UMass gets by URI
Depleted Minutemen finally break away
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 1/18/1996
AMHERST – You lose the best player in college basketball and your game drops a notch. No question. You lose a step. You lose your sense of timing. You lose some of your firepower. But if the other players can increase their play a notch, that's all you lose.
No one should have been surprised that the University of Massachusetts was forced into 35 minutes of hell against a good Rhode Island team last night before it pulled away over the last five minutes and hung on for a 77-71 Atlantic 10 victory.
The top-ranked Minutemen (15-0) will probably be in for similar outings as long as junior center Marcus Camby remains out after collapsing Sunday before the game at St. Bonaventure. A front-runner for national player of the year honors, Camby gave UMass an imposing presence at both ends of the floor, and he clearly made players around him better.
Without him, UMass is not as capable of big runs. Not as apt to stifle the opposition in the paint, dominate on the boards, create shots in transition, score at will down low.
But the Minutemen showed last night they do have a few weapons sans Camby. Particularly senior forward Donta Bright, who scored a game-high 32 points and added a game-high nine rebounds for the Minutemen, who won despite shooting 35 percent in the first half and often looked out of sync.
Edgar Padilla added 14 points and five assists for UMass, which improved to 4-0 in the Atlantic 10.
“You don't get easy baskets against us when Marcus is on the floor,” said coach John Calipari. “The easy ones you get you miss because you think he's going to block them. We can always throw the ball to the post and make something happen with him.
“But this situation with Donta is trying to get him to understand that he should move without the ball and score. Donta is capable of doing what he did tonight, but more importantly, he defended today. If he didn't rebound and defend, we could not have beaten them. Because we're not going to outscore many teams.”
At times, it looked as if the Minutemen would not outscore scrappy URI (9-5), which could be the most improved team in Division 1. Paced by freshman forward Antonio Reynolds (15 points, 7 boards), the Rams led, 29-20, with 4:53 left in the first half. The Minutemen closed out strongly, outscoring URI, 16-7, for a 36-36 halftime tie.
“Reynolds reminded me a little bit of Lou Roe out there,” said Calipari. “In the first half, Rhody was on a high. They shot 52 percent. They outrebounded and beat us to balls. Thank goodness for the last 4:30 or we would have been down 20 at the half.”
UMass got off to a much better second-half start. The Minutemen outscored URI, 6-2, to take a 42-38 lead with 18:09 left in the game. But URI stayed close. With 10:42 left, Reynolds sank two free throws, pulling the Rams within 1 (52-51).
Then UMass, which shot poorly from the floor, got much of its scoring from the free throw line, hitting 9 of 12 to keep URI at bay, 61-55, with 6:43 remaining. Bright scored a bucket during an 11-6 run that gave the Minutemen a 72-61 lead with 1:12 remaining.
“I wasn't trying to do anything or force any shots to embarrass myself or my teammates,” said Bright. “We just wanted everybody to step up a little bit. I think Inus Norville and Tyrone Weeks played a great game. Inus gave us some post presence and Tyrone did, too. Down the stretch, Coach was just calling my number and I was just in great scoring position.”
Except for Bright, the Minutemen never did get on track offensively. But defensively, they were able to force URI into bad shots (the Rams shot 38 percent from the floor in the second half). The Minutemen also collected 17 points off 16 URI turnovers.
“Edgar, our point guard, didn't have a turnover,” said Calipari. “I was pleased with that. We have been playing this way all year, though. We just have to play a little faster.”
Calipari gets a win – and hope
By Bob Ryan, The Boston Globe Staff, 1/18/1996
AMHERST – There is going to be a book, you know, and someday we'll get the minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of the strangest four days of his entire life.
From 10 minutes before game time in Olean, N.Y., Sunday afternoon right through the closing minutes of a classically gritty win by his battle-tested, No. 1-ranked team three very long days later, from the mystifying collapse of his team's marquee player to the final execution of a game plan against a talented conference team, John Calipari lived as he's never lived before.
Last night the coach of the University of Massachusetts Minutemen got what he wanted. A victory? Well, yes and no. He always wants a victory, of course, but that's not really what he's out to get, even when his team enters the game with a 14-0 record which, one would presume, he'd like to keep unblemished.
“I hate to give out all our UMass secrets,” he said after last night's 77-71 conquest of Al Skinner's entertaining Rhode Island team. “But we just want to play UMass basketball. If someone comes at us for 40 minutes – and that's 40, not 35 like B he stopped short of adding the C – then we'll take the L. And if we're 15-1, who cares? We didn't start the season trying to be undefeated. We started the season trying to win the national championship. If a few losses along the way help us attain that goal, that's OK.
“You think we played not to lose tonight?” he inquired. “Not at all. What we try to do every night is figure out a way to win. Let the other team think about losing – not us.”
