MHERST - When Luke Bonner transferred to the University of Massachusetts from West Virginia, Minuteman men's basketball coach Travis Ford touted the 7-foot-1 center from New Hampshire as a potential standout for UMass.
Nineteen games into his Minuteman career, Bonner has been a seldom-used reserve big man averaging 1.1 points in 7.5 minutes per game. Billed as a big man who can shoot, Bonner has struggled from the field making just 4-of-29 shots and 1-of-13 from 3-point range. He played double-digit minutes in seven of the first nine games, but has not played more than eight in a game since.
Some of his drought in minutes can be attributed to the strong play of starters Rashaun Freeman and Stephane Lasme who are locks as all-conference selections.
Ford conceded that Bonner has struggled, but he attributed it largely to the sophomore big man's lack of sustained playing time. Bonner was used sparingly (4.2 minutes per game) at West Virginia and sat out last year as well. Ford said he still has high expectations for Bonner.
"I'm excited about Luke Bonner next year. He'll be different than these other two, but he'll be extremely effective for probably 30 minutes per game," Ford said. "To appreciate Luke you have to see him for long periods of time. For him to get going he has to go out there and play. We don't have the ability to do that right now.
"Luke Bonner is going to be very, very good," Ford continued. "He's just going to be different. Right now we just have two of the best players in the country - it's tough for other guys to get minutes."
Bonner said, "I'm not satisfied with how I've been playing. I think I can do a lot better. But I'm in no position to complain about anything. How ridiculous would a person in my position look complaining about playing time? They're playing great and we're winning so it's been a great season."
Ford said he appreciated Bonner's attitude about his role.
"He's been probably the most understanding guy in America doing what it takes to try to help the team win," Ford said. "There's no doubt in my mind he wants to play more. We want that. I don't want people to be satisfied if they're not playing. But he very much understands. He's going to see the benefits of going up against Ray and Steph every day in practice."
Bonner's brother Matt plays for the San Antonio Spurs. His sister Becky, who was a standout at Boston University, is getting into coaching and is an assistant director of basketball operations at Maryland. Bonner plans to spend his off-season working out with them to improve his game.
But until then he's trying to help where he can.
"I hate to say next year. I'm trying to get Ray and Steph ready. All I can do is continue to work as hard as I can in practice and try to be ready when they call me," Bonner said. "When I get in the game, my job is to be solid, rotate on defense and get rebounds. He's not putting me in to get 20 points. I'm good at doing the little things and all I care about is winning games."
PURSUING 1,000 - Stephane Lasme's quest to become the 38th UMass 1,000-point scorer could depend on how long the Minutemen's season lasts. He enters Saturday's home game at noon against Richmond with 839 career points.
Lasme is averaging 13.1 points per game this season which means he would need to play about 13 games to reach the mark. UMass has nine regular-season games remaining and, barring a disastrous collapse, at least one Atlantic 10 Tournament game. An extended stay in the conference tournament or a trip to the NCAA or National Invitation Tournament would greatly help Lasme's chances to reach the milestone.
It won't happen until next season, but barring an injury, junior Gary Forbes looks likely to reach the 1,000-point mark early in the 2007-08 campaign.
He heads into the final nine regular-season games with 770 points. Forbes scored 511 points at Virginia before transferring to UMass.
When he reaches the milestone, Forbes will be honored by UMass with the game ball, but he won't officially be listed in the school's 1,000-point club because they didn't all come as a Minuteman. The club does include two transfers, Will Herndon and Shannon Crooks, but they each scored 1,000 points with UMass in addition to the points they had elsewhere.
LIFE CLIMBING - Despite being in just his second season at UMass, Minuteman senior guard James Life has tied Mike Williams at No. 8 on the all-time Minuteman list of career 3-pointers made with 123.
Life has 62 this season, one more than he had all of last year. He needs nine to crack the single season top 10. He's averaging just under three per game and has a good chance to pass No. 7 Edgar Padilla (136) and No. 6 Derek Kellogg (138).
STATISTICS - Lasme is averaging 11.1 rebounds in wins and seven in losses. UMass is 10-1 when he reaches double figures in rebounding. The Minutemen are 4-2 if he blocks seven or more shots. Lasme is averaging 6.9 blocks at home and 4.1 on the road.
The Minutemen are 9-2 if Rashaun Freeman reaches double figures in rebounding and 6-0 if Freeman and Lasme both get 10 rebounds.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.