ASSAU, Bahamas - The men's basketball training trip has been filled with team building and team bonding events and meetings held by head coach Travis Ford. In addition to the games, Ford is using the time to help mold the team as they prepare for the 2006-07 regular-season. Here are some thoughts from junior Etienne Brower, junior Dante Milligan and senior Matt Pennie.
Junior Forward Etienne Brower
Talk about the basketball part of this trip since that is the main focus for us. How does it feel to be playing with a team again after sitting out a year?
It's nice, I haven't played with a team in so long, competitively. It's been a process of learning how to play together since we are integrating some new players (Brower, Luke Bonner, Gary Forbes, Tiki Mayben). The competition played extremely hard for the entirety of the games. This has given us a chance to learn our plays and work on our press. It's been great to be able to be out there and play together and enjoy our time here at the same time.
You look comfortable on the court. Did being able to play in practice while you sat out help in that process?
Definitely. I haven't missed a practice in the last year, so it helps in the process. I haven't had to adjust out there on the court because I have been a part of this team. I comfortable with the rest of the team and we all know how each other plays on the court. Tiki (Mayben) is the only player we have down here who is actually a new player that no one really knows how he plays. But other than that, we all feel comfortable with each other on the court.
Talk a bit about what the team has been up to since arriving in the Bahamas outside of basketball.
The most important part of what we have done apart from basketball has been bonding as a team. We have had meetings together as a team and this a great place to do it. We've been talking to a lot of people and meeting people from all many different places. We have enjoyed ourselves outside of basketball on the trip.
Talk a little bit about the team and what it means to be able to play and practice this early in the year.
I think this has been a great opportunity for the team. A lot of the things we are doing now are things we would be practicing in the fall. So we are getting a head start on that. Everyone knows our plays now, everyone is getting more acclimated to how each person plays the game. We are building our team chemistry that is very important to this team. We have a lot of talent, but unless we have good team chemistry, that talent would go to waste. So this is an important part of that bonding experience.
What has been one of your favorite moments here so far?
The best thing though, has been being able to play against some other competition to get ready for the season. So far we have been enjoying the atmosphere. This area has a lot to offer ... and having the chance to grow by seeing another part of the world.
Now you have done a lot of traveling on other basketball trips during your career. How does this trip rank among your other travels?
This is up there - it might be No. 2 behind my trip to Italy. I've been to Cuba, China, Italy and Switzerland to play, but none of those places have been like this in terms of atmosphere.
Senior Forward Matt Pennie
You had another 3-pointer in thre second game of the trip from the same spot as you did against Temple. Is that the new Matt Pennie trend?
I hope that ends up being the trade mark! In all seriousness, it's just been good to be back on the court facing competition and getting a head start on the season. For me, it is great being able to be able to be a part of this team and seeing everyone mesh together. We have a lot of individual styles of play and seeing those come together is really what UMass basketball is all about.
What have you enjoyed about the trip? You were a late addition to the trip - how happy are you to be experiencing this?
I'm thrilled to be able to get down here. The best part of this is being able to see the benefits of this trip in terms of team chemistry. Aside from being at one of the best resorts in the world and enjoying the beautiful weather, just being able to bond as a team has been great. No one moment has stood out to me, but just being able to get closer as a team has been the experience. Hanging out together has definitely been good for us in terms of building strong relationships as we get ready for the season.
Anything for the folks back home?
Just want to let them know that we are getting better everyday and I think they can look forward to a great season of UMass basketball.
ARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas - Sophomore point guard Chris Lowe (Mount Vernon, N.Y.) sat down to discuss some of his thoughts while here in the Bahamas for UMass' preseason training trip. Read his thoughts on how the team has been able to bond during the experience, how his game has improved, and what he and fellow guard Tiki Mayben (Troy, N.Y.) bring to the game.
Q: How has it been to be playing basketball down here in the Bahamas, especially this early before the season starts?
A: It's been really good. The Bahamian club teams have played very hard and they have been physical inside. They may not be as good talent-wise, but they have played hard and given us a good run for our money. It's been a good challenge that has helped us bond together and gel as a team. It's also been good because our four players who missed last season have been able to get out and shake the rust off before the real season starts. I think this experience will give us a head start so that when February and March comes, we are in a good position to make a run for the NCAA tournament.
Q: You guys have been doing some specific team building activities since arriving down here, talk about what those have entailed.
A: We've been having meetings after meetings to discuss everyone's roll on the team, who are our leaders, and then the games to help us go over our plays. It's really helping us come together.
Q: Talk about playing with Tiki Mayben as far as the two of you backing each other up and then also getting a chance to be on the floor together.
A: We're very similar players. I might shoot a little better than he does right now, but he is an amazing passer. We are both pass first point guards though. I think he's really going to shine at UMass with his God-given talents. When we both play together, there's a bit of a show time attitude. I think we both feed off each other's energy and we get each other pumped up. I think the rest of the team is able to feed off that energy and the team plays better basketball.
Q: Your perimeter shooting looks better compared to last season. Is that something you worked on during the offseason?
A: I did, I spent countless hours shooting up in the Curry Hicks Cage and then I went home and did some work with Ben Gordon (of the Chicago Bulls). He told me to just shoot with confidence and I think that's really helped. I have confidence in my shot. Last season people sagged off me into the lane because they didn't think I was a good shooter, so hopefully that will help us more this season.