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game19960330_kentucky

March 30, 1996 - Kentucky vs. UMass

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Boston Globe

UMass was ready for first meeting
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/1996

ATLANTA – The practice leading up to the Kentucky game was not for the fainthearted or thin-skinned. They dove, collided, tussled, scrapped – and the only break in the action came when coach John Calipari saw someone letting up or botching an assignment. Then the guilty party received the cutting edge of razor-sharp verbiage.

It was a crash course in Refuse to Lose basketball. The University of Massachusetts team, incapable of establishing the program's trademark style of play during the practices that preceeded, got the message during a multi-hour, condensed, grueling workout at the Detroit Pistons' practice facility.

Still, when the Minutemen faced the No. 1-ranked Wildcats in the Great Eight Invitational at Auburn Hills, Mich., in November, most everyone (probably including Kentucky) expected the team Calipari talked down during the days leading up to the game. What Kentucky saw was a team more than ready for its relentless backcourt pressure and 3-point attack.

UMass led by as many as 19 points in the first half, saw Kentucky rally for a halftime tie, then dominated the second half for a 92-82 shocker – despite playing just two guards and getting no points from its bench. Both teams take the memory of that contest into Saturday's NCAA tournament Final Four. They play the second national semifinal game, beginning at approximately 8 p.m.

“We haven't played them since November; they're a totally different ball club and so are we,” said UMass center Marcus Camby, who had perhaps his greatest game to date against Kentucky, carrying his team with 32 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks.

“But it doesn't matter who we're playing. We're just going to go out and have fun and do the best we can.”

As much as the Kentucky game was a showcase for Camby's talents, it really served as a coming-out party for guard Edgar Padilla. Forced to fill the void created by the graduation of heralded point guard Derek Kellogg, maligned for inconsistent play in the preseason, the junior from Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, did an exceptional job against Kentucky's pressure.

There were a few times when Padilla forced passes that were picked off. But he refused to buckle under Kentucky's swarming, trapping defense and had 14 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds despite playing 39 minutes (the most of any player that evening).

“At halftime, I told Edgar and guard Carmelo Travieso that if we could go against the press, we win the game,” said Calipari that evening. “I said that we needed 20 minutes of basketball if we want to beat the No. 1 team in the country.”

UMass went ahead in the first half, 29-10, but Kentucky used its press to cut the lead and subsequently tie it before halftime. But many of the Wildcats' points came when both teams were running. “They pressed us and stole it and we gave them that,” said Calipari. “We had to get them in the halfcourt game. We had to make them play defense in the halfcourt and offense in the halfcourt.”

When that happened, UMass was clearly the better team, because Kentucky had no match for Camby. Kentucky was expected to be sharper, particularly since it was playing its second contest of the season (having beaten Maryland in the Tip-Off Classic) and UMass was playing its opener.

But UMass was clearly sharper, particularly in the second half, when it outscored Kentucky, 11-1, at the outset for a 56-46 lead. The Wildcats stayed close and cut the lead to 68-65 with less than eight minutes left, but each time thereafter UMass countered Kentucky's rally. Four points by Camby gave UMass an 80-74 lead with 2:58 to go.

This game also epitomized how well UMass' coaching staff had prepared the team for Kentucky – and how such preparation would be a trademark to each game this season.

Against one of the best outside shooting teams in the land, UMass opted to use a swaying 2-3 zone defense. Because UMass plays man-to-man 99 percent of the time, its zone didn't look pretty. But it more than frustrated the Wildcats inside and on the perimeter.

“That was an ugly zone, wasn't it?” said Calipari. “We didn't know what it was. When you don't know how to play zone, other teams don't know how to attack it.”

But ugly or not, it worked, as did many other things the Minutemen tried that evening. The win – and others like it – served as a confidence-builder for a team that struggled in the preseason. “Those tough games early in the year helped us for tournament play,” said UMass forward Dana Dingle. “They especially helped us for teams like East Regional final foe Georgetown, tough tournament teams.”

. . . But pressure's all on Pitino and Kentucky
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/1996

It's a good thing reputations don't win basketball games, or else there wouldn't be any reason for Your State U to show up at the Meadowlands Saturday.

According to the Smart Guys, the Get-A-Life candidates who spend 12 months a year tracking high school basketball players, the Kentucky Wildcats are the greatest assemblage of pure, raw talent ever gathered on one team in the entire history of college basketball. That this aggregation somehow has managed to lose two games (and been thrashed in both, I might add) this season is a curious, but, irrefutable, fact.

Do I believe Kentucky is the Best Team Ever? Don't be ridiculous. Give me the Lew Alcindor UCLA teams. Give me the Bill Walton UCLA teams. Give me Bob Knight's 1975-76 Indiana team. By 10:30 p.m. or so Saturday I might once again be saying give me John Calipari's team. I am simply pointing out that no previous college basketball team ever has contained so many players who were supposed to be Somebody coming out of high school as this Kentucky team Rick Pitino has assembled.

Little Ricky's 10-man rotation includes eight players the Basketball Bible Blue Ribbon Yearbook rated among the top 50 in the country before their senior year. One of them, forward Jared Prickett, a West Virginia Player of the Year, is out with an injury. Boo hoo. I say that because I have not yet mentioned that among the nonofficial Top 50 players on the roster are Mark Pope, a talented transfer from the University of Washington, and swingman Derek Anderson, a transfer from Ohio State one pro scout told me very well may be the best NBA prospect on the entire team.

Our humble Minutemen? Glad you asked. The only player on the UMass roster who ever got special Top 50 mention from Blue Ribbon is Donta Bright. I'm starting to wonder if I hallucinated that 92-82 UMass victory over the Wildcats Nov. 28.

There are two types of pressure on the teams remaining in the NCAA tournament: (1) Kentucky's; (2) everybody else's. Pitino's astonishing recruiting success has placed him in a “must-win” position, and he knows it.

Here is what he was quoted as saying on the subject last summer: “In the next five years, if we don't win a championship, it won't matter what I think. They're going to say, 'See ya later, Rick.' And I realize that.”

Lately, however, Pitino has been somewhat disingenuous. He has talked about how losses in the pros were actually worse than losses in college (utter nonsense, when the school you're coaching is Kentucky). He has adopted the John Calipari line that if his team gives its best, and that best isn't good enough in a particular tournament game, he will accept it, and so will the fans (so far removed from the truth as to be laughable). My guess is that he's saying these things because he foresaw a second game with UMass and wanted to cover his tracks. He's too smart to believe the things he's been saying in general, and he's too good of a basketball man not to respect UMass.

There is nothing in major college history to compare with the season Kentucky is having. The Wildcats have won 25 games by 10 or more; 14 by 20 or more; 9 by 30 or more; 3 by 40 or more; and one by 64. They have had such runs as 36-6 (Marshall), 30-2 (South Carolina) and a pair of 19-0s (Texas Christian and Vanderbilt). They hung an embarrassing 86 points in the first half on poor LSU. It is not even remotely hyperbolic to suggest that Pitino could apportion his available talent so that two teams wearing Kentucky Blue and White could reach the Sweet 16, if not the Final Four.

And yet . . . Kentucky did not just lose two games. Kentucky got whupped twice. The Wildcats were able to creep back in close enough at the end of those games against UMass (92-82) and Mississippi State (84-73) to make the final scores look somewhat respectable, but anyone who saw those games knows that Kentucky was severely outplayed in each. So we know it has some semblance of mortality.

What is downright creepy is that no one knows how Kentucky would react in a legitimately close game, because there haven't really been any among its first 34. The only under-10 margins, either way, were an 89-82 win over Indiana and an 82-77 win over Georgia. In neither case did it come down to any last-second shots or decisions. Contrast that to UMass, with its four overtime wins and its frequent need to call on its veteran wiles in order to pull out ballgames (see Memphis, Louisville and Stanford, among others).

The Kentucky calling cards are athleticism and depth. Pitino always has favored fullcourt presses, but he's never been able to do it with this level of athlete. Kentucky can make the court seem very small indeed, and what's obvious now is that the Kentucky halfcourt defense has almost caught up to its fullcourt prowess.

Offensively, Kentucky is probably the only team as unselfish as UMass. There's a whole lot of bing-bing-bing-Dunk! stuff going on when Kentucky plays, in addition to the patented 3-pointers from the likes of Tony Delk, Anthony Epps and Walter McCarty.

UMass defeated Kentucky the first time because Kentucky had absolutely no answer for Marcus Camby (amid all these athletes lurks no legit NBA-style center) and because UMass was able to handle the Kentucky press. The Wildcats will say they are even better at the press now, but UMass isn't exactly the same team itself. Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso were a backcourt unit work-in-progress back on Nov. 28. Right now they're the Best Damn Backcourt In The Country.

