Preseason Chat With Coach Travis Ford
From UMass Athletics, 10/23/2006

AMHERST, Mass. - Following a successful trip to the Bahamas, the 2006-07 regular season will begin Nov. 11 at home against Dartmouth.

Coach Ford: Hello fans, fire away with your questions!


Mark (New York City): Hey Travis, You're doing a great job and I can't wait for the season to begin. I plan to attend as many games as possible, especially when the team heads down to the New York area. I know that you can't comment on specific recruits but it seems that many of the players who have given verbals are guards. We're losing our starting two big men this year in Freeman and Lasme. Do you feel as though we can win with a guard oriented lineup rather than with big men? Good luck this season. Go UMass!!!

Coach Ford: First off, recruiting is going very well for us. Next year's class is a very important class for the fact that we are having to replace four seniors and we still have two scholarships available for a total of six. We are succesfully recruiting guards and bigs. The next thing I want to say is don't believe everything you read about our recruiting. Recruiting is very complex. Sometimes you recruit players and you send them to prep school to have them develop. Some you recruit for immediate impact for your team. There are many reasons you recruit players. Sometimes you are preparing for the distant future. With all the many websites and recruiting guides there is a lot of spectulation on committments and who is recruting whom. No one knows more about the type of player we want; no one sees the player as much as we do in terms of truly understanding the potential of players or just how good players are. Any college coach in any program sees their recruits 10 times more than someone who writes for a recruiting service.


brendan (umass): Can you comment on the tough schedule we have this year and what it does for our RPI? Can we count on these games against top-tier nationally respected programs in future seasons? Lastly did you enjoy, “The Departed”? (I was behind you in line seeing the same)

Coach Ford: This year's schedule is very tough and presents many challenges. We put this type of schedule together for a couple of reasons. First, we put together such a tough non-conference schedule to help us prepare for our conference road schedule. This will help us prepare for a run at the conference title. Along the same line, this schedule will help challenge our team and help our team improve as the season goes along. Secondly, we think we put together a schedule that will catch the eye of the NCAA selection committee. If we are position to get an at-large bid, we put together a schedule that will catch their eye. We hope they are not only impressed with the names of the teams, but where we are playing them. Yes, I really liked "The Departed"; it was a great movie and gave me a chance to think about something besides basketball for about two hours.


Chuck Rooney (Leominster) UMASS '03: Coach Ford, I just want to first say congratulations. Congratulations for bringing the hype back in basketball here at UMASS. My question is, with the unfortunate event that happened to a couple of the players, Lowe and Ampim, is Tiki Mayben ready for the role of starting point guard? Also, I remember last year that you made Chris Lowe earn the starting point guard spot. Do you feel that you are in different scenario that won’t give you the opportunity to have Tiki earn the sport of starting at point? Again congratulations and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Coach Ford: That is a great oberservation on your part. With the unfortunate incident involving Nana Ampim and Chris Lowe, it made my decision easy as to who will start the first game. Although, it would have been a nice situation to have Tiki earn the position. Also, Chris Lowe deserved to be the starting point guard after last year, but circumstances have dictated the outcome of who will start. I have said on many occasions, these two are not necessarily competing with each other, they will play many minutes together on the court.


Jim, Belchertown: Who has surprised/impressed you most so far during preseason practice?

Coach Ford: Practices have been very good and competitive. It is kind of strange to say a three-time A-10 First Team selection has been the most imporved, but Rashaun is the most improved. He has come into his senior year very determined. He is starting to understand what makes him good. Other players who have impressed early are Brandon Thomas, who has played well. Ricky Harris, who is new to the team and is picking up things quickly. He will be a great player at UMass. Overall, I have been happy with everyone. They are working very hard and they have all impressed me in one way or another.


Kevin (Fall River): Fortunately, there's quite a bit of positive pre-season "buzz" this year about the team. As a coach, do you acknowledge that to the team and, if so, how do you deal with it? Thanks! Go UMASS!!

Coach Ford: Kevin, we do talk to our team about the potential of what we could accomplish. There has been a lot written and there are a lot of expectations put upon this team. I do agree we have the potential to be good, but we are still an unproven basketball team. If I had this same team on the court last year and everyone was returning, I would be quicker to jump on the bandwagon. Everything that is being written is based on potential and nothing we have actually done. Yes, we do have very good returning players but we are also adding in five new players who have never put on a UMass uniform, who will all play significant minutes. I say all this because I do not want our players and fans to put the cart before the horse. We need to first go out and earn any accolades that are set upon us. That is how we have approached it with our team.


Bob (Derry, NH): As a long time season ticket holder and alum, I am looking forward to this season with great anticipation. What is your sense regarding the level of interet in the program from students, alums and fans given where it was when you arrived last year? How are season ticket sales going this year?

Coach Ford: Hi Bob. I believe the interest level is continually growing. I think fans and students are excited about the upcoming season. Last year, we had games that had an incredible atmosphere and some that could have been more lively. We hope to make it an electric atmosphere every night at the Mullins Center, not just certain games. We need the support and the backing of our fans and students. It is a very crucial part for the success of the basketball program. Coming to the games and cheering loudly and being involved makes a huge difference for the success that we all want. We want this to be a group effort from coaches, players, fans, alums, and students ... to enjoy being a part of UMass basketball. Season tickets are going very well, but we would like to increase it even more and have sell outs at the Mullins Center ... So spread the word!


