MHERST - University of Massachusetts coach Travis Ford sympathizes with freshman guard Ricky Harris, but there's not much he can do about his situation.
Harris, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard from Baltimore, is the only player who is learning Ford's system for the first time through the team's small-group preseason workouts.
Ford is moving quickly because the other Minutemen already know his system. The team begins full-time practice tonight as part of Midnight Madness. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. at Curry Hicks Cage.
'It's been a little difficult for Ricky because I've gone so fast with the other guys. I've told him, 'You're just going to have to pick it up. We're going to be patient with you but' ...,' Ford said. 'Ricky is the only guy that feels like he has his mouth wide open. His head's just spinning. Everybody else has been really focused.'
Harris said he's taking the transition in stride.
'It's been cool. I'm enjoying myself, just learning, adjusting trying to fit in with the team,' Harris said. 'It's like I'm trying to play catch-up, but I'm learning pretty quickly. It's not too bad. I fit in fine. I like it.'
Harris was excited to see his name in some of the preseason college basketball magazines, but is trying not to take it too seriously.
'It's like one of my dreams come true seeing my name in the magazine,' he said. 'But I don't want to be all happy about being in the magazine and then when the season comes not produce.'
Harris is the least experienced player in a deep UMass backcourt. He's trying to learn from the veterans.
'I got guys older than me like Brandon Thomas, James (Life) and Gary (Forbes) who I look up to, especially Gary because he knows so much about the game,' Harris said. 'I'm working hard. I'm ready to play my role and be ready when my time comes.'
Life said he's trying to help Harris avoid the bumpy entry into collegiate basketball that greeted him last year.
'Ricky is looking good. I talk to him as much as I can,' Life said. 'Last year my whole year was down. I had a few good games, but overall it was the worst year of my life playing any sport I've ever played. Once you're down its hard to get your confidence back up. So I try to talk to him every day and give him little tips and different advice.'
DUNK CONTEST - Harris has a chance to become a fan favorite early, as he will compete in tonight's annual slam-dunk contest. He'll try to dethrone junior Etienne Brower, who is trying to win back-to-back dunk titles.
Harris said he hadn't planned his dunk yet. 'I don't know. I'll see when I get in the air. Adrenaline will be rushing,' he said.
Brower is planning ahead, but chose to keep his plans a secret.
'I have tricks up my sleeve that I cannot reveal right now,' he said Wednesday in a voice of mock seriousness. 'But you'll see them on Friday. I went over a couple things in my head. I don't jump so high that I can just come in and do anything I want.'
Brower guaranteed a second win.
'There's more pressure on the other guys that are trying to win it,' he said smiling. 'I got it this year. There's no pressure, I'll be fine.'
Tentatively his competitors are Harris, Forbes and Boston University transfer Tony Gaffney, but the roster of participants could change right up until the start of the event.
OTHER MADNESS - In addition to the dunk contest and a 3-point shooting contest featuring the men's and women's teams, there will be several giveaways and promotions. Fans will have a chance to win $5,000, $10,000 and a new car in separate events.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.