Rick Pitino was hired for one reason – to bring a national championship to a constituency for whom college basketball is far bigger than life itself. He now has a team his fans have been waiting for. If he doesn't deliver, he might as well charter a plane for the Seychelles.

John Calipari was hired to make people stop laughing at UMass. I am quite certain the words “national” and “championship” never were used in succession by anyone during contract negotiations. At that point in time, the UMass powers-that-be would have been happy to beat Duquesne or Rutgers every once in a while.

Don't misunderstand: Coach Cal has some very good players. But Little Ricky has celebrities. If he loses to UMass again, that's going to be some postgame press conference.

Team takes day off
By Michael Holley and Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/1996

The team had the day off. So did its town.

The University of Massachusetts basketball team returned to Amherst yesterday and did not practice. That meant the Mullins Center was more quiet than usual, just like its small town.

Students returned from spring break yesterday, which may have contributed to the silence. In any case, any signs that UMass had earned a trip to the Final Four with a win over Georgetown Saturday night were subtle.

Oh, about that Final Four? Fans who want to purchase tickets for Saturday's game with Kentucky in East Rutherford, N.J., will have to wish for luck.

UMass was allotted only 2,500 tickets for the game in Continental Airlines Arena. Although athletic director Bob Marcum is not sure how all tickets will be distributed, he knows that 800 apiece will be made available to season ticket-holders and students. That would leave some 900 to be divided among the UMass players, coaches, athletic department personnel, sponsors and members of the Court Club.

“This is a pleasant problem to have,” Marcum said. He added that the ticket-distribution situation should be resolved by today. According to sports information director Bill Strickland, UMass is planning to leave for New Jersey Wednesday night.

HONOR SYSTEM

Junior center Marcus Camby and his coach, John Calipari, are going to need big sacks to carry home the honors bestowed upon them this season. Yesterday, Camby was named the Naismith Player of the Year and Calipari was named Naismith Coach of the Year.

It is Calipari's second national coach of the year honor (The Sporting News also named him), in addition to his winning the same honor from the Atlantic 10 and Basketball Times (East Region).

It is Camby's 17th honor, including his fifth player of the year award. Next up is the Wooden Award, and he'll likely get that one, too. Having taken his team to unprecedented heights and having won practically every national award possible, Camby is having the kind of season many players dream about.

Some are wondering if UMass' advancing to the Final Four solidified his decision to skip his senior season and turn professional once the season is over. Stay tuned.

Saudia Roundtree of Georgia was women's Player of the Year, and her coach, Andy Landers, won the corresponding honor.

LOADED SEMI

The second national semifinal game Saturday is probably what many would expect in a national title game – a matchup between No. 1 and No. 2. So why are top-ranked UMass and second-ranked Kentucky playing in the semifinal? The tournament bracket paired the East champion against the Midwest champion. Even before the pairings were announced, Kentucky was considered a shoo-in for the Midwest (rather than the Southeast) because the school was host to the Southeast Regional final, and teams cannot play in a regional site that they host.

DRAWING THE LINE

Despite their 92-82 win over then top-ranked Kentucky Nov. 28, Las Vegas has made UMass a 9- to 9 1/2-point underdog. Kentucky also was ranked second behind UMass in the last Associated Press and CNN coaches' polls before the tournament began . . . UMass also has beaten Syracuse, a possible foe in the championship game . . . Kentucky arrived back in Lexington Saturday night after its Midwest Regional victory over Wake Forest. The Cats will head to New Jersey Thursday night, the latest arrival time permitted.

It'll be the late show
By Jack Craig, Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/1996

CBS announced yesterday that the University of Massachusetts will face Kentucky Saturday night at 8:07 in the second half of the NCAA Final Four doubleheader.

Jim Nantz and Billy Packer will broadcast, as they will for the title game Monday night.

Syracuse opposes Mississippi State at 5:42.

The UMass-Georgetown game on Channel 4 Saturday night attracted the largest college basketball audience ever in the city outside of national championship games.

The 20.8 rating exceeded the Boston College-Florida regional final game of two years ago, which compiled an 18.5.

UMass could steal their thunder
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1996

AMHERST – Think of it as someone dropping a winning lottery ticket on the floor of a crowded subway train. Some players are like those passengers who would stand and watch the ticket's downward spiral. Others are like the University of Massachusetts players, anticipating the ticket-holder's moves, jockeying for position before the slip leaves the fingertips.

Is there any doubt why so many loose balls and errant passes end up in the hands of the Minutemen, who are among the best in the game at steals and deflections?

Ask Georgetown, which saw UMass come up with 16 steals in the East Regional final – one shy of the regional final record set by Duke against St. John's in the 1991 Midwest Regional. Ask Arkansas, which saw UMass pick off 12 in the East Regional semifinals.

Or ask Rhode Island and Xavier, which lost to UMass this season because of steals by Edgar Padilla (against Xavier) and Carmelo Travieso (against URI) in the last 10 seconds.

The 16 steals against Georgetown marked the second time UMass has collected that many in the tournament; it had 16 in the first round against Central Florida. Leading the way against Georgetown were Padilla, with five, and Donta Bright and Travieso, with four apiece.

Many observers point to the Minutemen's exceptional quickness as the key to their steals and deflections. But many in the game are quick. Not many have their ability to anticipate the opponent's next action – and then position themselves to disrupt it before the play develops.

“They've been unbelievable,” said UMass coach John Calipari yesterday, as his team held its first round of interviews for Saturday's NCAA semifinal against Kentucky.

“I mean, Edgar Padilla has just been a step ahead of the game. It's going to be very hard to be a step ahead of Kentucky because they're running on super boosters in their shoes. But Padilla has been that way throughout the tournament; he has been a step ahead of play.”

Padilla became the first player in Atlantic 10 history to record 100 steals in a season (he had 106). He holds the school career and single-season marks. Against Central Florida, he tied a career high with seven steals.

“I just try to outplay the passing lane a lot,” said Padilla. “I watch the ball when it's going from the guy's hands to the floor. That's the best time to go for it.

“I also help other guys by coming from their man's blind side and making him dribble opposite me, and I come from the back or the front of him.”

The Minutemen have reached double figures in steals 10 times this season, including 15 at Fordham, 14 against Syracuse, 13 against Dayton. They have a total of 303, or 8.4 a game. They've had 49 steals in the postseason, almost doubling the opposition's total (25).

The anticipation of the Minutemen is so heightened that it can make them appear to be out of position on a play before they come up with the steal.

“Since we're always trying to help each other out, we always know where the ball is,” said Travieso, who is second on the team in steals (48). “If the ball's being posted, or someone's driving, everyone's looking over to see what's going on and anticipating the next pass or where the ball's going to hit.”

That's what happened in the Rhode Island game. With UMass up, 72-69, and five seconds left, Travieso missed the front end of a one-and-one, URI rebounded and called a timeout. Travieso vowed to redeem himself when play resumed. So he anticipated: He saw that the game's leading scorer, Antonio Reynolds, was inbounding the ball. That meant the pass likely would go to point guard Tyson Wheeler, the second-leading scorer. Travieso got a better angle for the pass than Wheeler, picked off the pass and raced for a breakaway dunk.

“I knew they were going for Wheeler, so I played it that they didn't think I was really on him,” he said. “When they passed the ball, I didn't go after him, but after the ball. I just played an area. I let him go around me to think he was open and at the last minute, I sped up and hit the ball.”

Padilla has a knack of stealing passes by allowing a defender to go by him, then following right behind and taking the ball away. That's what he did against Gary Lumpkin in overtime of the Xavier game, batting the ball from behind to Bright, who threw a pass to a wide-open Charlton Clarke downcourt for an easy 2.

Padilla not only put himself in position for the steal, but already had anticipated Clarke scoring at the end of the play.

“I was reading Lumpkin's dribble and he wasn't dribbling on the front but on the side,” he said. “I looked back and I saw Charlton behind me and I knew I had a good chance of letting Lumpkin go by me and taking the ball from behind.

“We don't do drills or anything to get good at it. It just comes natural.”

Throwing playful jabs
Sparring by coaches begins

By Michael Vega, Joe Burris and and Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1996

The basketball game is set to begin at approximately 8:07 p.m. Saturday. The mind games have already begun.

The latter were set in motion shortly after the NCAA national semifinal game between Massachusetts and Kentucky was set. In the past, Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and UMass coach John Calipari have tried to outwit each other in the days leading up to their game, and this week is no different.

On Sunday, Pitino said that Calipari can tell his UMass players that no one thinks they're good, but Pitino can't do that to motivate the Wildcats.

