Optimism growing as Minutemen return
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 8/25/2006

NASSAU, Bahamas -- With their mini-season over and school a little less than a week away, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team planned to scatter for a few days before returning to school. Some decided to stay in their off campus apartments while others were set to go home for a short quiet stretch before classes begin.

Things won't likely be quiet for long.

The Minutemen's dominance against five overmatched Bahamian teams did nothing to slow the growing optimism surrounding the program heading into the 2006-07 season. The interest and expectations are only likely to grow as the season gets closer. The players will be back on campus Sept. 5, in class Sept. 6 and back in the gym shortly after that.

After working with his team for almost 20 days, Ford is excited to get them back together.

'It went by very fast. I was so anxious for it to get here. Now that it's over I realize the significance of it. I think it's going to pay big dividends for us,' said Ford, who was pleased with the way things came together. 'I don't know if there's anything I would change.'

During the fall, coaches can work with each player for two hours a week, which they'll break up into three 40-minute sessions. In most weeks they'll schedule several individual and small group sessions to work on specific skills with each player or position group.

They'll return to full regular practice on Oct. 14. The school hasn't announced yet if there will be Midnight Madness festivities to open the season or not. The regular season begins Nov. 11 when UMass hosts Dartmouth.

'When we start school I'm really going to concentrate on individual instruction, which I'm very excited about,' Ford said. 'You can go three times a week 40 minutes at a time. Probably two individual and one team. I'm already brainstorming going over the game tape and seeing what worked and what we need to change. I've been very excited about our halfcourt trapping. That worked better than I anticipated. That could turn out to be our main defense.'

When they return the roster will be a little larger. Freshman guard Ricky Harris officially becomes a member of the team and will participate in practices and workouts. Walk-on Nana Ampim, who didn't make the trip due to summer work commitments, will be back in the fold as well. He'll likely be joined by Boston University transfer Tony Gaffney, who is expected to join the team as a walk-on as well.

The Minutemen released their nonconference schedule earlier this month. The conference schedule could be released some time in the next few weeks.

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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