On the sideline, UMass quartet stays active
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/16/2005

AMHERST - Luke Bonner remembers feeling sorry for Robert Summers in January. Bonner was a freshman at West Virginia then and Summers was sitting out after transferring from Penn State.

During the winter session, when the team went on the road, he was like the only person on the whole campus, said Bonner, who is not playing this year after transferring to the University of Massachusetts.

NCAA rules force transfers to sit out a season after switching schools. They can practice, but cannot play in games or travel. When the rest of the team is on the road, a transfer's life can often be a lonely one.

But not at UMass - not this year anyway.

When the Minutemen open their regular season at 7 p.m. Friday at the Mullins Center, there will be four players in street clothes.

'We could have a pretty good intramural team,' Bonner joked.

Bonner is joined by sophomore Dante Milligan, a former Pittsburgh Panther; junior Etienne Brower, who played against UMass last year for Boston University; and ex-Virginia Cavalier Gary Forbes.

UMass coach Travis Ford can relate to their scenario. He started his college career at Missouri before transferring to Kentucky for his final three collegiate seasons.

'I've been through it. I've sat out before,' Ford said. 'It makes it a little bit easier when you have people who've been through it and are going through it.'

First to play

Milligan will be the first to transfer from the transfer team. He enrolled at UMass last January and will be eligible to play when the Minutemen host Siena Dec. 23.

Ford is the fourth coach for whom Milligan planned to play. He was recruited to Pitt by Ben Howland, who left for UCLA. Milligan played at Pittsburgh for Jamie Martin before leaving for UMass to presumably play for Steve Lappas. But Lappas was not rehired after last season.

Milligan said he is relieved how well he and Ford have gotten along.

'Initially I was a little worried, but I felt that once I started playing everything would fall into place,' Milligan said. 'I'm definitely happy with the situation.'

The 6-foot-8 forward was plagued by injuries at Pitt and never really got going.

'It's making me more hungry as it gets closer to my first real game,' Milligan said. 'I'm thinking of it as my first real collegiate game. I played five or seven games at Pitt, but they weren't games I was happy with. So I'm erasing the past and when Dec. 23 comes, I'm treating it like my first collegiate game. I'm really looking forward to that. I've been out of the game for two years. I'm trying to get back out there and make a name for myself again.'

New beginning

Brower wanted a new beginning too. He averaged 8.3 points and 5.4 rebounds while starting all 29 games for the Terriers last year, but his relationship with Boston University coach Dennis Wolff soured beyond repair.

'It wasn't really my decision to go. There's a little more to it than that, but I don't want to talk about it,' said the 6-foot-7 Brower, who could play anywhere from the two-guard to power forward. 'Me and the coach had some problems. I like it a lot here. I like it better than BU. I'm glad I came here.'

Bonner was expected to play a regular role this season for the Mountaineers backing up Kevin Pittsnogle, but after a year in Morgantown, Bonner wanted to get closer to his New Hampshire roots.

He's hoping to use the year off to complete his game.

'I just want to increase my athleticism to be able to play at Coach Ford's pace, which I'm starting to adjust to pretty well I think,' he said. 'I've worked on my post game, so I can be a threat inside and out.'

Forbes was the latest addition to the squad as he left Virginia a few days into the semester. He's been impressive in practice and in the squad's maroon-and-white scrimmage. With a double-double against Duke on his resume, UMass fans are already excited about his future.

And Forbes said he is glad to be a part of it.

'Everything is just great. We have a good family group. Everybody supports each other in every way,' he said. 'The team is great. Everybody is so supportive and cares about each other. There's no animosity between anybody. With Coach Ford, every thing is falling into place.'

Appreciate each other

All four appreciate being able to share their time off with each other.

'It is a lot easier. It's great because everybody else knows what you're going through,' Brower said. 'It would be a lot harder if it was just me by myself staying home by myself while they went away.'

Bonner agreed.

'It helps because we all came from similar situations. Transferring is a unique circumstance to be under,' Bonner said. 'It helps having people you can relate to and talk about it with.'

When the rest of the Minutemen hit the road next week, the four transfers as well as freshman guard Tiki Mayben, who is sitting out as an academic nonqualifier, have plans to get together to listen to the game on the radio, a ritual they'll likely continue all year.

Brower expects to host the event.

'We have a nice TV at our place. Brandon Thomas (his roommate) has all the good stuff. We're always together and it's always at our place,' said Brower, who said at least one of them needed to learn to cook for these occasions. 'We're going to have to figure out something with that. Rashaun (Freeman) can cook. Everybody else is awful.'

Bonner said they're more likely to use the phone than the oven.

'When Rashaun is on the road, we're going to end up calling Wings, or the Sub or going to Antonio's,' Bonner said.

Test the regulars

Outside of the road trips, the group is as busy as anybody else in the program. They take pride in testing the regulars in practice.

'We have to push the first team. We're sit-outs, but we're not slackers,' Forbes said. 'We're very good ourselves. It's going to help our transition to the game to play hard every day. Coach always puts us against the rest of the guys. We kind of hold our own.'

Bonner regularly draws the assignment of guarding Freeman, UMass' all-conference forward. Bonner has made helping him get better part of his mission.

'I give him a few extra fouls in there. One time I gave him a pretty swift elbow by accident and I thought he was going to get real mad,' Bonner said. 'He said, 'I don't take it personal. It's just what we got to do.' '

Freeman said he appreciates the challenge.

'Luke is very tough when it comes to physicalness. We're always going at it, banging in there,' Freeman said. 'That's good because I've never really had that. It's definitely going to help me in the long run.'

Ford is big on keeping the transfers competing, especially on game days.

'We try to keep them occupied on game days. They'll do individual instruction and play one-on-one,' Ford said. 'I want them to be in a situation on game day where they have to get a win in certain drills to keep their competitive edge going.'

While the UMass athletes may have it better than most transfers, they all hope that this year goes by fast.

'We're all looking forward to next year and getting back in there,' Forbes said.

Ford said not to worry. 'The season goes pretty fast and we're going to keep them very busy.'

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.

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