“You have to take everything with a grain of salt that either one of us are saying,” said Calipari. “On a conference call, Pitino said they may play zone and use single coverage against Marcus Camby. That means absolutely they will not play zone and they will double-team Camby.”

This is far from the first time the two have engaged in gamesmanship.

Before their matchup earlier this season, Calipari said UMass would use a lot of box-and-one and triangle-and-two defenses.

“And obviously we don't play those defenses,” said Calipari, “but Kentucky coaches spent 12 hours looking at tape to find us playing box- and-one and triangle-and-two.

“But this game, we're going to – we're going to try new defenses we haven't played.”

NEVER BETTER

Pitino talked yesterday about the changes he has seen in UMass since the start of the season. “They steadily improved,” he said. “They are playing their best basketball, because they understand what's on the line. If you stop the interior, you give up something. With their guard play, if you give up too much to Carmelo Travieso, it's lights out, so you have to be very careful about that. They are one of the best teams to play in the NCAA for quite some time. They can guard their own man very well, and if they do get beat, it's like a shark attack as they help each other out.” . . . Pitino didn't want to hear any talk that the winner of Saturday's semifinal would waltz to the national championship against the Mississippi State-Syracuse winner. “Who is to say Kentucky or UMass is better?” he said. “We don't know that.” . . . Pitino also laughed at the “underdog” role for the Minutemen. “John keeps turning it around,” he said. “He tells his team, 'You don't believe how little Dick Vitale respects you. You won't believe how little the media respects you.' Just tell him Kentucky is not buying it. Kentucky respects the hell out of you. They're a team that refuses to lose.”

The press for opponents of Kentucky, the result is usually crushing
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1996

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Talking about the way Kentucky attacks on defense is sort of like talking about the weather during a hot spell. “It's not the heat, it's the humidity.”

With the Wildcats, who will face the University of Massachusetts in Saturday's prime-time Final Four matchup in the Meadowlands, it is their overpowering, all-encompassing, game-breaking, mind-boggling press.

So what hurts the most?

“Great speed, great depth,” said UMass coach John Calipari yesterday. “They're great anticipators. They're not afraid to take chances. They cut off passing lanes.”

Despite all that, UMass found a way to beat the press. The Minutemen, one of two teams to beat the Wildcats this season, didn't panic, at least not enough to lose the game.

But is it just the style of Rick Pitino's team? Or is it something else?

“Depth,” said Kentucky junior point guard Anthony Epps before practice yesterday. “We have so many players, we know that we can play hard, and just when the other team thinks they have us tired, we bring in fresh legs.”

Picture a swarm of bees attacking and you get a picture of what the Kentucky press can do. And even if you beat it, you use up so much energy and time that it affects your halfcourt offense.

Then comes the second problem – the doubling up on the ball that the Wildcats did to frustrate Wake Forest and All-America center Tim Duncan.

“They're so quick, they were aggressive on me with the double-teams,” sighed Duncan after not scoring a field goal for the first 28 minutes of Saturday's 83-63 loss in the Midwest Regional final. “And they get into every passing lane.”

But it is more than technique, which Pitino stresses at each practice. It is a philosophy of sacrificing individual glory for the greater good of the team.

Pitino rotates 10 players in his system. No one paces himself. They play as hard as they can until they need a breather.

“It's physically impossible to play more than 32 minutes,” said Pitino.

“They are very aggressive, very physical,” said Wake Forest guard Jerry Braswell. “They are so deep that they keep bringing in different guys. They don't care if they foul. They just want to wear you down.”

Wake Forest couldn't handle that style early, committing seven turnovers on its first 13 possessions. The Deacons couldn't handle it late, either, when the Wildcats, after watching a 28-point lead shrink to 11, went back into their attack mode and quickly built the lead back to 20.

The press is part of the reason the Wildcats have breezed through four games in this tournament, winning by an average of 28 points.

“Sometimes you get carried away with how a team plays because of the margin of victory,” said Pitino. “It's not that there is a great difference in talent, it's more a matter of style. What happens is that one team plays its style – say it's a fast, up-tempo one – and another team plays a different style, like Wake Forest did against us, but then one style takes over. And when it does, you tend to see lopsided victories. It's not because they are better, it's because the style of play started to dominate.”

The Wildcats go a stretch of time – perhaps 10 minutes, perhaps a half – in which the opponent will be able to cope with the pressure. The team will solve the press. It will make shots and will feel it is in the game. But then Kentucky's depth will kick in.

Before a team knows it, the game is being played the way Kentucky likes it, at a pace that Kentucky wants, and you have a rout. San Jose State experienced this in the first round, when it saw a 47-41 halftime deficit turn into a 110-72 blowout.

Utah made the mistake of trying to run with the Wildcats early. That doesn't work, either. It found itself trailing, 56-34, after 20 minutes, and lost, 101-70.

The Minutemen at least know what's coming. Just how well they handle it will determine whether their season will be extended by one game.

LSU's Brown: Kentucky is best
Kentucky takes out UMass
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1996

Who better than Dale Brown to comment on the might of Kentucky?

“Oh, yeah, we did a great job,” laughs the Louisiana State coach. “We held them to 86 in the first half.”

That's the gospel truth. Kentucky scored 86 points in the first half en route to a 129-97 triumph over LSU, and they did it in Dale's own gym.

“I've been here 24 years,” he says, “and there's no doubt I can't compare this Kentucky team to any SEC I've ever seen. I was an assistant at Utah State when we played a Lew Alcindor UCLA team. I was an assistant at Washington State when we played the first Bill Walton team, and I honestly believe this is the best overall talent ever assembled by anybody.”

“What's amazing to me is how Rick Pitino has managed to get them to play so hard and so unselfishly. Keeping players like that happy is bizarre beyond imagination. But I guess winning big helps the playing time out a little bit.

“When they beat us this year it was like a feeding frenzy of sharks. I started three guards, but it didn't make any difference. We called a 20-second timeout 20 seconds into the game, and it was already 6-0.”

Brown hasn't seen UMass in person, but he likes what he's seen on the tube.

“You can see John has really good rapport with those kids. I love those guards! They're like grandpas on the floor, they're so stable. And Camby strikes me as a superstar without the superstar ego that most superstars have. They strike me as blue-collar workers.”

The LSU mentor also warns people not to overlook Mississippi State.

“Before the year even started I said that guard Darryl Wilson was the most underrated player in the country,” Brown says. “As for forward Dontae Jones, “that's like driving around on a gravel road with a load of dynamite in the back seat.”

Here's the point
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/27/1996

AMHERST – Coach Fernando Rodriguez would pull his nephew aside for a few words before sending him to home plate. “Edgar, you see that hole between the first baseman and the second baseman? I want you to hit the ball so it goes right there.”

That was all 5-year-old Edgar Padilla needed: a directive. Show him where to hit the ball and watch it sail to the spot, followed by a couple of wide-eyed tykes scurrying to run it down. Instruct him to throw the ball home from deep in the outfield and he'd get it there on one bounce. Need someone to make an exceptional play? Ask Edgar.

In the ranks of Little League baseball in Toa Alta, he was a wunderkind. For parents of other kids, though, he was a source of skepticism, a target of many protests. They often demanded to see his birth certificate, figuring no child could be that focused, that skilled, that error-free, at age 5.

By the time he was a preteen, he had earned a reputation for performing with a level of concentration that exceeded his years. When Padilla was in seventh grade, the high school basketball coach, Miguel Mercado, asked him to play on the varsity. Eager to have Padilla on his summer league team, the coach's only directive was for Padilla to improve his talent.

“I don't care what you do, whether you throw the ball away or kick it, or whatever,” said the coach. “I don't care if you win or lose a game. I just want to see you playing.”

Padilla was starting before the year was over.

Sometimes even he didn't understand his knack.

“When I was 7 years old, I overheard my basketball coach say to my mother, `Of all the kids I coach, he's the only one that's going to be successful. He's the only one that's going to make it,' “ said Padilla, the University of Massachusetts junior guard.

“I'd hear that, and I'd have no idea why he said it. But he always mentioned my hands, how quick they were, and how fast I was and how I can do so many different things.”

Years later, he would know: When Padilla becomes focused on a task, consider the task done. He is the embodiment of UMass' Refuse to Lose attitude. Several times this season, he has almost single-handedly saved the Minutemen from defeat.

He is one of the primary reasons the Minutemen have lost just once despite injuries and other setbacks. And he hopes to lead them past Kentucky in the national semifinals Saturday.

Throughout the season, as coach John Calipari implored his team to “just win” even when it appeared primed for a loss, it was Padilla who sparked the victory. Consider a 78-74 overtime win against Xavier, which by all accounts should have won and probably would have if not for Padilla.

