MHERST - UMass coach Travis Ford never realized the intrinsic value a dominant shot blocker has on an uptempo basketball team until he began working with Stephane Lasme.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Lasme has utilized his enormous wingspan and the ability to elevate to become one of the best shot blockers in the nation.
The junior power forward trails only Northeastern’s Shawn James (6.5 blocks per game) and Wyoming’s Justin Williams (5.2) with his average of 4.0 blocks and his defensive work has helped UMass transform from a set to a transition offense under its first-year coach.
“He makes a huge difference,” Ford said. “I’ve never really coached somebody with the shot-blocking ability that he has, so I never learned to appreciate it or understand what it means to a team.”
“But he makes a big difference for us and he makes up for a lot of mistakes. When we’re holding teams to low percentages, it was Stephane who held them to low percentages. It’s not just the ones he blocked, it’s the ones he made guys think about. He’s a presence and other teams recognize that.”
Lasme established his shot-blocking credentials as a freshman, improved dramatically as a sophomore and climbed to the upper tier of his specialization in 25 starts this season.
Lasme’s totals are well shy of the school’s all-time best, Marcus Camby, who blocked 338 shots in three seasons at UMass. Lasme currently is third on the all-time list at 221, one behind Harper Williams. Lasme had nine points and four blocks in Saturday’s 66-47 victory over Dayton at the Mullins Center.
“I usually just go with the flow and use my instincts and not really think about it until it comes,” said Lasme on his ability to reject shots.
“Sometimes I count the steps, how many steps a player takes before he’ll take a jump shot. The coaches tell us what the other players’ moves are and I just try to do what they tell me.”
Lasme starts alongside dynamic center Rashaun Freeman up front for the Minutemen. Freeman is UMass’ primary low-post scoring threat, but Lasme has contributed 240 points and 166 rebounds while performing a defensive role with the team. The Lasme-Freeman tandem and has been beneficial to both players as individuals and UMass as a team.
“When you have a guy like Rashaun it makes it easier for a guy like me to get my points,” said Lasme. “He always gets double-teamed and he’s going hard on the glass so everybody is more concerned about him.”
Freeman isn’t the only player to benefit from Lasme’s defensive work. Guard Brandon Thomas said he has avoided Ford’s wrath because Lasme is on the job.
“I don’t know where this team would be without Stephane,” Thomas said. “He’s the ultimate addition to any team and especially this one.”