senior big men at the end of the season. Next year's rebounding looks very bad from my perspective. Our best returning big man, Gabe Lee has gone at least a couple games this year without a SINGLE rebound! For a 6-9 guy that's almost incomprehensible. Will you bring in a beefy JuCo transfer to help fill the gap or what?
My next question is about the intensity of the team. UMass teams have always played hard and, in the early to mid 90s, playing UMass was like going to war.......stingy defense, stellar rebounding and intense team EFFORT. Intensity was our hallmark and we were feared because of it. Now teams like Lafayette and Central Connecticut can come in with a mindset of beating us. That intensity seems to have been lost. Again, what do you plan to do about that?

Coach Lappas
“I feel like our team played extremely hard this year. I don't think our team was a good rebounding team. We had a couple of guys that are very, very poor rebounders because they're physically not very strong. And, that affected our team.
“If you look at the intensity of our team, we were fourth in the league in defensive field goal percentage, we led the league in defending the three-point shot. When I look at teams and how hard they play, I look at their defense. Rebounding-wise, there was no doubt that we weren't a good rebounding team. But, it was not from a lack of effort by any means. I think we showed tremendous effort on the defensive end, and that's where it would really show up if we didn't have the effort there. We're just not a very physical team, and that hurt our rebounding. Micah Brand, physically, is not a great rebounder. Jackie Rogers is not a good defensive rebounder, and Gabe Lee is still very physically week. So, there were a lot of factors that led us to this.
“But, we are going to fix that by recruiting, weight-lifting and things like that. Those are things that cannot be taken care of overnight. But, I disagree, I think our intensity was very, very good.”

Mark C., Feb. 11
Obviously you have a lot of basketball ties to the NYC and Philadelphia area. Now that you're at UMass, are you looking to establish recruiting ties to the city Boston and the area prep schools? It would be great to see kids from Winchendon, Tabor, or even Charlestown at UMass rather than in the Big East or ACC.

Coach Lappas
“There's no doubt that I have a lot of ties in New York City and Philadelphia. We are recruiting right now a couple of kids from Philadelphia that we think would help us next year.”

Mark G., Feb. 11
First I would like to say I was elated when I heard you were coming to UMass, I have total confidence in you to restore our program. My question is you have brought in some really good recruits thus far. Has recruiting been a challenge at UMass or is our name still in peoples minds as a good basketball program? Second reading recruiting sites I have heard great things about Bowers, Freeman, and Briggs. Do any of these guys have a chance to come in and start right away? Lastly, I live in Fall River, MA., and went to high school when Chris Herren was a senior, I believe you recruited him. There is a Soph. Jamal Johnson a 6'3'' 2 guard maybe a 3 if he continues to grow who is very athletic and averaging about 18 a game, maybe more with a huge upside, give him a look for me. Thanks

Coach Lappas
“I think people still feel we have a great basketball program here at UMass. A lot of the kids that we are recruiting were eight, nine, 10 years old when UMass was having its great years, so they were just starting to watch basketball. I think the UMass name still has a tremendous amount of meaning in the basketball world. That's why we've been able to bring in the kids that we've been able to bring in. There's probably going to be five kids next year that are going to be new, that you are going to see. I think you are going to be happy with the kids that you see.”

Rick S., Feb. 11
What do you feel is the biggest hurdle for you and your staff to get the team back to national prominence?

Coach Lappas
“The biggest hurdle that I feel we have in returning the program to national prominence is that had to take it apart and put it back together. You are not going to do that quickly. It is obvious that we have had a lot of kids leave the program because, in most cases, we felt it was beneficial to the program that they leave. We also feel that we had to start all over with freshmen and sophomores. I'm not a big junior college guy, not to say that I'll never have one, but I haven't before.
“Last year, we brought in five kids, and only three of them were playing. Stephen Briggs and Rashaun Freeman didn't. So, we didn't even have our full recruiting class this year. In time, as we build this thing class by class, you'll see that we are going to have a solid program again without question.”

Michael D., Feb. 11
As a season ticket holder for the past 4 seasons I am curios to know what you, your staff and the rest of the athletic dept. can do to increase attendance at all home games. I am sure you would agree with me when I say, a loud, rowdy and excited crowd is what makes a very successful program. Do you foresee any pre-season pep rally type of events prior to playing the two exhibition games? Maybe have a Minutemen marketing team (s) visit local sports bars in the West Mass area to giveaway tickets, t-shirts etc,
As I am sure you are aware there are a lot of people who like to sit down and complain and do nothing, I for one am not like that and would like offer any of my marketing suggestions to your program ( as I would do anything to help fill the Mullins, to make it a tough place to play)
Again, please feel free to contact me as I would be more then happy to provide any assistance ( at no cost to the University) in order to help raise attendance with the general public.