Xavier went ahead, 68-65, with 24 seconds left in regulation. When they inbounded, the Minutemen were supposed to run a play for center Marcus Camby. But Padilla freed himself from a defender with a nifty cross-over dribble, squared up at the 3-point arc and sank a trey, nothing but net, to tie the game. It was one of only two shots he made all day, in 12 attempts.

“In situations like that, I like to take shots like that,” said Padilla, who also came up with a steal in overtime to help secure that win.

Against Central Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament, after the Minutemen squandered a double-digit lead and were ahead by just 4 at halftime, Padilla heeded Calipari's warning that someone had to step things up.

He made five of his team's six steals in a 12-0 run over the first 2:30 of the second half. During the run, Central Florida did not attempt a shot and crossed midcourt only twice. Padilla finished the game with seven steals, one shy of the NCAA tournament record.

“Edgar doesn't score that many points for us, but if we needed him to, he would,” said Calipari.

Padilla is the first player in Atlantic 10 history to record 100 steals in a season (106).

“One of the things I always talk to him about is his concentration level,” said UMass assistant coach Bruiser Flint, who recruited Padilla. “When he's ready to play, focused, he does things that are incredible, especially on the defensive end.

“Edgar's problem is that sometimes he doesn't come with the same focus in every game, and therefore, he plays at half-speed and is not as effective.”

That was evident during preseason, when Padilla struggled to assume full responsibility for running the offense. Earlier in his career, he had backed up point guard Derek Kellogg and shared the shooting guard spot with Mike Williams. This season, though, Padilla has played strictly point guard.

But following directives suddenly wasn't as easy as it had been.

“He struggled at times in preseason,” said Flint, who works with the guards in practice. “It got real frustrating, so much so he would knock over tables in practice.

“But it was the first time he really played the point and ran the team the entire time. Last year his point guard skills were used only a few minutes at a time. The mental part of things wasn't at stressful.”

Padilla hardly resembled the player who helped settle down the UMass offense against North Carolina's pressure in the 1993 Preseason NIT, keying an upset. Calipari was so incensed with Padilla's play that on the eve of the Nov. 28 UMass-Kentucky game, he said that if freshman guard Charlton Clarke were healthy, he probably would have gotten the start.

Padilla struggled during the Kentucky game, and at times, Camby had to restrain Calipari from screaming at him. Despite a few blunders, Padilla withstood the Wildcats' pressure and played a game-high 39 minutes in UMass' 92-82 win.

Padilla said he gets his guts and determination from his parents, both of whom are deaf and moved from Puerto Rico to Springfield despite not knowing English.

“There was nothing they have wanted to do that they haven't done,” he said. “They have no excuses even though they're handicapped. If they want to do something, they work hard for it and they accomplish it and that's how they get it.

“Being deaf and knowing no English, they moved from Puerto Rico to here. That's one thing you have to be brave to do.”

Padilla was in eighth grade when he came to the States, and he also knew no English. Learning it was one of his first directives.

“It was a challenge for me and a lot of hard work,” he said. “I used to stay after school and work with my English teacher and science teacher, who were both Puerto Rican.

“They worked hard with me and gave me books to build my vocabulary, and instead of going to lunch, I used to eat lunch quickly and then go to their rooms to work some more.”

Padilla played on a Central High team that went 24-1, made the state semifinals and yielded four Division 1 players, including Travis Best. But Padilla, a former Western Massachusetts player of the year, said winning routinely by huge margins rendered basketball monotonous.

“After two or three years in high school, I didn't like myself and I wasn't getting better,” he said. “I was just playing off my talent, and that wasn't good for me to improve and go to college. So I decided to go back to Puerto Rico during the summers and play with those older guys.”

Padilla honed his skills against players he grew up admiring, from Jerome Mincy to Ramon Rivas to Angelo Cruz. He played for teams in the Superior League, one of the most competitive in Puerto Rico.

“Miguel Mercado was still coaching a team there when he traded the leading scorer in the league for me,” said Padilla. “That's like trading Michael Jordan for Steve Kerr.”

Playing with more talented athletes at UMass has made Padilla one of the better point guards in the States.

“I always felt pretty good about myself as a player,” he said. “I knew I had a little bit of talent that could be used and improve a lot.”

Fans will pay price of success
This story was reported by Joe Burris in Amherst, Mark Blaudschun in Lexington, Ky., and Michael Vega in Syracuse, N.Y.; material from Jack Craig of the Globe staff and the Associated Press also was used.
From The Boston Globe, 3/27/1996

Four days away from the Final Four, some University of Massachusetts fans already have a New York attitude.

Some of those eligible to buy tickets for the games in East Rutherford, N.J., did not realize that the school packaged the seats with a mandatory four-night stay at the New York Sheraton, which is $218 a night.

Thorr Bjorn, UMass assistant athletic director in charge of game operations and tickets, said yesterday that in addition to receiving the NCAA allotment of 2,500 tickets, each school received 500 hotel rooms guaranteed, courtesy of the NCAA.

“We would have been stuck with 500 hotel rooms, so we decided to make it a package deal,” said Bjorn. “Each school has to pay for the hotel rooms, and Kentucky is the only school that isn't packaging their hotel rooms.

“It just so happens that our fans live 300 miles away from New York City. But we have to look at this as being the NCAA tournament.”

Bjorn said the face value of a pair of tickets for Saturday's semifinals and Monday's final is $140. He added that as of 11 a.m. yesterday, the school had sold all of its tickets and rooms. The school made 800 of its 2,500 tickets available to season ticket-holders.

Check-in time

The Minutemen arrived in the East Rutherford area at 11:54 last night. Upon arriving at their hotel, the players picked up their room keys, which had been spread across two tables before a Statue of Liberty mannequin wearing a UMass T-shirt. Hotel security paraded around the lobby about 40 minutes before the Minutemen arrived, but by midnight, the place was pin-drop silent. Other UMass officials had arrived about an hour earlier . . . There is relief to the west and south of Boston despite WBZ Radio's decision to pick up the championship game in progress Monday night. WTAG in Worcester and WPRO in Providence are among CBS Radio affiliates for the Final Four play-by-play. WBZ will carry both semifinal games Saturday, but on Monday night, it will broadcast the Bruins-Ottawa game, with a 7:30 faceoff, delaying pickup of the basketball game (9:22 tapoff) until around 10 . . . Marcus Camby is tied for second (with Alonzo Mourning) on the NCAA tournament career blocked shot list with 37 in 10 games. Wake Forest's Tim Duncan leads with 42 . . . Saturday's game will have additional local flavor with the presence of Kentucky freshman point guard Wayne Turner, who is from Boston (he has told the Kentucky sports information people not to list his home as Chestnut Hill) and attended Beaver Country Day. Turner is averaging about 13 minutes a game in Rick Pitino's rotation.

Rally killers

After leading Syracuse to a 60-57 victory over Kansas Sunday in the West Regional final at Denver, senior forward John Wallace and junior center Otis Hill planned to stage an impromptu student pep rally Monday. But their plans were nixed by campus police. Evidently, police were concerned about having sufficient time to prepare for crowd control. “They made it seem like the president was coming or something,” said Jaime Tebbe, sports editor of The Daily Orange. “I mean, it wasn't like Mississippi State was going to have snipers at the rally or anything. It's ridiculous. Only in Syracuse.” . . . It was madness all right for people trying to buy tickets to the NCAA Final Four without taking out a bank loan. “I've been in business 16 years, and I've never seen anything this absurd,” said a New Jersey ticket broker who refused to be identified. “It's crazy. I don't want to get involved with it.” With just 18,500 seats available, brokers' prices ranged from $950 in the upper levels to $8,000 for courtside tickets.

The good feelings are mutual
Coaches trade compliments

By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/28/1996
Mark Blaudschun and Jack Craig of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They'll be adversaries Saturday night at the Meadowlands, but yesterday John Calipari of Massachusetts and Rick Pitino of Kentucky exchanged kudos in a teleconference for NCAA Final Four coaches.

Calipari said the Wildcats have improved greatly since UMass beat them, 92-82, in the season opener, and not just because Pitino moved Tony Delk from point guard to his natural position, shooting guard.

“What they did is stepped back so they could all go three steps forward,” he said. “Against us, when it got a little crazy, they all tried to do their own thing. A good coach can get nice players and make them a good team. Only a great coach can get great players to sacrifice enough to be a great team.”

Pitino said the Minutemen “run and they take great shots. I think down the road, John would make a great pro coach. He knows how to put players in areas where they can get the highest-percentage shots possible. And they know how to take weaker defenders off the dribble.”

