Minute By Minutemen
Vol. 5.1, Nov. 16, 1998, (C) Ken Bazinet

UMASS MINUTEMEN: THEY'RE BIG, REALLY, REALLY BIG

PRESEASON NIT TIPOFF TONIGHT AT 7 P.M. (EST) AGAINST NIAGARA



   The Massachusetts Minutemen open their season tonight against feisty
Niagara and a knowledgeable coach who has an idea of what to expect when he
brings the Purple Eagles into the Mullins Center.
   For 17 years, Joe Mahalich coached as an assistant at La Salle, but after
last season he headed to the frost belt to take the job at Niagara, a member
of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Purple Eagles rewarded him
with a season-opening  85-63 victory Friday over regional rival Buffalo.
   Senior 6-9 power forward Mike Piwerka led Niagara with 18 points, while
6-10 center Kevin Jovity, another senior,  had a team-high eight rebounds in
the win.
   UMass returns to the Preseason NIT for the first time since 1993, when
the Minutemen lost to Kansas in the final after taking out then No. 1 North
Carolina in the semifinals. Niagara is making its Preseason NIT debut.
   The winner will play the winner of the St. John's-North
Carolina-Asheville game in the second round on Wednesday. The anticipated
UMass-St. John's game would be played in New York.
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   The material below was complied by Ken Bazinet and Jeff Bartash of The
A-10 Hoop Report, which this season picks UMass to finish second in the
Atlantic 10 East Division behind Temple.

The 1998-99 UMass Roster

*C Lari Ketner, Sr, 6-10, 268 (15.2 ppg, 52% FG, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 bpg), Roman
Catholic, Philadelphia
C Anthony Oates, Jr, 6-10, 280, Ypsilanti JC (Ariz.), Amphitheater HS,
Phoenix
C Kitwana Rhymer, So, 6-10, 250, St. Raymond's (NY), St. Thomas, Virgin
Islands
C-F Ajmal Basit, Jr, 6-9, 255 (6.8 ppg, 50% FG, 5.4 rpg), St. Anthony's
(NJ), Brooklyn, NY
F Ronnell Blizzard, Fr, 6-8, 218, Sacred Heart, Waterbury, Conn.
*WF Mike Babul, Jr, 6-6, 215 (4.1 ppg, 43.5% FG), North Attleboro (Mass.) HS
WF Chris Kirkland, Jr, 6-6, 215 (3.7 ppg, 42% FG), Sto Rox, Pittsburgh
F-G Winston Smith, So, 6-5, 218 (2.3 ppg, 38% FG, 2.2 rpg in 1996-97), St.
Patrick's (NJ), Summit, NJ
*G Charlton Clarke, Sr, 6-3, 206 (12.6 ppg, 3.8 apg, 35% 3-Pt FG), St.
Raymond's, Bronx, NY
*WG Monty Mack, So, 6-3, 200 (13.8 ppg, 3 apg, 36% 3-Pt FG), South Boston,
Boston
PG Rafael Cruz, So, 6-2, 190 (1.0 ppg, 0.5 apg, 90% FT), Wheeling Park, W.
Va., Arecibo, Puerto Rico
PG Jon DePina, So, 5-9, 180 (3.3 ppg, 39.6% FG, 2.9 apg), South Boston,
Boston