UMass played and won a tough game last night without fallen star Marcus Camby, but the good news, according to the coach, is that playing without him won't be a permanent situation. Camby is scheduled to be released from UMass Medical Center today around noon, and the coach's presumption is that he'll have his key player back sooner rather than later.
“From what the doctors are telling me,” Calipari explained, “that's what I've been led to believe. I'm sure we'll sit down with the doctors and outline the whole thing tomorrow.”
Sunday was a day Calipari would not care to relive. One minute he's making final pregame preparations and the next he's worried that something too incredible to think about has happened to his best player.
“When I got home, I gave my daughter a big hug,” he revealed. “It was scary to see someone you love laying on the floor and you don't know whether or not he's going to pass away. It wasn't until 3:30 Sunday afternoon that I found out that what happened to him wasn't life-threatening. I still didn't know if he'd ever play again, but the important thing was that he was going to live.”
Calipari never saw the St. Bonaventure game until he reviewed the tape. He went with Camby to the hospital in Olean while assistant coach James (Bruiser) Flint took charge of the team. If any of his players thought that their coach was paying lip service over the years with words such as “love” and “family,” they learned otherwise Sunday. John Calipari took the Marcus Camby collapse very seriously.
“I went from the ultimate low of seeing him on the floor to the ultimate high when I found out his life wasn't threatened,” Calipari explained. “I couldn't sleep that night; it all catches up with you.”
Calipari entered into his own little sealed-off tunnel world for the next three days. He claims not to have spent much time reading the papers or watching TV to check on the coverage, but he did have this reaction to discussion of drugs having anything to do with Camby's collapse.
“It does bother me a little,” he said. “People today always want more to the story. They can't accept a happy ending. They want a scoop. They want a story. I don't honestly know whether or not they tested for drugs, but I'm going to assume they did, since they took about seven pints of blood out of him, from every conceivable part of his body. So I'd be surprised if they didn't test him.”
Sunday and most of Monday were spent supervising the Camby situation. Once he was sure the situation was under control, he could again turn his attention to the team. Tuesday was an enjoyable day because he was back on the court, doing the thing he truly loves.
“Sure, I'm happy to be back coaching again,” he said last night, “but what I really enjoy is practice. The game is a chess match, but practice is teaching. You put in a game plan and then see if they can execute it. That's the fun.”
Calipari met with his team Monday night. “I had broken down the St. Bonaventure tape,” he explained. “I said, 'Do you want an honest evaluation, or the b.s.?' They said they wanted the truth. I told them what we'd have to do to beat Rhode Island. We had a practice on Tuesday with effort, enthusiasm and concentration, and then we went out and performed tonight.”
He was his usual peripatetic self along the sideline, and he was feisty enough to draw a first-half technical foul from veteran referee Jackie Hannon. Coach Cal was back, all right.
The players know by now what to expect. Senior Donta Bright would go on to score a career-high 32 points, but not before he took an early seat next to his coach for transgressions that the Mullins Center patrons would never have noticed.
“Not to go on the floor,” explained Calipari, “that's unacceptable. Not to dive on the floor – unacceptable. Not to go for the ball with two hands – unacceptable. If we're not making hustle plays, that's unacceptable.”
Bright's 32 caught everyone's eye, but the coach was more interested in something else. “The man he was guarding Josh King had 4 points in the second half,” Calipari said. “That's why we won the game. We're not a team that can win by outscoring people.”
People across the US of A won't know what a good win this was because people don't know how good Rhode Island is. The absence of Camby made this a very even game. “Take any team who loses its best player and it's going to change things,” Calipari pointed out. “But we lose not only our best player, but the best player in the country.”
So yes, he has reason to be proud of his team. Conversely, what must they think of him, after seeing the way Coach Cal responded to the Camby situation?
“I think everyone here understands he is more important than a basketball game,” he declared.
Beneath surface, an eerie evening
On College Basketball
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 1/18/1996
AMHERST – The place was the same. Filled with University of Massachusetts fans, including new president Billy Bulger, making his first appearance at a Minutemen game in the Mullins Center.
Loud, raucous. The kind of crowd you would expect to watch the No. 1 team in college basketball.
But it was a false sense of normalcy. Sure, the prime attraction last night was the Minutemen's Atlantic 10 game against Rhode Island. But the specter of center Marcus Camby, still at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester reportedly completing the last tests to determine what caused him to collapse into a nonresponsive blackout for 10 minutes before Sunday's game at St. Bonaventure, was everywhere.
Oh, none of it was obvious. There were no “We Love You, Marcus” signs. No official announcement about the Minutemen's missing center. But he was on everyone's mind.
From the cluster of television trucks in the parking lot to the added media coverage, it was clear that this was not just another A-10 regular-season game.
And it was clear that coach John Calipari also had his attention divided. Calipari had talked about Camby for about the hundredth time in the last few days at a luncheon for UMass supporters.