Flint: No on Parker

Assistant coach Bruiser Flint said UMass is not recruiting Richie Parker, the New York high school star many programs have shunned because he pleaded guilty to a sexual abuse charge last year. A newspaper story about Parker earlier this week listed several schools as recruiting him, including UMass. “We are definitely not recruting him,” said Flint. A source close to the university said Parker has a girlfriend who attends UMass and he has visited her. Several schools, including George Washington, Seton Hall and Oral Roberts, have backed off recruiting Parker because of the incident . . . The Minutemen could have been easily spotted on the highway en route to New Jersey; they were the ones in the white bus with “UMass basketball” in big letters on the side . . . Calipari said he has not been contacted about the vacant head coaching post at St. John's and added, “I have in my opinion the best college basketball job in the country for various reasons and I'm not looking to go anywhere.” Said UMass alumnus Pitino, “If John has interest [in St. John's], I'd kill him.”

More for Camby

Marcus Camby's trophy case may soon be toppling under the weight of this season's hardware. The latest addition for the UMass center: the Sears Division 1 Player of the Year Award, as selected by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He'll be honored Sunday during a dinner at the New York Hilton . . . It seems everyone's a UMass fan these days. Take Bruce Heller, who lives in Scituate and wound up with a pair of NCAA tickets (at face value) through a friend. “I can't believe it,” said Heller, who will take his son Andy, a star athlete at Thayer Academy in Braintree, to the Meadowlands this weekend. “The first UMass game I've ever seen and it's going to be in the Final Four. That's fantastic.” Heller has guarded the tickets closely since he received them. “I've got them locked up,” he said. “Other stuff can get stolen. But we have insurance for that. These you can't replace.” . . . According to the UMass school newspaper, the Daily Collegian, scalpers are offering students up to $3,000 for tickets to the Final Four. Meanwhile, three ticket agencies contacted in New England are charging $1,500-$3,000 . . . The game will be shown free of charge at the Mullins Center on a big screen.

The prequel, revisited

ESPN2 will rerun the UMass-Kentucky game of last Nov. 28 Saturday at 9 a.m. The game, part of the Great Eight Tournament ESPN covered, attracted the largest college basketball audience of the season. Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale broadcast the game. There are no plans to accompany the taped telecast with updated commentary about the fact that the teams will meet Saturday night.

Present tense
Rick Pitino can't lose sight of the fact that he's expected to win it all

By Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe Staff, 3/28/1996

On Page 49 of the Kentucky basketball press guide, there is a photograph of coach Rick Pitino meeting Pope John Paul II.

Pitino and the pope. Let's see John Calipari top that.

The coach and the pope. No doubt about which man carries more clout in Lexington, Ky. John Paul II never made it to a Final IV.

Pitino disputes the ranking. He's not about to utter any John Lennonesque “We're more popular than Jesus” remark. He knows the true priorities of the Kentucky citizenry.

“In Kentucky, there is God, basketball and family in that order,” says Pitino.

There. Now you know. God, basketball, then family. We wouldn't want you to get the mistaken impression that Kentucky folks have lost their priorities.

All of the above explains why no coach on the planet carries the weight that will be heaped on Pitino in New Jersey this weekend. Kentucky hasn't won an NCAA championship since 1978. Kentucky is, by Pitino's definition, “the Roman empire of college basketball.” Kentucky has the best players in the land and just concluded one of the best seasons of all time. Kentucky is favored to beat the University of Massachusetts by 9 points in the championship semifinal Saturday night.

Pitino is expected to deliver. He's the man who's turned around programs everywhere he's gone. But his autobiographies outnumber his championships, 2-0. This is his time to bring home the goods. How strange that he'd find his kid brother standing in the way.

UMass' Calipari does not copy Pitino's coaching style. They don't take fishing trips together or hang out at each other's houses in the offseason. But they are forever linked because they look alike, dress alike, share Italian-American heritage and rose to the top of their field at very young ages.

Casual fans long have believed that Coach Cal wants to grow up to be Rick Pitino. It took this magical season for the UMass coach to carve out an identity as something other than a Pitino Wannabe.

Still, there's great regional symmetry in this Ricky vs. Little Ricky, Kentucky-UMass matchup. Massachusetts fans think Calipari is the best coach in the country, and he may prove to be that this weekend, but Pitino – the man under the gun – actually has more local roots than the Wizard of Hooterville.

Pitino is the man who played in the backcourt at Massachusetts when the Minutemen were still the Redmen. Pitino was a freshman when Dr. J was a junior at Amherst. Pitino coached at Boston University, lining up in front of 300 fans for games against mighty Brandeis and Assumption. Then he was an assistant coach for the Knicks when Larry Bird went mano-a-mano with Bernard King in the epic seven-game 1984 Eastern Conference semifinal.

Before this year, the three men who had taken a New England team all the way to the Final Four are Doggie Julian, Dave Gavitt and . . . Rick Pitino. Julian made it with Holy Cross twice in the late 1940s (HC won the NCAA in '47). Gavitt took Providence to the Final Four in 1973, and the Friars returned in 1987 with a Cinderella team coached by Pitino.

Naturally, Pitino was instrumental in bringing Calipari to UMass. As head coach at Providence, he was impressed with Calipari, then an assistant at Pittsburgh. When a committee was formed to find a man to resurrect the moribund UMass program, Pitino pushed for Coach Cal and reportedly chipped in $5,000 of his own dough to make it happen.

“I was asked to be on the search committee when I was Knick coach,” Pitino remembers. “It was fascinating to go through the experience. I told the committee that I was positive he would be a terrific coach.”

Calipari says, “He was on the committee and felt I was good for the job and made calls to see that it was done. Today I'm in this position and my family is in this position because of what Rick did for me.”

Discovering Coach Cal was Pitino's final contribution to New England basketball. Now UMass stands in the way of something Pitino must have.

Kentucky fans are restless. Too many records of 30-4 and 29-7 have yielded too few Final Fours (this is Pitino's second trip) and no championships. Pitino's closest brush with a championship came when Duke's Christian Laettner beat the Wildcats with a miracle shot to win the 1992 East Regional. A year later, Kentucky made it to the Final Four but lost the first game to Michigan by 3 points. Now it's time.

Is Pitino having any fun this week?

“I'm enjoying it,” he says, not sounding very convincing. “It's what we all dream about, going to a Final Four. But I watch a lot of film, and every time I watch UMass, it becomes a little less enjoyable. Every time I see Marcus Camby block a shot, I get sick. So 10 percent of the time here, I'm sick, but the other 90 percent, I'm having a heck of a time.

“We realize we're going to have to play well against a team that has been dominant in college basketball. We have nothing but the utmost respect for UMass . . . We lost because they were better.”

He says UMass was better because that's what he has to say. It's part of the game. But he knows he has better players. And he knows he has to win. Now. He's the only coach who carries this burden to Exit 16W this weekend.

Something in reserve
That's what UMass needs to repeat vs. Kentucky

By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/28/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The University of Massachusetts' 92-82 win over Kentucky in the season opener was so startling, so convincing, that it overshadowed the Minutemen's major deficiency that evening – bench output.

Kentucky's bench finished with 32 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in 79 minutes. UMass' bench had 0 points (no one took a shot from the floor or the foul line), 0 assists and 5 rebounds in 32 minutes. Reserve forward Tyrone Weeks accounted for all of the boards but fouled out.

After the game, even the starters said they were surprised the Minutemen won despite getting no points from the reserves, and the thinking was that if the bench improved, they would be an even more formidable team. As the season progressed, coach John Calipari repeatedly fielded questions concerning whether his starters – particularly his backcourt – could last if his bench didn't contribute more.

Now three Minutemen reserves average nine minutes a game or more, led by Weeks with 19. In Saturday's NCAA semifinal, the UMass bench will be counted on heavily against Kentucky, which since the first game has rotated its starting lineup but still goes 11 deep and relies on its depth in pressing situations.

“The first [matchup] was very important for our team to prove that we were a great team, and our starters wanted to show they could play with all of Kentucky's 12 All-Americans,” said UMass reserve forward Rigoberto Nunez, explaining why the bench didn't contribute more. “And Coach Cal was also cautious of letting our bench in because he didn't know how we would react in a big game.

“But now we have Tyrone Weeks playing at his best. We have Inus Norville contributing. Charlton [Clarke] played in the Kentucky game coming off an injury, but now he's healthy.

“We have other guys that can produce, and I can go in and do the usual things I do [defense and emotional presence]. If you look at it that way, we have a strong six or seven or eight players who can play with anyone in the country.”

The reserves have made major contributions over the latter part of the season. Norville spelled Camby in the Minutemen's 74-65 Atlantic 10 tournament win over George Washington and held his own against center Alexander Koul, against whom Camby struggled.

