MHERST - For several years, men's basketball coaches at the University of Massachusetts have promised to speed up the tempo of the team's play. But whether it was philosophy or personnel, the Minutemen have never consistently run or pressed.
UMass coach Travis Ford, who played on an up-tempo team at Kentucky and coached that way at Eastern Kentucky, promised that style in Amherst. But last year he didn't have enough players to run that kind of system.
Ford has used this week's practices for the team's exhibition trip to the Bahamas Thursday to Aug. 24 to install a full-court press and fast-break offense he plans to use during the season.
'These guys have a good understanding of the game. They react well to situations and when you're pressing that's what you've got to have,' Ford said. 'It's fun getting the ball up and down the court. We're really pushing the ball now.'
The players have responded.
'Coach wanted to play like this last year, but we didn't have enough players to do it. We've got the bodies to press this year. You can rush the other team, get steals and get easy buckets,' said Rashaun Freeman, who believes the added depth would take some pressure off him.
'It's going to make things a lot easier for everybody because we have options, something we didn't have last year,' Freeman added. 'We're definitely going to surprise a lot of people.'
SO FAR, SO GOOD FOR NEWCOMERS -- Freshman point guard Tiki Mayben has surprised already. After not playing or practicing last year as an academic nonqualifier, Mayben has looked particularly comfortable playing with the gas pedal down and has caught Ford's attention.
'Four days into practice we've really noticed that Tiki Mayben's team usually wins and we've changed teams a lot,' Ford said. 'That's nothing against (sophomore returning starter) Chris Lowe, but Tiki is really pushing the ball and getting guys the ball in the right place at the right time.'
Freeman, who played AAU basketball with Mayben in high school, echoed his coach's analysis.
'Tiki doesn't look like a freshman at all,' Freeman said. 'He's been running the point like he's been there forever.'
Ford said he'd be comfortable playing Lowe and Mayben in tandem.
'I'm going to use them together a lot,' Ford said. 'Defensively they'll give teams a lot of problems and allow us to really push the ball. They're two of the fastest guys I've coached. They take the game to another speed.'
Ford liked what he's seen from his three transfers, wings Gary Forbes and Etienne Brower and center Luke Bonner, who are eligible for the first time this season.
'Gary Forbes is what we thought he would be. He's a guy, when a play breaks down, we can get the ball to and he can create his own shot. Right now the ball is not going in for him that much, but that just comes from sitting out a year,' Ford said. 'Luke Bonner struggled early in practices, but every day he's gotten better. He gives you an extra dimension being able to get out and shoot.'
Ford compared Brower to Jeff Viggiano, who played inside and outside in his final season before graduating this year.
'Etienne Brower is very versatile. He's been really good in our press because he's so tall,' Ford said. 'He's in Viggiano mode 100 percent.'
THOMAS BOUNCING BACK -- Senior Brandon Thomas will compete with Forbes and Brower for playing time on the wing. A year ago he started strong, but struggled down the stretch when Ford tried to use him at point guard. Ford said Thomas has looked much better this year.
'He really struggled when he played the point last year, which is no one's fault but mine. He's not even going to smell the point guard position this year,' Ford said. 'He's more comfortable playing his wing position. He's very focused on wanting to have a good senior year.'
MISCELLANEOUS -- It's possible the Atlantic 10 could release its conference schedule before the end of the month. Associate commissioner Steve Hurlbut, who makes the basketball schedule, is leaving the league at the end of the month and the league hopes to have the schedule completed before he departs.
The Minutemen leave for the Bahamas Thursday morning from Logan Airport in Boston. With a travel party of 20, the coaching staff is exploring just how early the team would need to arrive at the airport to be on time with the new security measures.
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.