Coach Lappas
“I have been disappointed with our attendance at the games, and I realize that we have not been very good and that's going to have an effect on attendance. I would really like to see our students come back and give our team support. That's something that would be very beneficial to our kids.
“I think student attendance has been a problem all around the country. But, without a doubt, it has hurt us, and we need to get our students back involved. We have to get good again, there's no doubt about that. And, we will get good again. It would be nice to see us have better crowds than we have had.”

Dave M., Feb. 11
After observing Stephen Briggs in practices recently, what do you see as his strengths and weaknesses, and looking ahead to next season, what role do you see him playing on the team?

Coach Lappas
“There is non doubt that Stephen Briggs is going to help tremendously in our program. He practiced with us the last six weeks. He's a very aggressive, very physical kid, who would have helped us this year. We had him penciled in to help us a lot this year, but unfortunately the circumstances dictated that not happening.
“There's no doubt that what I saw of him, we knew he was going to be a good player when we recruited him, and we feel very, very strongly about his future.”

David K., Feb. 12
I really like your approach to student athletes. Having watched the team frequently it seems that you do and will have the horses necesary.It appears it is more of a cohesiveness issue than a talent issue. Wishing you continued success and good luck.

Coach Lappas
“I can tell you right now, David, that we did not have the horses this year. We are getting the horses, and the horses have to get a little bit older. We haven't had the horses in the past.
“I think our issue is more talent than cohesiveness. We were a team that scored 70 percent of our baskets, at least, were assisted baskets, as opposed to most teams that don't score on assisted baskets. Sometimes we confuse cohesiveness with lack of talent. You can't look at a team and say automatically if there's enough talent and they aren't cohesive. I think, in our case, we didn't have enough talent. We tried to play cohesively, but we didn't make enough shots.”

Michael M., Feb. 12
I appreciate the hard work you, your staff, and the players do on behalf of my alma mater. You've been a winner everywhere you've been in your coaching career, and there's no reason to think it'll be any different here. If the kids can learn to play with some reckless abandon, we'll right the ship and restore our proud tradition of success.
1. I thought in watching our game at GWU that we were very successful that game in driving to the basket and creating offensive opportunities by the defensive changes GWU would make to respond to our drives to the basket. Is this a philosophy you try to promote or discourage in your offensive, that is, creating offensive opportunities close to the hoop through dribble penetration?

Coach Lappas
“The motion offense is a complex offense. I think in order to run it well, you need to be able to come off screens, shoot the ball, and you need to know when to drive the ball to the basket. We have so many young guys that don't understand when they should do certain things that it takes time for them to develop both of those things. We want to be able to shoot three's coming off screens, but we want to be able to drive the ball to the basket to create fouling opportunities and things like that. I think this is something that you'll see a lot more of as our guys mature.”

Michael M.
2. Do you think the ability of an interior player to feel pressure and kick the ball back out to the perimeter is innate, or a learned skill? I've noticed that Jackie and Micah might keep opposing defenses more honest if they were to kick the ball out more often, even if it were not in response to a double or triple team, but just to make the opponent aware from the outset that an entry pass isn't an invitation to completely collapse their defense.

Coach Lappas
“It is definitely a learned skill to throw the ball inside and have that inside person kick the ball back out. We had some guys on our team who were just ok at that. That's one of the reasons why our three-point shooting wasn't nearly as good as it should be. I agree with you. I think we should have kicked the ball out much more often when the ball went inside. Jackie is not a great passer, and that hurt him in terms of him being able to do those things.”

Stephen D., Feb. 12
Are you satisfied with your ability to recruit the caliber of player to UMASS that is essential to returning the program to national achievment?

Coach Lappas
“I am satisfied with the kind of kid that we have been able to recruit to the program. I think that you'll see in the next couple of years that the kids we are bringing in have talent. Now, we need to mold them and help them improve and help them understand how to play in the college game, which is so different than high school.”

Stephen D.
Honestly, how successful have you been in coaching and teaching players from the Bruiser Flint era?

Coach Lappas
“It has been hard to coach and teach the kids from Bruiser's time, only because he recruited them to do completely different things than we would recruit our guys to do. I think you'll see a difference in the kind of players that we are bringing in. I'm not going to tell you they are better, worse or anything else. But, they certainly are more suited to do the things I believe a basketball team needs to do. And, that takes time to develop. There's no doubt it has been hard with a lot of the guys Bruiser brought in, and that's not saying that they weren't good players. But, they maybe weren't suited to do the things that we do. Bruiser's last team had a 2,000-point scorer on it and a bunch of guys that played good defense. We'd like to have a little bit more varied offense, and a team that can do some more things, versatility, and still play good defense.”