Weeks has had several key performances, including in a 59-35 win at Temple, when he neutralized Owls widebody Marc Jackson. His play has picked up in the postseason.

“Coach Cal tells me that I have to come in and score and rebound for us, and when someone out there is not getting it done, I have to go in and get it going for the team,” said Weeks.

Nunez drew a key – though controversial – charging foul against St. Joseph's in the closing seconds of overtime that keyed the UMass win. Even Ted Cottrell, who has waited more than three seasons for ample playing time, has been a factor.

“They do great things when they get in the game,” said Calipari. “Our play does not drop off when I stick those guys into the game.”

Yet one of the key players against Kentucky this time will be Clarke, the freshman guard who was hampered by an injured foot the last time and played just one minute. He eventually had surgery and missed 14 games.

Clarke has the ability to play both guard positions, but since returning, he has to reestablish his outside shooting touch. However, it's his ballhandling skills that will be needed against Kentucky's press.

“I just have to go out there and let things flow,” said Clarke. “Since I've been back, I've been thinking about what I have to do too much. I don't know when to take a good shot, when to pass. I'm just confused. I'm settling down now.

“Basically, the way Coach Cal is, he'll play two to three people off the bench and let the starters find a way to come out with the game. He has that much confidence in his starters. I won't mind [not playing] at all as long as we get to the next step and take care of business.”

But the starters say the reserves will be needed. Starting point guard Edgar Padilla said the key to Kentucky's press is not schemes but numbers. “The only difference between Georgetown's and Arkansas' press and Kentucky's press is Kentucky has more players to press you,” he said. “Their press is going to be fresher than any other team because of the amount of people they play.

“But presses are all the same. I think the middle is going to be open all the time and we have to be aggressive on any press. As long as we stay aggressive, come to the middle and come to the ball, we should be in great shape.”

Last time out, both teams had 23 turnovers, but Padilla said tournament games against Arkansas and Georgetown helped the UMass starters and reserves for Saturday's rematch. “If you take away a team's press, you take away half of their heart,” he said. “After that, you just take care of business.”

Poor Camby? No way
Hartford upbringing was rich in spirit

By Michael Holley, Boston Globe Staff, 3/29/1996

HARTFORD – The tape slides into the VCR. Within seconds, the neighbors' loud merengue is lost in the sounds of college basketball. Steve Johnson holds the remote control and pushes the pause button when he finds the frame he wants.

“Listen,” says the man known as Stevie J., “Marcus is going to say it right after this.”

Marcus Camby, the University of Massachusetts center, is being interviewed on CBS. The tape is of UMass' win over Georgetown, the victory that got the Minutemen to the Final Four. Just as Stevie J. promises, Camby says it.

“What's up, Hartford?” Camby says.

“Here it comes,” says Stevie J.

“What's up, Penthouse?” Camby shouts.

“Hear that?” Stevie J. says. “The Penthouse. You know what he's talking about? This place. This is the Penthouse. That's what Marcus calls it. He's good people. He'll never forget where he came from.”

Some folks here find Camby's words strange. The Penthouse he describes is not on the top floor. It is not one of those pricey joints that overlooks rivers and beachfronts. It is Stevie J.'s second-floor apartment in Building 62, on the corner of the Bellevue Square Projects. When this area, which lies on the fringes of downtown, is mentioned, two words usually are accompanied:

Stay away.

Camby never did. He won't. He can't. Those who are overcautious about this area know about the fear and hype. They must not know what Camby knows: Some of the people who loved him and disciplined him long before he was a 7-foot national player of the year live here.

This is where he learned the game he plays so well, first shooting into milk crates which hung on clotheslines. Then he graduated to the big court, less than 100 yards from his family's first apartment.

Stay away? How could he? Even when his family moved 10 minutes from the Penthouse to Garden Street, he made his way back to the square. His friends and extended family were there.

At home, his mother, Janice, directed a family of three children. Away from home, he found people like Stevie J., Jackie Bethea, Claudene Johnson and Sheila Harris. From all of them, there was always something new to learn.

This afternoon is a perfect example. UMass will practice for tomorrow's game against Kentucky at the Meadowlands. There are teammates such as Inus Norville and Tyrone Weeks to provide a challenge for Camby in practice. But before UMass and Hartford Public High School, Camby had a female coach in Bethea. She needed someone to show Camby how to box out. Some weren't interested; others weren't big enough. So Bethea, who is about 6-1, showed him. Then Bethea and Harris put together a traveling team called The Untouchables, which allowed Camby to travel to Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland.

UMass coach John Calipari often says Camby has bad eating habits. Well, the next time he finds himself in a quandary, he should call Claudene Johnson. Camby is a picky eater, but he becomes focused when Johnson makes her chicken and rice.

But the beauty of the Penthouse is that Camby's picture isn't the only one on the wall. He's not a future draft pick here. He's just Marcus. It's always been that way. So as quickly as the acclaim for Camby grows, he knows where to go when he wants to be himself.

“You would think most kids would take what he has and run with it,” Bethea said, “but he's basically taken it and run away from it. He's never been one to put on airs.”

It was move-in day in Amherst. Tyrone Weeks knew immediately that he was going to like his first college roommate. He knew about Camby from the newspapers. He was Connecticut's Player of the Year in '93 and had led his team to an undefeated, state championship season.

The coaches had told Weeks that Camby was nice, but . . . you never know.

Weeks was in the dorm room first, the bass of his reggae shaking the walls of the hallway. When he turned around, he saw a tall kid duck into the door and thought, “That must be Marcus.”

He turned down the reggae, music that Camby wasn't too fond of, and they began talking. Soon they were best friends. It was that easy.

“Ever since that first day, he's been my best friend,” Weeks said. “He's like my brother. I can count on him. I can talk to him about anything. The coaches told me that summer that he was a nice guy and somebody I could get along with. That's why they roomed us together. Now they always say they wish they didn't put us together because we got into some trouble our freshman year. But it was all fun.”

Weeks is right. The two love to laugh. If they aren't going to see comedy movies, they will try to find the comedy in real-life situations. So when former assistant coach Bill Bayno knocked on the freshmen's door one afternoon, he got a taste of their humor.

“He was knocking and we heard him, but we just didn't want to let him in,” Weeks said. “We were both in there cracking up and he heard us. He was begging us to open the door and we didn't. We still talk about that today. We thought that was so hilarious.”

It is a side of Camby that few see. Usually, he is expressionless on the court. Ambitious offensive players challenge him and often find their shots going away from the basket. On defense, if Kentucky tries to double-team him tomorrow, it will find it is not dealing with an average 7-footer. That is, he's too quick for most pivot men to guard.

He was 6-1 when he entered Conard High in West Hartford. He was taller than most of his classmates, but he still had the skills of a guard. The next year, he grew 10 inches, leaving him with a center's body and guard's ability. He just didn't use that ability at Conard.

Conard was a suburban school and many of Camby's friends were at Hartford Public. He wanted to be with his friends. He wanted to be himself. He was himself with Bethea and Harris' Untouchables team. But Conard High was a long way from the Southwest Boys and Girls Club, where Bethea is now a recreation coordinator.

“He didn't want to be thought of as too much different than the other kids,” said Stan Piorkowski, Camby's coach at Hartford Public. “He wanted to be one of the kids, one of the guys. The school he was in made it harder for him to be one of the guys. Here's an almost 7-foot-tall black kid in a primarily white suburban school. It's not that he didn't like the kids, he just had a harder time being who he was.”

Camby transferred to Hartford Public in the middle of his sophomore year, didn't play his junior year and then became one of the top centers in the country as a senior. But top is not his kind of word.

He wasn't taught to think that way by his immediate and extended families. Everything they did went against singling out one person over another. To travel, the Untouchables had to raise money by putting together bake sales and car washes, as well as mowing lawns and asking corporations for sponsorship.

“We wanted them to see other places outside of Hartford,” Harris said. “But we also wanted them to see that they could achieve that by working together.”

The group had to put the theory of teamwork into action when they were outside Cleveland for a Memorial Day weekend tournament. The game had ended and some uneducated fans were throwing bottles and epithets. Camby's Untouchables had one white player on the team. As bottles and sharp words flew, most of the players, Bethea and Harris headed for the van.

One player stood behind and said, “Hey, you guys better stop messing with my homies.” It was the white player.

His teammates told him to get in the van. Eventually, he did. At first, they were stunned. Then as they made their way back to Hartford, everyone began joking and laughing about the incident that left no one with physical damage. That was them. They were a team.

