UMass transfer big in Delaware
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/16/2001

BOSTON - In the first three minutes of the second half Saturday, Boston University tried to bring the ball inside four times against Delaware, and four times Ajmal Basit turned them away; twice with blocks, and twice with just the threat of them.

Those 180 seconds were a glimpse into the defensive force that the former UMass big man has become.

Jason Grochawalski drove into the lane and put up a shot that never had a chance. Basit jumped and blocked it out of bounds. Off the inbounds BU's Derek Graham drove toward Basit and set himself to shoot.

Graham realized late that he was about to get blocked and tried to dish the ball. The off-balance pass became a turnover and the Blue Hens raced down the floor for a layup.

Paul Seymour tried his luck going inside, but Basit swatted the ball away, and shortly after, Grochawalski's next trip to the paint was fruitless. To avoid Basit's wingspan he attempted a weird-angled shot that wasn't close.

The mark of a good shot blocker is not only his ability to reject shots that come, but also to establish a presence that keeps other attempts from ever materializing. The fear of being blocked can slow an offense as much as the blocks themselves.

Saturday was an off game for Basit. Plagued by foul trouble in the first half, he finished the game with six points - all from the free throw line - eight rebounds and those two blocks. He came in averaging 16.4 points (fourth in America East), while leading the league in rebounds (10.1 rpg) and blocks (2.87 per game).

But while his numbers weren't eye-popping, he changed the entire way Boston University played offense in the second half.

As the victorious Blue Hens (75-55) walked off the floor, teammate Billy Wells mounted Basit for a celebratory piggy-back ride out of the Case Center. In his final collegiate season, Basit is having fun again.

Basit left UMass more known for his showboating than his game. A personality clash with Minuteman coach Bruiser Flint led to the big man's dismissal just prior to the end of the 1998-99 season.

While sitting out under NCAA transfer rules at Delaware, Basit clashed again last year with then-Blue Hen coach Mike Brey and got suspended from practice.

But Basit was able to put that behind him when Brey became the head coach at Notre Dame and Duke assistant David Henderson took the reins in Delaware.

Henderson had heard the rap on Basit - hard to coach, disruptive locker room presence, etc. - but decided to find out for himself.

Photo
Basit and Bruiser Flint sometimes had difficulty seeing things eye-to-eye.
"Every situation is different. The way I've lived my life is that until you know a person, don't judge them," Henderson said. "So I came in and I said to him 'First of all, whatever I've heard in the past is fine. You and I have never had a relationship before.' So we developed a relationship. We have a trust with one another. I understand him and he understands me."

Maybe it's late blooming maturity, or maybe Basit just found a coach he related to, but either way the relationship has worked.

"I've been very pleased with Ajmal Basit," Henderson said. "He's been a primary focus on our team all season long. He's done a great job providing leadership to our young players. He's been very consistent and we're very happy to have him on our team.

"I haven't had one second of trouble from him," Henderson continued. "He's been a model citizen. I think it's just a matter of two people coming together that can work with one another. He's done a tremendous job for me and I have nothing but great respect for him and high praises for him."

The respect is mutual.

"Coach Henderson has really helped develop my game," Basit said. "Off the court I look up to him and I try to model my character after him. He's a really good person. It's been really good for me to be under his tutelage."

All this praise might come as a surprise to UMass fans, who remember Basit for his somewhat goofy antics, waving his arms after layups and putting his finger to his lips to "shhhhhh" the crowd during road games.

Mike Corey, the play-by-pay voice of Delaware on WRDX radio, was a student broadcaster at UMass during Basit's tenure in Amherst. He said that Basit hasn't quite shed the theatrics, but his game can better back them up.

The new surroundings have allowed Basit to thrive on the court as the Blue Hens' focal point, a role he's always coveted.

"I finally get the chance to fulfill my dream and be the focal point of a team offensively and get a lot of touches," Basit said. "The team offensively revolves around me and I get to showcase my talent.

"I could have went to a bigger school but I probably would have been in the same situation I was in at UMass," he continued. "I decided to step down to a mid-major so I'd get a chance to play the majority of the game, which I do now. It's been a good fit for me."

Henderson said Basit is a prime candidate for America East's player of the year award.

"I feel he's the best player in the league," Henderson said. "He commands double-teams every night and he still gets his work done."

Basit said he's hoping to translate his recent numbers into a pro career.

"It's all about marketing yourself," said Basit, sounding a little like a high school guidance counselor. "It's like a resume. You have to put up some numbers to market yourself when you graduate so people will take an interest in you. Here I've been able to get a little more of a resume and put some numbers up and get my name out there a little bit.

"NBA is always a goal, but if that falls through there are other options available now," he said. "I want to keep playing as long as I can play, and Delaware has given me a chance to keep my dreams alive."

Despite the difficulty of his departure, Basit said he has no hard feelings toward UMass.

"I still root for them. I don't have any hard feelings against the players. Those are my friends. I don't hold any grudge against them," said Basit, who then added somewhat reluctantly that he didn't hold grudges against the coaches either.

"I try to watch them when they're on TV. They were struggling at the beginning. Now they seem to have turned things around. I hope they keep things going and get to the tournament and we can play them too."



Where are they now?
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/16/2001

With Ajmal Basit thriving at Delaware, how are the other members of the UMass family tree faring in their current ventures?

John Calipari

Head coach, Memphis

The now-legendary former Minuteman coach suffered through some growing pains early in his first season at Memphis, but his Tigers have rounded into form.

With former Minutemen Derek Kellogg and Tony Barbee along as assistants, the Tigers are 14-9 and leading Conference USA's National Division (8-2), and are in good shape to battle for an NCAA Tournament berth.

John Robic

Head coach, Youngstown State

& Rafael Cruz

Guard, Youngstown State

Together at Youngstown State, the former UMass assistant coach and shooting guard are enjoying moderate success in their second season in Ohio.

The Penguins are 17-9 (9-4 Mid-Continent Conference, while Cruz is averaging 10.2 points a game.

Ed Schilling

Head coach, Wright State

Still one of the nation's younger head coaches, Schilling spent a year with Calipari at UMass and another year with him for the New Jersey Nets.

He's now been at Wright State for four years and currently his Raiders are 14-9 in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.

Tyrone Weeks

Assistant coach, St. Bonaventure

Weeks spent every year of his playing career in the NCAA Tournament and his first year of coaching at St. Bonaventure included a trip to the dance as well.

At 15-8 (6-5 Atlantic 10), the Bonnies need a strong finish to keep his streak alive.

Ross Burns

Assistant coach, Wagner

The Seahawks are 12-10 in Burns' first season as an assistant coach.

JoVann Johnson

Guard, Lee University

The guard, who had a brief stint with the Minutemen last fall, is thriving with 17.6 points per game at NAIA Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.


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