MHERST, Mass. - The UMass men's basketball began 10 days of summer practice on Monday in preparation of their trip to the Bahamas scheduled from Aug. 17-24. Head coach Travis Ford put the Minutemen through a double-session at the Mullins Center as he begins the integration of four new players in anticipation of the 2006-07 regular-season.
Freshman guard Tiki Mayben hit the court in a UMass practice uniform for the first time after becoming eligible following his first year on campus -- as a student-only in 2005-06. Wearing No. 10, Mayben was joined by three transfers who were able to practice last season, but will now be able to play in games.
Junior forwards Etienne Brower and Gary Forbes along with sophomore center Luke Bonner practiced with the team and participated after redshirting last season. They were eligible to practice all season, but often played as scout-team players in practice, replicating the opponents' plays.
Here are a few excerpts from head coach Travis Ford following the morning session.
On the summer training sessions:
"The best part of having these practices is that we are getting a leg up ... a head start for the regular-season. Especially with a team that is bringing in five new players and four of which are able to practice and play in the five games in the Bahamas. Four of these players sat out last season, so now they can get back into game situations, having referees make calls, having to go against different competition rather than your teammates will be great. We are going to use these 10 days and five games to put in all our offenses and defenses as well. We will try to get in at least 80 percent of it. We are not spending a lot of time during these summer practices to work on individual work, we will wait until school starts to spend extensive time on that individual work."
What would make the summer and trip to the Bahamas as success?
"If we come out of the 10 days and five games with everyone understanding the system will make it a success. Going to play the five games will be challenges. They will be played with international rules and we are not really going to work on international rules in our practices until the very end. If we come out of this time with everyone understanding what we want to happen, when October 15 gets here we want everyone to understand our plays, our defenses. The biggest thing we are working on is defining roles for each of them in these 10 days and five games. If we can come out of here with great understanding and execution of what we want to accomplish in 06-07, then we have had success.
On the increased depth on the roster for 06-07:
"We have a lot of more bodies. That will allow us to do a lot more things. We have added some strengths as far as some guys who can score and some guys who can shoot well. We will have the ability to do a lot more offensively and defensively. All the way around, I think we have improved our basketball team."
On the newcomers practicing on a full-time basis:
"Tiki Mayben is just great with the ball in his hands. He has a great flow to the game. Out on the court, he has a great understanding and great feel for the game. The other three guys: Gary Forbes, Etienne Brower and Luke Bonner, they know what we want from last year. But now they are competing for playing time. It is a very different role for them, than they played last year. Now they are competing in practice every day, not just for playing time, but to really make the team better. It is so exciting to see these guys rise to the occasion."
MHERST - Tiki Mayben smiled when he walked into the University of Massachusetts men's basketball locker room Sunday night. Hanging in his locker was a practice uniform.
His practice uniform. It wouldn't seem like much to most players, but to Mayben it was a symbol that a hard chapter of his basketball career was behind him.
Mayben spent last year in basketball purgatory. As an academic nonqualifier, NCAA rules prohibited the highly-touted point guard from participating in practice or games last season.
He wasn't allowed to receive a scholarship or take part in any team function. He spent the year practicing on his own, playing intramurals and trying to keep his academics in order so he'd be eligible to play this year.
Tiki Mayben drives on Brandon Thomas.
'I called home and said 'Ma, I just went in the locker room. I see my stuff,' ' Mayben said. 'Her voice cracked a little bit. She was probably ready to cry. We waited so long to get here and now we're here.'
So while Monday brought plenty of running and a little of getting yelled at when he was out of place, the 6-foot-3 Troy, N.Y., native said he enjoyed himself.
'It was fun. It's been a whole year since I've done drills like that,' said Mayben, whose new practice top was soaked with sweat after the first of two sessions Monday. 'You don't usually look forward to practice, but I need it. Everybody else kinds of knows what's going on, but I need it. I'm just trying to take everything in.'
He said getting eligible wouldn't slow his academic motivation.
'I needed to prove I can get my grades. I did that,' Mayben said. 'Now I have to prove I can maintain that. I'm not totally satisfied. I want to do better than I did. But I'm here. I got my uniform. I'm suited up. A lot of people didn't expect me to make it here.'
UMass spent last season with only one true point guard, freshman Chris Lowe. Mayben is expected to add depth and challenge the incumbent starter for minutes running the team's offense.
The Minutemen have more depth throughout their roster as three transfers also are now eligible. That gives coach Travis Ford the ability to run and press as much as he would like.
'We're going to experiment with different plays, different combinations and different defenses and do a lot of that stuff,' Ford said. 'We're going to experiment with the press and see. In those five games, if we're not any good at it I'm not going to do it, but at least we get to experiment with it. I'm hoping to put in most of our system in these 10 days.'
Ford shared Mayben's enthusiasm for his being back in action.
'It's been exciting for me putting offenses and defenses together preparing for this knowing we have 10 or 11 guys to work with and that talent has risen a little bit so we can do a little bit more,' Ford said.
Junior forward Lawrence Carrier should be better prepared for that pace. After Ford rode Carrier about his size most of last season, Carrier looked particularly slimmer after a summer of working out.
'He's lost some. He's got to lose more. He's got to work on getting in better shape because we're going to need him,' said Ford, who said he is pleased with the whole team's conditioning. 'They really worked hard with (strength) Coach (Bob) Otrando. They all came in in pretty good shape. We're not spending too much time on that part.'
Travel party restrictions are limiting the Minutemen to just 12 players, meaning Nana Ampim is the only walk-on making the trip to the Bahamas. NCAA rules don't allow any players that weren't enrolled in school the previous year to make the foreign trip.
The Minutemen will play five games in six days against yet to be determined opponents beginning Aug. 18.
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.
MHERST, Mass. - The UMass basketball team is set for its training trip to the Bahamas where it will play five games against pro club teams beginning Friday. The Minutemen finished 10 days of practice sessions on Wednesday before heading to Boston for their flight to the Caribbean. Head coach Travis Ford was very pleased with the team's performance over the last week-and-a-half.
"I was very encouraged by the development of many players during the 10 days of practice," Ford said as he left the Mullins Center on Wednesday. "Our players have really taken to the style of play on both offense and defense.
"I am very excited about playing both Chris Lowe and Tiki Mayben in the backcourt together. It should create match-up problems for teams."
In looking forward to the trip, Ford knows the time in the Bahamas will be beneficial in many ways.
"It will be great to play against some other competition that ourselves with the five games," he said. "It will also serve as a team-bonding and team-building experience for our players. We will have a fun time when we have a chance, but this trip is truly about playing basketball and getting us ready for the 2006-07 season."
Fans can catch all the action from the Bahamas right here on UMassAthletics.com each night. Also, be sure to enter the Bahamas Ticket Blitz for your chance to win tickets to five games along with a 5-game season ticket pack.
You can listen to all the games by clicking here: http://www.sportsjuice.com/broadcaster2.aspx?bid=MjQ%3d-9fRnZRDu36A%3d
Here is the updated schedule:
Friday, Aug. 18: UMass vs. Explorers, 6 p.m., at D.W. Davis School
Saturday, Aug. 19: UMass vs. Crimestoppers, 6 p.m., at D.W. Davis School
Monday, Aug. 21: UMass vs. Rockets, 7 p.m., at Loyola Hall
Tuesday, Aug. 22: UMass vs. Giants, 9 p.m., at Loyola Hall
Wednesday, Aug. 23: UMass vs. Shockers, 8 p.m., at Loyola Hall