The Southwest Boys and Girls Club is an oasis of sorts. It is surrounded by turf that is claimed by at least five gangs. But when gang members enter the club and talk with Bethea, there is no trouble. And when she puts them to work – as players, scorekeepers or maintenance types – during the Bellevue Summer Leagues, there are no incidents in the square from 5 p.m., when the games begin, to 9, when they end.

When Bethea wants to bring smiles to the faces of kids in her club, she sometimes calls on the 22-year-old young man she once taught to box out. He rarely says no.

There was a kid named Willie, a huge fan of Camby's. Willie wanted only one thing in his wheelchair: an autographed basketball from Camby. He got it.

She wasn't surprised by the gesture. As she likes to say, “That's Marcus.” Once he came to the club, ducked his head into a doorway and immediately brought smiles to some sad faces. “Most of these kids are just so sad,” she said. “To get a smile on their faces, just to see it one time at least is a big thing.”

Camby always had a knack for bringing smiles to life. When he was in grade school, he was the most convincing and tallest Linus in a “Peanuts” school play. Now the smiles come when the grade-school Linus dunks on people.

Kentucky is familiar with that side of Camby. In UMass' opener, he had 32 points and 9 rebounds against the Wildcats. No one could stop him then. Still can't.

Arkansas tried to figure out a way before its matchup with UMass in the Sweet 16. The players said Camby was used to playing soft and they were going to rough him up. If the Razorbacks truly wanted to know the effect trash-talking has on Camby, they should have called someone from the homeboy's hometown.

“Look, Marcus is from the 'hood. He hears people talk trash to him all the time,” Stevie J. said. “That doesn't bother him. It fires him up.”

Exactly.

Camby paced in his hotel room before the Arkansas game and told Weeks, “We're going to kill those guys.”

They did. They did the same to Georgetown, a defeat that had coach John Thompson marveling about Camby. He and other coaches talked about his ability to fit within a team's system. Once again, they would have known that if they had realized Camby is your classic “we” person.

This evening will be one of the few times he will be able to relax this weekend. If he and Weeks were in Amherst, they would probably get in Weeks' Jeep Blazer and drive around smiling, listening to the sounds of hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.

But it's just as well that they are in East Rutherford, N.J. Janice Camby is there. Bethea will be there tomorrow, drive home after the game and “come back Monday because there will be a UMass game on Monday.”

“People say to me, `Marcus is about to go to the NBA; I know you're going to be set,' “ Bethea said. “No, excuse me. I was set three years ago when I dropped him off at school. We're not looking for anything. He's going to always be here.”

And when he chooses to relax, he'll probably settle for his special kind of penthouse.

Dingle out to end with a big score
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/29/1996

TEANECK, N.J. – He wants it to last as long as it can, but Dana Dingle knows that at most, only about 80 minutes remain in his college basketball career.

The home stretch has been very rewarding. The University of Massachusetts senior forward from the Bronx is finally gaining the kind of respect and accolades due one of the most consistent four-year players in college basketball. Moreover, his career will end in the Final Four in his backyard, and he hopes there'll be one more game after the No. 1-ranked Minutemen meet Kentucky in the NCAA semifinals tomorrow in East Rutherford.

That doesn't offset the fact that his playing days at UMass are about to come to an end. Although Dingle is expected to attend tryout camps, there's no telling how much basketball is in his future.

“It's great to come back home and end a career here in the Final Four,” said Dingle yesterday. “These are my last two games and this is the ultimate goal I had for four years, to win a national championship.

“In my last year, I finally got the opportunity. To leave and win a national championship would be the greatest feeling, the ultimate.”

Throughout the postseason, it has been apparent that Dingle is doing whatever it takes to extend his college career. During the regular season and Atlantic 10 tournament, he shot 46 percent from the floor. During the NCAA tournament, he's shooting 58 percent.

He has made several key plays during the tournament as well. In the Minutemen's second-round victory over Stanford, Dingle set a screen on forward Andy Poppink that freed Donta Bright for a top-of-the-key jumper with 32 seconds left, putting UMass up, 77-74.

He practically carried the Minutemen in the first 3:30 of the East Regional final against Georgetown: He had 5 of UMass' first 7 points and assisted Bright on the other basket.

Throughout the NCAA tournament, when opponents have figured they could abandon him to double down or double-team other UMass players, Dingle has made them pay. In the postseason, he is averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds a game, is second only to center Marcus Camby in rebounds (27) and has committed the fewest turnovers of any of the Minutemen's first seven players (5).

“He's one of our guys who has really stepped up his play,” said coach John Calipari. “His offensive game is starting to show in terms of the things he can do. He's playing with a confidence level. He's not worrying about next year or the year after or what people are saying about him. He's just being Dana Dingle.”

But while he's enjoying the Minutemen's run, he's saddened that the ride is about to come to a halt. “I've always said I'm not ready for this to end, but now it's only two games possibly left, so it has to end after those games,” he said. “That's all I have to look forward to – two more games and it's over.

“It's contributed [to my play] a little bit, and Coach Cal told me that this is my last year, this is it, and don't hold back. Just show everything. He said that for us to win it all, I have to score more and show more of my offense.”

Throughout his career, Dingle has been the most proficient UMass player in practically every category but scoring. Thus, he has been shortchanged on notoriety. Even in the interviews leading up to the East Regional semifinal against Arkansas, he fielded many questions about the play of Razorbacks freshman Kareem Reid, his former teammate at St. Raymond's High, but few about himself.

But his play hasn't gone completely unnoticed: Dingle was named second-team All-District 1 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches/Sears and third-team All-East Region by Basketball Times. Those honors were the first he's received since he was named to the Atlantic 10 all-freshman team.

“Now everybody is realizing [my talents] a little bit because I'm scoring more,” he said. “Just because you don't score a lot of points, people don't respect you as much. They just label you as a great defensive player. But I always knew I could do more.”

The player who has earned a reputation as one of the best defenders in the game has his reservations about the defensive stopper label. “I guess it helps; it's OK,” he said. “When I go out, I don't want to be embarrassed. I go out with the mentality that I'm going to try to shut my man down and I'm not going to be shown up. I guess it helps that everyone else sees that.

“But it's tough to be labeled as just a great defensive player. Everybody doesn't realize that's just a part of my game. They say, `Oh, he's just a defensive player,' as if that's all I can do.”

Now at the end of his career, Dingle is proving that is not the case. And although many figured the Minutemen wouldn't be as successful as they were last year because of key losses, senior cocaptains Dingle and Bright set out to go even farther.

“As soon as we lost [to Oklahoma State in the East Regional final last year], Donta and I said we would be back next year,” he said. “We felt bad that we lost, but we knew what we were going to do to get back and beyond what we accomplished last year.”

Packer's clues favor Kentucky
By Jack Craig, Boston Globe Staff, 3/29/1996

Billy Packer does not make predictions on games he is about to broadcast, but the CBS analyst sure sounded like a Kentucky guy this week.

“I picked Kentucky last Oct. 15 to become champion,” Packer said, then listed criteria for winning the title that reinforced his support for the Wildcats.

“For the last six or seven years, I've thought that you can't win it unless you have three players who are good enough to be in the NBA,” Packer said. Among Final Four clubs, he cited John Wallace as the sole Syracuse player destined for pro ball, Dantae Jones and Erick Dampier of Mississippi State, and Marcus Camby of Massachusetts. Kentucky? “They have many,” he said, without listing names. Packer's standard is valid back to 1988, when Kansas won the championship with a team from which only Danny Manning reached the NBA.

When asked if he could compare a past Final Four team with UMass, Packer pondered the question, then replied, “Indiana State,” referring to Larry Bird's 1979 squad. “They also had one player who went to the NBA,” he said. But the similarity seems a stretch. Bird, a player for the ages, was as close to a one-man team as basketball allows. When he left, the program regressed. UMass has won games without Camby, and has top-line coaching.

Packer displayed uncharacteristic emotion when asked about reports Georgia Tech's Stephon Marbury will turn pro. “Wait until he tries to go past a guy 6 foot 3 and 215 pounds who is as quick as he is . . . [he] absolutely is not ready,” said Packer.

When asked if Kentucky could compete with an NBA team, Packer addressed the huge difference between college and professional basketball. “Kentucky couldn't win a single game against Vancouver. It would be a joke. Pro athletes are mature, with men's bodies . . . There is a difference between what is necesssary to be a professional compared to what kids are being told by streetwise people . . . “

He possesses such college basketball depth that it is difficult to criticize Packer's analysis, but he does have a recurring habit of citing fatigue, especially among players on losing teams. Given that UMass has less depth than Kentucky, it will be curious to see how soon and how often Packer mentions it if the Minutemen fall behind.