Jon Reidel (Burlington, VT): You've assembled an extremely impressive group of players in a very short period of time. Interestingly, very few of your recruits or transfers are top 50-level players coming our of high school with the expception of Tiki Mayben. John Calipari got it done with this type of mid-level recruiting (minues All-American Donte Bright) and you're about to do the same. Talk if you would about this recruiting philosophy. Is it because it takes too much time and effort to compete with the UNC's or UConn's of the world for upper tier players or is it simply smarter to go after, say, top-150 kids with a lot of potential and "projects" with high upsides like recent signee Matt Glass.

Coach Ford: Jon, we are very excited about the transfers that will be eligible this year. These guys were a part of our first recruing class along with Chris Lowe and we believe they will all have an impact to help lead it back to the top of the A-10 and beyond. They were all proven at different levels. They showed they could be impact players for us. We will continue to recruit players of this caliber whether they are transfers, high school players, prep players or JUCO players. We are looking for players that fit our system and who will help us reach our goals. I do not get caught up in where a player is ranked or who is recruiting whom for several reasons. No one understands the needs of our team better than I do or our coaching staff. Secondly, if a young man is not ranked high in some recruiting circles, there can be several reasons why, the least may be his talent. My coaching staff works extremely hard at finding and searching for players that fit our system and who can play at the highest level. Someimes this might be a player who is ranked high that everyone knows about ... Sometimes they might not play AAU or played in a smaller circle and were not recognized. But they might have the things we are looking for.


Mike (North Carolina): I had heard that Ricky Harris was struggling a bit in the preseason. Has he started to pick up the system a bit better and do you see him playing significant minutes as a freshman? Thanks, and good luck this year.

Coach Ford: Mike, Ricky Harris doing great. He will have an incredible career at UMass. I really enjoy coaching him every day. He continues to work hard and get better every day.


Chris (New York): We've heard a lot about how Stephane Lasme bulked up, and you mentioned Freeman being impressive. That said, is there reason to believe we have one of the best 2 man combos in the nation?

Coach Ford: Chris, Stephane has worked extremely hard in the off season. He has gotten bigger and stronger. This will help him and our team have more success. Yes I do believe we have two of the better post players in the Atlantic 10 because they both bring different strengths and they are seniors who have experience.


Greg (Swampscott): What have you done in practice to improve the team's free throw shooting? It seems to me that teams that make 70-75% of their free throws have a better chance of success, especially in close games and in tournaments. Good luck this year, let's hope every member of your team over achieves! Greg (class of 1992)

Coach Ford: Greg I agree free throw shooing is an intergral part of a team success. It is an area we have emphasized from day one of practice. We have stated to our team that we believe the two most important stats for us could be free throw percentage and how many turnovers we have. These are two areas that we lacked in last year and we must improve on them this year.


Johnm (Queens, NY): Do you think the Bahamas trip will get the squad ready to play earlier?

Coach Ford: I believe the opportunity to have been together for almost 18 or 19 days in the month of August and being able to practice and play has given us a jump start on the season. We have seen through the first two weeks of the season, the players have moved much quicker and they are understanding what they want much quicker. It helped the chemistry of the basketball team. Players have a better understanding of their roles on the team. We still have a lot of work to do in some areas, but the summer trip will be a major advantage.


Link (Rego Park, NY): Do you see UMass changing up the starting lineup based on the opponent? Going large or small?

Coach Ford: Link ... I can definetly forsee us using different starting lineups for different reasons; one can be opponent, one can be a player playing well or not playing well; one could be starting a defensive or pressing lineup ... Another could be wanting to play more zone. The good thing about our team is that we have different combinations that we can turn to. Depth is a very positive thing and we have that.


John (NY): Are you excited to go back to Kentucky?

Coach Ford: John, I am looking forward to playing Kentucky for many different reasons. First I think this will be a game that will really test our team. Going to play a high caliber team like Kentucky and playing in an atmosphere like Rupp Arena will test your team and really prepare your team for the tough road games in the A-10 that we are going to face. I think my players will enjoy playing in Rupp Arena in front of 25,000 fans, but most importantly I think it will make them better. Yes, it is fun to go back home and play against your alma mater where I have so many great memories and friends that I look forward to seeing. For the fans who can't make it to the games, we have secured a deal to have both the games at UK and Louisville aired on NESN in New England.


Bobby (Springfield): How big of a loss to the program was Jeff Viggiano graduating? Do you see another player that can step into the role that he played last year?

Coach Ford: Bobby, anytime you lose a player like Jeff Viggiano and the things he meant to our team, it leaves a void on several levels. Most importantly, leadership, which Jeff consistently displayed. I do believe that we have great leaders on this team beginning with our captains for the 2006-07 season: Stephane Lasme, Rashaun Freeman and Brandon Thomas. Secondly, on the court Jeff's void will hopefully be filled by guys like Etienne Brower, when he gets healthy, and Gary Forbes.


Brandon, Amherst: If you were responsible for luring the average fan to the Mullins Center, what would be the first thing you would tell them about this team?

Coach Ford: Brandon ... I would tell them if they enjoy watching good basketball to come watch this team play. If you enjoy watching up-tempo, pressing, trapping, come watch this team play. If you want to see a team with depth and team that is going to play hard every night and be prepared every night, come watch this team play. If you are a UMass fan and like basketball, you need to be a Mullins Center because I believe you will see a team that has a lot to offer. We still have a lot of work to do and we still have a lot to prove and we hope we stay healthy. We hope this will be a fun year. We hope to see you and all the fans out here for our exhibition game on Nov. 4 and then the regular-season opener on Nov. 11 vs. Dartmouth. Thanks and GO UMASS!


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