   The Perimeter
   With so many great guards around the A-10, some are bound to miss out on
the recognition they are due. Such has been the case for Charlton Clarke.
   "He's the unsung hero. He doesn't get the publicity. He does what he has
to do for the team to win," Fordham coach Nick Macarchuk told The A-10 Hoop
Report.
   Clarke  can play the point, the wing or small forward. But pencil-in the
senior co-captain at the point for the most part this year.
   "He's still going to be the primary ball handler, and I think a year
under his belt of being that will help him out with his decision-making and
things like that," coach Bruiser Flint told The A-10 Hoop Report.
   There was only one player to replace (Tyrone Weeks) and everything else
was pretty much quiet over the summer. It all changed in the preseason.
   A couple of weeks into practice, Monte Mack fell on a bottle in his dorm
and needed 13 stitches to close wounds on his hands. A day later Mack 
became involved in an altercation at a campus dining commons, which led a
female student to accuse him of hitting her, but Flint will wait until a
show-cause hearing before decided whether Mack should be disciplined.
   On the court, Mack must earn the respect of opposing guards, who last
year did not fear a long-range outside attack from the Minutemen guards and
played off the deep perimeter.
   "He got a lot stronger. I think he added a few more feet on his three
point shot," Flint said of Mack.
   Flint says he wants his team to run more this year, and Jonathan DePina
will be a key to keeping the Minutemen on the move. But Flint also wants to
see DePina find his shot.
   "He's shooting the ball with a lot more confidence. You can see he went
home and worked on his shot this summer," Flint said.
   A beefed-up Rafael Cruz "came down wrong" on ankle in the preseason and
had a couple of teeth knocked out in practice when he went up against Mike
Babul. If healthy, Cruz will see more minutes this year, especially if
another guard is hurt.

   The Post
   After this year, they may want to rename the school the University of
Banger: The Minutemen are stacked up front with tall, wide and athletic
players. Flint could play the biggest frontcourt ever assembled at UMass.
   But how far this team will go depends on the day-to-day play of Lari
Ketner, who needs to be the dominant guy around and above the rim if UMass
is going to challenge Temple, and stay ahead of URI. Flint says it comes
down to the outside game.
   "If we get good perimeter play then Lari can be the dominant force that
he can be, but if we don't have good perimeter play then they're going to
put four or five players around him like they did last year and it's going
to become frustrating for him," Flint said.
   Mike Babul returns as the starter at small forward spot with defense and
rebounding his primary task. Over the course of the season he will face
James Posey, Yegor Mescheriakov or Mike King, Lamar Odom, and Mark Karcher,
etc., etc.
   "I love guys who accept a role ... and Babul reminds me of that, you
know, willing to get dirty, the offense doesn't really come through him,
whatever he gets is kind of extra, but he understands that he's a defender
and rebounder and a kind of a nuts and bolts guy," St. Joe's coach Phil
Martelli told The A-10 Hoop Report.
   The power position is a competitive battle, with Ajmal Basit the favorite
to start there more than the others. However, the athletic Ronnell Blizzard
has had a solid practice season after sitting out as a redshirt last year,
and transfer Anthony Oates is here to get some minutes, though his primary
role could turn out to be as backup to Ketner.
   Chris Kirkland is also shifting some of his focus to playing the power
spot, especially if Flint wants to put an athletic team on the floor. He
will still spell Babul at the three, as well. But make no mistake, this
frontcourt is about size, and the other reserve power player, Kitwana
Rhymer, is also loaded with beef.
   Also backing up Babul will be another solid defender in returning
sophomore Winston Smith, who redshirted last year after tearing his ACL.

   Coach says:
   "We're going to play a little faster than we've done in the past. One,
because the guards have another year under their belts. If you have freshman
guards running up and down the floor than some times they don't make as a
good a decision. And we have more people to play a little bit more up tempo
and we can sub some guys and we got a lot of combinations that we can use
... What we're going to miss from Tyrone, I hope that Lari and Charlton can
take up his leadership. Tyrone was great in the locker room. And if those
guys can do that and Ajmal can step up and give us the type of rebounding
like you said and a little bit better scoring in the post, then we can do
some things ...

  The A-10 Hoop Report says:
   This is a big, strong and athletic team, but will all the talent fit the
mix?
   UMass is wise to get into a faster game, but there are some teams on the
schedule they don't want to have to run against in order to win.
   Defense is trademark for the '90s Minutemen clubs, and this year they
should be no different. And Flint is a winner, no question, but the
Minutemen have run out gas in the postseason the last two years.
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