MHERST - For months the University of Massachusetts men's basketball players have offered a playful challenge to Dante Milligan.
Everybody teases me saying, 'I hope you're not just a practice player,' because I perform at a high level in practice, Milligan said.
They will find out Friday when the Minutemen take on Siena at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center. That night Milligan, a sophomore who transferred from Pittsburgh, will finally get the chance to put 2 1/2 years of frustration behind him.
'I've waited too long to get out there,' said Milligan Monday after his last game in street clothes. 'I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing with the team and enjoying the game of basketball.'
A well-regarded McDonald's All-American honorable mention coming out of Trinity-Pawling High School in Pawling, N.Y., the 6-foot-8 forward signed with coach Ben Howland at Pittsburgh.
But after Howland left for UCLA, Milligan and new coach Jamie Dixon never quite clicked. Milligan redshirted his first season and after playing sparingly early last season, he opted to transfer to UMass.
He spent most of his time sitting out the second semester at UMass rehabbing wrist and then thumb injuries. He's back to 100 percent.
'I'm healthy. My thumb is fine. I'm ready to go,' Milligan said.
Even if he's rusty early, Milligan provides UMass with some much-needed depth as the team's ninth scholarship player. UMass coach Travis Ford expects Milligan to provide more than depth.
'He brings us a scoring option. He's maybe our best post scorer with his back to the basket,' Ford said. 'As far as catching the ball in the post and making a move, he's very talented down there. He brings us another big body. When we get Stephane (Lasme) in foul trouble we really lose a lot rebounding-wise. He gives us another body to be able to play.'
Ford said he's toyed with the idea of using Milligan on the wing.
'I may even try ... Dante on the perimeter and go with Ray (Freeman), Stephane and Dante in there,' Ford said. 'The way we're rebounding right now, we have to get more rebounders on the court.'
Milligan said he'll take whatever role is offered to him.
'Whatever coach Ford needs me to do. Rebounding, taking charges, making jump shots, screening. Whatever I need to do to help my team win,' Milligan said. 'I'm used to winning. I'm ready to do anything to help us win.'
Milligan tried to make his time off educational.
'You can always learn a lot from watching. You see other people's mistakes and try to build on those so you don't make the same mistakes when you're playing,' he said. 'The primary thing I've learned is work ethic and consistency. If you can keep those two things at a high level, you'll be very successful.'
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.