“Everyone's got to step it up a little,” he told the gathering. “They don't have to take on the role filled by Camby entirely. But if everyone does a little more, we'll be all right.”
He told the same “Marcus wants to be home” stories and talked about the team's character. He also talked to Camby shortly before the Minutemen took the court against URI.
Late in the afternoon, the official word came from the doctors in Worcester. Camby will be coming home today. That was the good news.
The not-so-good news was that the doctors still don't know why Camby collapsed. They know a lot of things that aren't wrong with him. In a statement that can only be described as mind-boggling, if not mind-altering, the doctors took eight paragraphs to come to a simple conclusion: Camby's collapse is still a mystery.
Despite their concern, the Minutemen had a game to play last night against URI. And while they struggled, they still won, grinding out a 77-71 decision.
Calipari, who sounded confident that Camby would return to action soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday against Pittsburgh, said, “You're talking about a guy who had a seizure,” intimating that within a few days, doctors might come up with a plausible reason for Camby's collapse as well as possible treatment.
In the meantime, without Camby, arguably the best player in the country, the Minutemen face tough tests on their upcoming trip. “It's going to be a challenge, obviously,” said Calipari, “but this is a team of character.”
The Minutemen know what awaits them.
On Tuesday night, with the team gathered in the Campus Center Hotel, they made a pact.
“Each game we play without him we're dedicating to Marcus,” said guard Edgar Padilla, who along with his teammates flocked to the trainer's room after the game when they learned that Camby was calling from his hospital room. “He's won so many games for us, we're going to win these games for him. We're going to keep the undefeated streak going for him. But when he comes back, he'd better be ready to play.”
Calipari said there might be aftereffects for some time in terms of the psychological trauma of seeing a teammate collapse and wondering if it can happen again.
But those are things the Minutemen will deal with in the future.
UMass picked up its season last night without Marcus Camby. Although Camby was 45 miles away from his teammates, they were still connected.
It was a strange game in a stranger week.
Minutemen keep winning, unbeaten streak hits 17
By Candice Flemming and Justin C. Smith, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian Staff, January 30, 1996 (first publication after winter break)
The Minutemen entered the break with a perfect 6-0 record and future tough matchups against the likes of No. 21 Georgia Tech, No. 13 Syracuse and No. 3 Memphis. But the Minutemen continued their winning ways, running their unbeaten record to 17-0. Here’s a recap of UMass' games over the break.
Massachusetts 77, Rhode Island 71
Jan. 17 at the Mullins Center
The Minutemen entered this contest without Camby for the second straight game. While it was Weeks who led the way against the Bonnies in the previous game, it was Norville who stepped up against the Rams. Norville, starting again in place of Camby, finished with eight points and seven boards.
“I felt like I was more involved in the game,” Norville said. “I was trying too hard (against St. Bonaventure) and had a disgusting game. This game, I was concentrating more on defense and rebounding.”
The real star of the game for UMass however was Bright, who finished with a career-high 32 points while also grabbing nine boards. Padilla was solid as well, finishing with 14 points, five assists, two steals, two blocks and no turnovers.
RHODE ISLAND (71) – Chad Thomas 6-9 0-0 13, Tyson Wheeler 5-15 3-3 14, Preston Murphy 2-6 4-4 9, Josh King 3-7 6-6 14, Ibn-Hashim Bakari 0-0 0-0 0, Antonio Reynolds 6-12 3-5 15, Michael Andersen 2-6 0-0 4, David Arigbabu 1-1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 25-56 (44.6%) 16-18 (88.9%) 71.
MASSACHUSETTS (77) – Dana Dingle 3-9 4-8 10, Donta Bright 9-19 14-14 32, Edgar Padilla 5-11 2-4 14, Carmelo Travieso 2-7 4-6 9, Tyrone Weeks 0-2 4-4 4, Ted Cottrell 0-0 0-0 0, Rigoberto Nunez 0-0 0-2 0, Inus Norville 2-5 4-8 8. TOTALS: 21-53 (39.6%) 32-46 (69.6%) 77.
HALFTIME: Massachusetts 36, Rhode Island 36. 3-POINTERS: Massachusetts 3-7 (Padilla 2-2, Travieso 1-4, Bright 0-1), Rhode Island 5-14 (King 2-5, Murphy 1-1, Thomas 1-2, Wheeler 1-6). REBOUNDS: Massachusetts 36 (Bright 9), Rhode Island 32 (Reynolds 7). ASSISTS: Massachusetts 11 (Padilla 5), Rhode Island 8 (Wheeler 4). FOULED OUT: Weeks, Arigbabu. TECHNICAL FOULS: Massachusetts bench 1, Rhode Island bench 1. TOTAL FOULS: Massachusetts 15, Rhode Island 28. ATTENDANCE: 9,493. RECORDS: Massachusetts 4-0/15-0, Rhode Island 1-2/9-5.
Rhode Island 36 35 -- 71 Massachusetts 36 41 -- 77