Driven to pick up pace
Ford will have UMass on move
By Joe Sullivan, The Boston Globe Staff, 11/11/2005

New University of Massachusetts coach Travis Ford may be a protegé of Rick Pitino, but he's not going to whine at a press conference that Marcus Camby and Donta Bright aren't walking through that door. But he will coach like Pitino, whom he played for at Kentucky.

''The people I talked to want to see some exciting basketball, something that they can become attached to, and we want to give it to them," said Ford, meaning the Minutemen will press full-court and fire up a lot of threes.

Right now, Ford is short on numbers with only nine players. He'll get one more Dec. 23 when Pittsburgh transfer Dante Milligan becomes eligible. He does inherit some veteran talent from Steve Lappas's last team, which finished 16-12 but didn't get an NIT bid. He likes the look of this group in terms of playing Pitino ball.

''I learned a lot from Coach Pitino but I have to adapt to my personnel," he said. ''The personnel on this team fits better in the system than any other team I've coached. We don't have anybody that can't run. We have players that will flourish in up-tempo basketball.

''The one bad thing for our system is we're not a great shooting team."

The most notable talent is 6-foot-9-inch junior center Rashaun Freeman, who was first-team all-Atlantic 10 last season and averaged 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, both team highs. The 255-pound Freeman knows how to use his body to advance in the low post.

The rest of the returnees -- 6-8 Stephane Lasme (6.3 ppg), 6-6 Jeff Viggiano (4.5), 6-8 Lawrence Carrier (4.4), 6-4 Art Bowers (8.4), and 6-5 Maurice Maxwell (11.4 ) -- all had their moments, both good and bad, last season. Consistency would go a long way toward pushing this team into the postseason.

The key newcomer, other than Ford, is freshman point guard Chris Lowe, who comes from an excellent program in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Other new faces include Milligan, a 6-8 forward; 6-6 swingman Brandon Thomas (a transfer from Long Island University who sat out last season at a junior college); and James Life, a 6-4 JUCO guard.

Beyond promising an exciting style of play, Ford cautions fans not to expect too much too soon. ''Our goal is to be really competitive but as far as expectations, we're not going to have any goals in terms of number of wins," he said. ''We're trying to be better today than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today. The first year of any transition can be difficult. It's a matter of how quickly they pick things up.

''It's an ongoing process; we're still trying to figure out who fits where [in the system]. The good thing is all nine can play and the way we play, we're going to need all nine, then 10 in December."

Ford is also stockpiling talent with three transfers who could all have an impact next season: 7-footer Luke Bonner, a transfer from West Virginia and brother of the Toronto Raptors' Matt; 6-7 forward Gary Forbes, who transferred from Virginia; and 6-7 Etienne Brower, a transfer from Boston University.

An NCAA bid might be a long shot now that the Atlantic 10 is shaping up as an improved league with 14 teams (Charlotte and St. Louis were added) and the two-division format has been scrapped. George Washington is the favorite and UMass will have to contend with Charlotte, Xavier, Dayton, and Temple for postseason bids. In the A-10's new format, each team plays every league opponent once and three teams twice. UMass doubles up against Temple, Rhode Island, and La Salle.

''The league is stronger than it's been in a long time," said Ford. ''I think there can be four NCAA teams in the league."


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