TLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The UMass men's basketball team was picked to finish second in the A-10 Preseason Poll which was released at the league's media day held at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall on Tuesday. Senior Rashaun Freeman was named to the Preseason First Team while senior Stephane Lasme earned a spot on the Third Team.
Head Coach Travis Ford took part in a various interviews with local and national media. He spoke about the upcoming season and being picked second in the league.
"It is an honor to be picked second in the Atlantic 10," said Ford. "We have a lot of work to do to meet those type of expectations. To go from being picked eighth in the preseason poll last year to second this year shows improvement. We are still a team that is unproven but we look forward to working hard every day and making our UMass fans proud to support their team.
"The Atlantic 10 is much stronger this year. There are more really good teams in 2006-07. Saint Louis returns four starters. Charlotte has three starters back and is very talented. GW is going to be really good as well. With Xavier at the top there are four or five really good teams in the league."
Freeman was named to the Preseason First Team for the third year in a row as he returns for his final season. Freeman averaged 13.6 points and has the top rebounding mark among returning players for 2006-07 at 9.3. In addition to being named to the Third Team, Lasme earned spot on the Preseason All-Defensive Team. Lasme was the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year last year as he led the league in blocked shots with 108. He also averaged 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
Freshman point guard Tiki Mayben was named to the Preseason All-Rookie Team. Mayben sat out last season to meet academic standards. As a high school senior at Troy in New York, he averaged 21.9 points and 10.0 assists per game.
UMass was picked second behind reining A-10 champion Xavier, which had 59 first place votes from the coaches and voting media. UMass was second with four first-place votes. Saint Louis was third, Charlotte fourth and last season's regular-season champion George Washington fifth.
TLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The Atlantic 10 coaches and media share the optimism surrounding the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team as the Minutemen were picked to finish second in the annual preseason poll released Tuesday.
Xavier is the overwhelming favorite in the A-10, taking 59 of the 64 first-place votes.
UMass had four first-place votes. Saint Louis was ranked third overall, followed by Charlotte (which had the other first-place vote), George Washington, Dayton and Fordham.
The three Philadelphia schools - Saint Joseph's, Temple and La Salle - followed at No. 8 through 10, respectively, while Rhode Island, Richmond, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure rounded out the preseason rankings.
In anticipation of that, the league's annual media day was held in the famed Tuesday.
The league's media day was held Tuesday at Boardwalk Hall, where the Atlantic 10 tournament will be held March 7 to 10.
While UMass coach Travis Ford spent much of last year raising expectations for the 2006-07 season, he's now trying to rein them in somewhat.
'It's good for the basketball program and for publicity and to get fans excited,' Ford said. 'But we're still a team that's very unproven. We're a team that has a bunch of new guys. So I thought it was a bit unusual to get picked so high because there's still a lot of uncertainty.
'Are we a second place team right now? We're not. But potentially we could be,' Ford continued. 'We need our guys to stay humble because we're not where we need to be. ... We're going out on the court with four new basketball players. They've been built up as being very good, and they are, but they have to prove it.'
Xavier coach Sean Miller said his team is prepared to play the favorite role in the conference.
'We have an older group. We have a very mature team,' Miller said. 'We realize that things can change so dramatically. An injury can change the complexion of the season.
'We have some guys who have been through some unbelievable moments, but they've also been through some tough losses,' Miller added. 'The one thing they're keenly aware of is what a college basketball season entails and how difficult it is to be consistent from start to finish. From that standpoint, I like our team. We know how hard it is to be successful.'
ALL-CONFERENCE - After having two teams of 10 all-conference players last year, the A-10 returned to three teams of five this preseason. Rashaun Freeman is on the preseason first team for the third straight year. He is joined by De'Angelo Alexander of Charlotte, Stanley Burrell of Xavier, Bryant Dunston of Fordham and Ian Vouyoukas of Saint Louis.
Stephane Lasme is a member of the third team and the defensive team.
And freshman point guard Tiki Mayben made the all-rookie team.
BOUNCING BACK -- The Atlantic 10 will have two new coaches, Fran Dunphy at Temple and Ron Everhart for Duquesne. While Dunphy talked about rebuilding and the status of his two academically ineligible players (Wayne Marshall and Mark Tyndale), Everhart's discussions were far weightier. The former Northeastern coach had a steady line of reporters asking him about the night of Sept. 17 when four Dukes players were shot after an off-campus event.
Now over a month since the incident, Duquesne is trying to prepare for its season. Everhart said just being on the court has been therapeutic.
'The player and the coaches are excited to get on the floor every day because its something we're all focused on,' he said.
Transfer Kojo Mensah suffered the least damage and should be back on the court practicing shortly, but he and big man Shawn James are sitting out the season under transfer rules. James still has a bullet in his foot that may eventually require surgery. Junior college transfer Stuard Baldonado is recovering after one bullet just missed his spinal cord and another hit him in the arm. He will likely miss the season and take a medical redshirt.
Sam Ashaolu is the only player still in the hospital. He was upgraded to fair condition, but still has bullet fragments in his head.
'He's in a brain rehabilitative unit. He's able to walk, and talk a little bit,' Everhart said. 'He's actually doing well, almost miraculously well in terms of the type of injury he has.'
On top of the shooting victims, Duquesne has coped with several other more minor injuries and one player with mononucleosis.
Everhart said he's trying to reach some normalcy in the players' routine. He said he's not letting the shootings slow the progress of the players who can play and practice.
'I've explained to them how proud I am of the way they reacted in the face of adversity that particular night,' he said. 'I probably overcompensated and I've been probably a little tougher on our guys than I probably would have, 'cause I don't want them to feel bad. There's nothing to feel bad about.
'Every day we go out there we have a job to do and any job worth doing is worth doing right,' Everhart said. 'I'm not going to let an incident like this or something bad that happens affect us in a way where we feel sorry for ourselves. Duquesne is a special place. We learned that through all of this and we're going represent it as such.'
The Dukes have had losing seasons in 19 of the last 20 years and the last eight coaches have been fired.
Everhart's motivation to be successful is increased because he wants his players to have a happy ending after such a rough start.
'This makes you more motivated to make sure these guys have a degree of success. They deserve that,' he said. 'In the big picture, the team-building and the kids coming together and bonding from this incident will be a positive for us and the program down the road. Every one of us realizes nothing is guaranteed, how fragile life is and how lucky you are to be able to walk out on that floor.'
MISCELLANEOUS -- Everhart, who was close to UMass football coach Don Brown when both were at Northeastern, said he's been keeping track of the Minuteman football team from afar.
With the retirement of Temple coach John Chaney, either Jim Baron or Phil Martelli is now the dean of Atlantic 10 coaches depending on your definition. Baron has coached in the league since 1992-93 with two teams. He led St. Bonaventure from 1992-2001 and has been at Rhode Island since then. Martelli has been at his current gig the longest, piloting Saint Joseph's since 1995.
Media day was actually held in a room across the hall from Boardwalk Hall's arena, which was being set up for a Rolling Stones concert later in the week.
'Mick Jagger sent his regrets that he couldn't be here,' said Jeff Vesser, the executive director of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority. 'He asked that each school leave behind a media guide.'
Regular season play begins Nov. 9 when St. Bonaventure faces Chicago State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Austin, Texas.
UMass opens Nov. 11 at home against Dartmouth.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.