MHERST - One of the few things Tiki Mayben liked about being forced to sit out his first year of college as an academic nonqualifier was his anonymity at the University of Massachusetts.
Mayben liked just being a regular student for a while after a tumultuous high school career that earned him considerable accolades, but also produced negative attention for his academic troubles and some off-the-court incidents. Mayben was named to the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team earlier this week and is on several rookie teams selected by college basketball preview magazines.
With returning point guard Chris Lowe suspended, UMass coach Travis Ford confirmed that Mayben will start both the Minutemen's exhibition game Nov. 4 against Bridgeport and their Nov. 11 regular-season opener against Dartmouth. Mayben's brief time under the radar is over.
Tiki Mayben at a pre-season practice.
'My name is out there. Everyone knows I'm here and what I can bring to the table,' Mayben added. 'It's more of a team thing. If the team is doing that good and that gets me on the all-rookie team, then that's a team acknowledgement.
'That's just expectations. That's just what they think. Who knows, maybe I could do better than that. I don't get caught up in that. I never did.'
Mayben said he's grown up a lot since his high school days and believes he'll handle the attention better.
'You can never be ready for the type of attention you get when you're playing basketball at a high level like we are right now, with the potential to be as good as we're going to be,' Mayben said. 'You just have take it day by day. I matured a lot being away from it and not playing. I'm just ready to play ball.' Ford said of Mayben's maturing, 'I think he's grown up a lot as a person and I think he's got some guys looking over his shoulder like Stephane (Lasme) and Ray (Freeman) that are keeping him in line and mentoring him.
'He's a young man and he's been surrounded by publicity from day one,' Ford added. 'He was (rated) the No. 1 player in America as a freshman and it kind of snowballed from there. Getting recognition has never been a problem for him. How he handled it at certain times was not always the right way, but I think he learned from all that. I think any kid that got as much as he did as early as he did would have a tough time handling it at that age.'
Ford likes the Albany scrimmage for Mayben because he will be forced to match up with 6-foot-1 point guard Jamar Wilson.
'It's going to be a great test for Tiki,' Ford said. 'It's the first true tough competition, plus he's going against an All-American point guard.'
Calling Wilson an All-American might be over-hyping him a little bit, although he was All-America East last year. He averaged 17.7 points per game while leading the Danes to the school's first NCAA Tournament.
Last year, Ford went out of his way to keep from giving too much responsibility too fast to then-freshman point guard Lowe. Ford is not being quite as conservative with Mayben.
'We're bringing Tiki along quicker because he's a little more ready to play and he has to play with the suspension of Chris Lowe,' Ford said. 'He'll have to step in and be the point guard. He's probably a little more advanced at this age than Chris was.'
COMBINATIONS - Ford said he hopes to use the Albany game to test some potential player combinations for the season.
'We're hoping to really get tested. I'm still going to be looking at combinations. We're going to try a lot of different things. It comes at a good time for us trying to see where we're at,' Ford said. 'There's still a lot of ifs because we haven't really faced any competition. I want to see how we'll respond with all the new guys.'
The Minutemen have not yet fixed the turnover problems that plagued them last year, and Ford hasn't been happy with the team's defense either.
'Turnovers have been way too high. We're giving up way too many layups and I don't think it's because our offense is so good,' Ford said. 'We have point guards who penetrate so well. They get so deep and we don't have anybody else getting back. I've not been really happy with our defense the last couple weeks which is unusual because the defense is usually ahead of the offense, but we've spent so much time on offense because we were so bad at it last year and that put us behind a little defensively.'
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.