HILADELPHIA - Junior Rashaun Freeman (Schnectady, N.Y.) was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason First Team at the league's annual media day on Thursday at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia. In the preseason league poll of, UMass was picked to finish seven by coaches and media. Freshman Chris Lowe (Mount Vernon, N.Y.) was named to the Preseason All-Rookie Team.
Freeman, who was a member of the 2004-05 A-10 First Team was on hand for the event along with head coach Travis Ford who is entering his first season at UMass and in the A-10. Ford and Freeman did close to 20 interviews with regional and national media.
Ford has great expectations for the Atlantic 10 heading into 2005-06.
"The overall strength of the Atlantic 10 is what I am most impressed with heading into this season," said the coach. "After getting just one team in the NCAA Tournament last year, I would think this year the league could get four or five bids. With all of the returning talent, the teams are more mature and have more experience which should make for some high-level competitive basketball."
Ford was pleased with Freeman being named to the First Team, but thought UMass could have had more players on the lists.
"We have one great player in Rashaun Freeman and we have a lot of other very good players," said the coach. "I thought Maurice Maxwell would have been on one of the preseason teams as well as Stephane Lasme being on the defensive team. But now we can use this as motivation and show that we have something to prove as we head into the season."
Atlantic 10: GW Is The Pick To Win A-10 Men's Basketball.
HILADELPHIA - Despite the considerable optimism that surrounds their team, new University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Travis Ford and junior big man Rashaun Freeman are not surprised or disappointed by the Minutemen's No. 7 ranking in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll released Thursday.
The league held its annual media day in Philadelphia.
''You have to prove it. That's what we're going to go out and just do,'' Freeman said. ''As long we know how good we can be and what we're trying to achieve, what's on paper really doesn't matter.''
''I've seen us anywhere from fifth to seventh. I don't think we're any better than that or any worse than that,'' Ford said. ''There's a lot of ifs, with a new coach and a new style of play.''
Ford said the biggest of those ifs remains at point guard.
''I think one of the things this team has seen is maybe how good (departed senior) Anthony Anderson was and what he did do,'' he said. ''We're still looking for a guy to step up (at point guard) and say this is my team and be very aggressive with it. There's a lot of questions marks with that,'' said Ford, who seems to hope that player is freshman Chris Lowe, who was named to the eight-man all-conference rookie team.
''This is only to get Chris ready,'' Ford said. ''Chris isn't going to be able to play 40 minutes a game even when he is ready. So we're grooming some of these other guys to play some backup. Maurice (Maxwell) really wants to do it, but to really help our team we need to get him back to the wing.''
While Ford was tempering expectations for the Minutemen, George Washington coach Karl Hobbs expects them to be a sleeper team in the league.
''UMass is probably the most underrated team in the league,'' Hobbs said. ''From a talent standpoint, they have as much as anybody else. Rashaun is clearly the best scoring center in the league and Maxwell is a very versatile play, who at 6-foot-5 can play a couple different positions. They'll be the team that I think is going to emerge this year.''
As expected, Hobbs' team won't be anybody's sleeper as the defending champion Colonials have four starters back and are the preseason No. 1 pick for the second straight year. They earned 38 of the 65 first place votes.
Hobbs said last year's success taught his team a lot.
''Last year we won the league, but we won it in a very close race,'' Hobbs said. ''I hope that our experience, playing with a lot of expectations, will help us this year. I thought our guys responded pretty well considering the circumstances. We had some up-and-down moments, but I think they're prepared and they understand what it takes to succeed.''
Charlotte, which joins the A-10 this season, was picked No. 2 with 18 first-place votes. One reporter suggested to 49er coach Bobby Lutz that it is a mark of respect for his team to be ranked so high in its first year in the league.
Lutz offered another assessment.
''Coaches might be just trying to put a target on our back,'' Lutz said. ''They might be deflecting from themselves. Seriously, though, our goal every year has been to win the league and if not, finish in the top four. That hasn't changed. To win the league would be an amazing accomplishment. To finish in the top four would be a very good accomplishment, but one we think is reachable.''
No. 3 Temple earned eight first-place votes, while one voter picked No. 8 Fordham first.
No. 4 Xavier, No. 5 Dayton and No. 6 Saint Joseph's also were picked ahead of the Minutemen.
After Fordham are Rhode Island (No. 9), La Salle (10), Richmond (11), Duquesne (12), Saint Louis (13) and St. Bonaventure (14).
THE STARTING 10? - Considering that the Atlantic 10 has 14 teams, no math is inconceivable for the conference. Unlike previous years where there were three preseason all-conference teams of five players each, the league released two teams of 10.
Freeman was a first-team selection. Twelve of the league's 14 teams had at least one player selected with only Rhode Island and Saint Louis not represented.
LEARNING ON THE FLY - Saint Louis and Charlotte won't play Atlantic 10 opponents until early January, but Lutz said he's already starting to monitor his new rivals.
''The primary focus is on our team and on our nonconference schedule, but we have gotten ourselves acquainted with the teams we haven't played,'' he said. ''Once the season starts, my work will be peeking ahead a little bit and seeing what a team like UMass will be with a new coach. It's tough. We're new to everybody, but the returning teams only need to learn two new teams. We have to learn 12.''
Lutz said the move can help pay off in recruiting.
''We've recruited the D.C.-Baltimore area before and we've had Philly kids and New York kids,'' he said. ''But to get a kid to go Charlotte is more difficult with all those Northeast schools. But now we're going to play in their home areas. That opens some doors and we're excited about it.''
Hobbs has gotten some preliminary scouting on Saint Louis and Charlotte from Virginia coach Dave Leitao, who formerly coached DePaul. Both were assistants at UConn together.
''I know a little bit about them through Coach Leitao,'' Hobbs said. ''He and I are best friends.''
BOUNCING BACK - The Atlantic 10 earned just one NCAA Tournament bid last year. Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said that was an aberration.
''That's going to dramatically change. I think this league is dynamite. Nine teams could be postseason teams,'' Martelli said. ''That was a one-time thing last year. When you look at all the returning all-league players and all the returning top scorers, the league is about to take off again. We will be a multiple-bid league, no question about it.''
TOP MOMENTS - The A-10 announced that in honor of its 30th anniversary, fans can vote for the Top 10 Moments in Atlantic 10 history on the league's web site at www.atlantic10.org. Among the nominated ''moments'' are the UMass men's basketball team being ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks during the 1995-96 season, and the Minutewoman crew winning 10 straight A-10 titles, a league record in any sport.
AN APPLE FOR THE TEACHER? - In the new UMass media guide that was released Thursday, each player is asked to list several ''favorites'' of things ranging from food to who they'd most like to have dinner with. Both Luke Bonner and Artie Bowers, listed the ''The Sixth Man'' as their favorite sports movie. Ford had a starring role in the movie.
MISCELLANEOUS - The league returns 50 of 70 starters from last year and 77.1 percent of the teams' scoring. ... Danilo Pinnock of George Washington has decided to go by his given name now after using J.R. for his first two years in the league. ... Charlotte will be the first Atlantic 10 team in action Nov. 13 at the BCA Classic in Laramie, Wyo.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.