Don M., Feb. 12
Since we can't generate much offense,why not try to generate offfense through pressure defense. Why don't you ever press full court? It is almost aleays effective and can be be fun to watch. I can think of numerous coaches that have made this effective,(ie Arkansas, St Joseph's, Ga Tech). I'd appreciate your feed back on this. Thanks and good luck turning this program around.

Coach Lappas
“It's an interesting point that you say how about generating some offense off some more defense, and that would be great. One of our big problems this year was we had no depth at the guard, and if we would have extended the floor too much, as it was Anthony Anderson was playing 36 minutes, I didn't want to kill him, and kill Mike Lasme and Jeff Viggiano. All three of those kids were playing way too many minutes. But, because of the depth in the program, that was the way it was. I think you'll see us push up a little bit more and try to create some more easy baskets in the future.”

Jim W., Feb. 13
I am a St. Louis University alum (still glowing from the win over Louisville) and am excited to see Reggie Bryant play for the Billikens next year. You recruited Reggie to Villanova, so any thoughts? He seems to be a great shooter, any thoughts on his defense? Thanks. (And yes I go to UMass games and root for the Minuteman as well).

Coach Lappas
“Reggie Bryant was a very good player. I was really happy to get him at Villanova. He's a tremendous offensive player. Defensively, he needs to work on some things. Obviously, I haven't had him in a couple of years, but there's no doubt that Reggie is going to make the St. Louis fans very happy.”

Drew H., Feb. 13
I attended the Xavier game and saw moments of brilliance when the team pushed the ball up the court and got easy baskets for Jackie Rogers and Gabe Lee. Would you consider running more the rest of the season?

Coach Lappas
“There's no doubt that we had some great moments this year pushing the ball up the floor. One of the big problems with that is we were very inconsistent, as we've said earlier, rebounding the ball. When you are inconsistent rebounding the ball, it's hard to get a consistent fast break going. Then, you don't want to really push up and pressure people full court because you are playing with so little depth in the backcourt. I would like to push the ball up more, my teams have pushed the ball up. I've always had one of the higher scoring teams in the Big East when I was at Villanova, and we certainly plan on having one of their higher scoring teams in the Atlantic 10. We inherited a program that was last in the league in offense and lost a 2,000-point scorer. That's what people don't realize. That team that we inherited at first was the lowest scoring team in the Atlantic 10 and had a guy who scored 2,000 points graduate in Monty Mack. It takes time to develop the things we are trying to develop, and that certainly wasn't a great way to start.”

Keith K., Feb. 13
If rebounding is considered the biggest deficiency of this team, why isn't Raheim Lamb playing more?

Coach Lappas
“Rebounding was our biggest deficiency. This question was asked when Raheim Lamb was on the team. I believe Jeff Viggiano is more suited to be a three man than Raheim Lamb is. I certainly didn't think Raheim should play over Gabe Lee and Jackie Rogers, so Raheim really developed into a backup four man. He was good in that role and versatile. But, I just felt we had other guys who could do more things.”

Keith K.
We have heard that Art Bowers is a highly rated recruit and many of us are excited about him coming to UMass. Could you describe his strengths in general and how would you rate his 3 point shooting accuracy?

Coach Lappas
“Artie Bowers is going to be a very good player for us. He's a tremendous slasher. Somebody asked earlier about taking the ball to the basket. He will be excellent at taking the ball to the basket. As far as three-point shooting goes, he's a good three-point shooter, but not a great one yet. But, those are things that we've always had success in developing. Alvin Williams, when he came to me at Villanova, was a poor three-point shooter, and ended up being a very good three-point shooter. We've had a number of guys like that, who we've worked with and helped them improve on. Shooting is something that you can improve on and we certainly working very hard with our guys in the off-season to do that.”

Dan H., Feb. 13
Coach Lappas, are you finding that you have to adjust your recruiting strategies at UMass? I imagine the Big East Conference sells itself whereas the A-10 is a tougher sell.

Coach Lappas
“There's no doubt that recruiting in the A-10 is a little different than recruiting in the Big East. In the Big East, the league was able to sell itself a little better because of its TV package. Kids want to play on TV. We have a great product here and I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think I could recruit the quality players that we need to recruit. We need to sell UMass more here than just selling the league. That's been a very important focus of our recruiting strategy.”

Dan H.
Do you keep in touch with your old players? Any of them moving up through the coaching ranks or athletic administrations of college or pro teams?

Coach Lappas
“I speak all the time to my former players, especially the kids that are in the NBA. Mike Bradley, Alvin Williams, Kerry Kittles, Malik Allen, Tim Thomas, these are kids that we stay in touch (with) and really talk to as much as we can.”

Scott S., Feb. 15
Which of the new players next year (Bowers, Briggs, Freeman) do you think will have the biggest impact?

Coach Lappas
“I think all three, Artie Bowers, Stephen Briggs, and Rashaun Freeman, are all going to have a big impact next year. They are all going to be very important to everything that we do."

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