MHERST - University of Massachusetts coach Travis Ford wasn't lying when he talked about Gary Forbes last year.
Exaggerating? Maybe. Embellishing? At least a little.
Gary Forbes at a pre-season practice.
While Forbes was good, and at times really good, Ford's reasons for pumping up his player were twofold. First, he thought Forbes could use a confidence boost. And second, it gave people something to look forward to in the future while the Minutemen struggled in the present.
'I pumped his tires up a lot to a lot of people. Not just for him, but to get people excited about our basketball team,' Ford said.
Those days are over. Ford told Forbes, a junior, he's got to earn any future praise. Now he's taken to challenging him as the Minutemen prepare for their season opener Nov. 11 against Dartmouth at the Mullins Center.
'I don't want to break him down. I just want him to earn everything I say now,' Ford said. 'I told him I did build him up last year because we had to camouflage some of the things that were going on on the court.'
Ford clearly believes Forbes is capable of earning plenty more praise.
'Is he a good player? Absolutely. Is he going to make our team better? Absolutely. Is he one of the best players in our league? I don't know, we'll see,' Ford said.
'Is he an NBA basketball player? Not today. Maybe eventually,' Ford continued. 'The problem is sometimes Gary thinks he's an NBA player today. There's not many in our league with his ability and talent, but it's what you do with it.'
When Forbes left Virginia after his sophomore year, he was long on promise. He scored 23 points against eventual national champion North Carolina as a sophomore and his double-double against Duke stood out. But he had a reputation for being inconsistent, which he doesn't dispute. He said he worked to change that during his year off.
'I learned to be consistent, playing hard every day. That's one thing I lacked at times at Virginia,' he said. 'As a freshman I had a lot of hype coming in and I thought things were just going to be given to me like they were in high school.'
Ford still expects more.
'It's still the knock on him. He has to learn to play every second as hard as he can. Up to this point he's been good,' Ford said. 'Last year he'd be mediocre some days and great the others. This year he's worked hard at times and then taken it to another level. What he's got to do is take it to that level and make it so that becomes habit so he doesn't know any other way.'
from the Daily Hampshire Gazette UMass Sports Blog
On his pre-play publicity.
On him being a leader.
On mutual respect among the Minutemen.
On his dreams for the season.
On enjoying playing again.
'When Gary Forbes plays the way he's capable of playing not only does he make himself look better, but he makes the team look better,' said Ford, who challenged the Brooklyn native to be a leader.
'He's getting respect because of the talent he is, but he's got to gain respect with his consistency level,' Ford added. 'If you're a leader, first of all you have to check yourself in order to get others to follow. He has that ability. He is a vocal young man and we don't have a lot of those. He can be a leader, but he has to do everything leaders need to do every day.'
Forbes was the last player to join the Minutemen a year ago and he didn't arrive on campus until a few days into classes. He appreciated how quickly his teammates welcomed him. While he sat out under NCAA transfer rules, he was more invested in their success. He said now that he's joining them on the court, he's just as invested in how they do.
'I don't think I trusted my teammates at Virginia enough. Here it's been easier,' he said. 'Sitting out I learned to get along with the guys. The guys took me in pretty quickly. It was great.'
While Ford may have abdicated his post as the president of the Forbes Hype Club, there have been plenty of people willing to step in. Expectations are high for the Minutemen in the annual preseason college basketball magazines, most of which list Forbes as a big reason for that optimism.
Forbes said he is trying not to get caught up in it.
'I don't want to go out there and have people think I'm a machine or the savior or anything like that,' Forbes said. 'We have great players on this team. Everybody has been working hard on their game. I'm just going to take whatever comes to me.'
Still, Forbes said he's more than willing to be a go-to guy.
'I would love to be a go-to guy. I think I can produce scoring-wise. That's what coach wants me to do,' he said. 'If we're down two or down one I really do want to have the ball in my hands to create, not only for myself, but for other guys. I've heard people think I can be the Atlantic 10 player of the year or scoring this many points or that many points. I've learned not to listen to expectations. I just want to play well.'
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