CBS will air a 90-minute pregame show tomorrow beginning at 4 p.m. After six days and nights of advance stories, the network will strive for fresh material among the four teams. CBS sent a cameraman to Puerto Rico for the story on UMass guards Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso, born on the same day on the island. Surely some among millions listening have not heard of the coincidence . . . Jim Nantz, who will do play-by-play for the Final Four, will do a segment on the crossed paths of John Calipari and Rick Pitino . . . Channel 4 will air a 30-minute special tonight at 7:30, with Pitino Bob Lobel's primary subject . . . Only Channel 7 with Gary Gillis and Channel 56 with Frank Mallicoat had talent in Cincinnati last night as Boston University continued defense of its NCAA hockey championship against Michigan.

WBZ Radio is not relenting. Bruins-Ottawa will be aired at 7:30 Monday night, requiring the station to pick up in progress the NCAA championship game, which will tip off at 9:22. WTAG in Worcester and WRPO in Providence will carry the CBS broadcast. But the WBZ sports programming tomorrow and Sunday will originate from the Meadowlands with Dan Roche and Tim Fox . . . WEEI college hoop guru Ted Sarandis will broadcast from the Meadowlands tonight from 6 to midnight, without drawing a breath, no doubt. Tomorrow on WEEI, Steve Buckley will be at the site from 6-9 a.m., then Sarandis until 1 p.m. If UMass wins tomorrow, Sarandis will do a postgame Monday until after midnight.

UMass' Flint is ready to step up
By Joe Burris and Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/29/1996
Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If he's correct, John Calipari will have his work cut out for him the next three seasons. On Wednesday, the University of Massachusetts coach said he expects all of his assistants to be named head coaches in that span.

Perhaps the first to go will be associate head coach Bruiser Flint, who said yesterday he is ready for a head coaching post. “A coach knows he's ready when he sees a good opportunity for himself and when he sees he can make it work,” said Flint, who added that over the past few years, he has been considered for “three or four jobs,” including St. Joseph's (his alma mater) and Northeastern.

Flint has had two head coaching stints this year for UMass. The first came Jan. 14 against St. Bonaventure after center Marcus Camby collapsed and Calipari accompanied him to the hospital. The other came Feb. 24 against George Washington, when Calipari was ejected early in the first half of the Minutemen's lone loss.

“The thing those games showed me is that I absolutely know that I can coach any game now,” Flint said. “That would not be a problem. John always says to prepare for every game like you're going to be the head coach. The only difference between the St. Bonaventure game and the George Washington game is that I took over at the beginning of the St. Bonaventure game.”

Long-distance study

The Minutemen were the first Final Four team to arrive in the New York area (Tuesday night) and subsequently missed the most class time. Sports information director Bill Strickland said yesterday that David Glover, assistant to the athletic director in charge of academics, has set up study halls for the players and has brought down laptop computers and a fax machine to submit papers back to school . . . The Minutemen's bus is on loan for the tournament, but it was personalized (painted white with “UMass Basketball” and “Refuse to Lose” on the side) . . . Yesterday the Minutemen practiced about two hours at an undisclosed location.

The Big East factor

Here's good new for Syracuse fans. The Big East has never lost a Final Four semifinal to a non-Big East team, which will make fans of the Orangemen happy since they are playing Mississippi State tomorrow.

The Big East is 4-0 vs. non-Big East schools. Georgetown beat Louisville in 1982 and Kentucky in 1984. Villanova beat Memphis in 1985 and Seton Hall beat Duke in 1989.

The only Big East losses in the semifinals have been to other Big East teams. Georgetown beat St. John's in 1985 and Syracuse beat Providence in 1987.

Not so fast, Mr. Vega

Impostors are trying to get press credentials to the Final Four. One such person came up to the NCAA credential desk Wednesday and said that he was Michael Vega of the Boston Globe. The impostor was stopped on two counts. The person giving out the credentials was Mike Enright, the assistant sports information director at Notre Dame, who knows Vega, who covers Boston College for the Globe. Secondly, all credentials require a photo ID . . . With its four victories in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky has now surpassed North Carolina as the all-time winningest team in college basketball. The Wildcats have 1,648 wins, while North Carolina has 1,647.

Take a T, baby

ESPN's Dick Vitale was in the lobby of New York's Marriott Marquis yesterday, handing out free T-shirts to anybody who wanted them. Each shirt shows Dickie V smashing through a backboard screaming, “It's show time, baby! You crashed the Big 4, Baby.” There are four models of the shirt – one for each Final Four school. Vitale was fresh out of the University of Massachusetts version when we caught up with him at noon.

Expert picks: One-and-one situation
By Will McDonough, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

Nolan Richardson likes Kentucky. Gary Williams says Massachusetts will find a way to win. Arkansas' Richardson and Maryland's Williams are two of seven coaches who have faced both teams this season. Let's take a look at what these two, who have a better perspective than most, think might happen tonight in the NCAA semifinal clash.

Williams: “When you get ready to play UMass, they do not look intimidating. [Marcus] Camby, yes. But then you look at two 6-5 forwards and say they cannot be that tough. Then you play them and it's completely different. The two 6-5 guys can rebound and play. They pass the ball better than any team in the country. I use a hockey analogy when I talk about UMass. Most [basketball] teams just have one assist. UMass should have two. The first play is great, and the next one is easy. Most teams shoot after one pass. They always have two. They don't care where they have to pass the ball, they have such confidence in the way they can move the ball they are special.

“Kentucky has the scariest team in the country. They have talent, depth and play as hard as anyone. They'll play as hard as UMass. Everyone said Georgetown was going to beat UMass because of their depth and their physicalness. UMass was just as physical, and they have a way of shortening games by taking 25-30 seconds before every shot. Everyone said Georgetown would wear down UMass by keeping the tempo so high, but UMass didn't let that happen. UMass beat [Kentucky] in the first game. They handled the tempo. I look for Kentucky to start substituting three or four minutes into the game to try to make it a sprint.

“What I like about UMass is in every big game they play, they have a way of shutting the other team down completely for about five minutes. We had them by 9 at the half, then 13. I thought we had them. Then we didn't score a point for a long stretch. They just didn't let us score. Then they came back and won the game. They'll find a way to win this one.”

Richardson: “When you talk about the best basketball team, you're talking about Kentucky. I think Kentucky will win, but I give UMass a chance if they can take care of the ball. This is tough to do against Kentucky. They have a style of play that is designed to give them the advantages. People didn't think a lot of our [Southeastern] conference this year because of the way Kentucky played against the rest of us. But I said right along we had the best conference. We've got the greatest athletes in America in our conference. We could have three teams in the Final Four. Georgia had Syracuse beat a couple of times and let them get off the hook.

“At the beginning of the year, when they lost to UMass, I thought Kentucky was just average. But as the season went along, I knew they had a great team. The best. Kentucky in this game will do what they have done all year. They'll go after [Carmelo] Travieso and [Edgar] Padilla. Count on that. We created 20 turnovers against UMass and we're not as good as Kentucky because we are so young. Kentucky gets 20 turnovers and they win. They played a bad game against Wake Forest and still won easy.

“UMass must handle the pressure and take care of the ball to have a chance to beat Kentucky. But I won't be surprised if Mississippi State wins it all. They'll beat Syracuse. They're playing as well as any team in the country right now. This could be like the year Louisville and Houston met in the semifinals and they were the two best teams. Houston won and everyone thought they would beat North Carolina State easy. They were much better [with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler] and got beat.”

This reporter says Kentucky's alleged advantage in depth is overrated. In this tournament, there are five TV timeouts each half, not counting the team timeouts. There will be a TV timeout at the first dead ball in the half, then one with 16, 12, eight and four minutes left. Each timeout will last 2:10-2:15. This will give UMass plenty of time to reload and let Travieso and Padilla rest. When you're 20 years old and in great shape, how hard is it to play four minutes of basketball at a stretch?

Williams on two No. 1 regional seeds, UMass and Kentucky, meeting in one semifinal, while No. 4 Syracuse and No. 5 Mississippi State square off in the other: “The time has come to reseed the Final Four. UMass and Kentucky both had great years. They deserved to be the No. 1 seeds on the basis of what they did during the season. They should be given the best chance to win. They earned it.” Richardson, who won the 1994 national title and was runner-up last year, says, “Reseeding is the way to go. Its time has come. They should do the best they possibly can to ensure the final game has the two best teams. It should be a true championship game.”

Some say the Celtics have put out a feeler to Georgetown's John Thompson about returning to Boston, where he played (as the last man on the bench) in the Bill Russell era. Makes sense. Thompson is a name. But more important, he is supposedly a father figure to Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. All three are free agents. Is there another way the Celtics could get any of them to come to Boston? Not likely.

While you are reading this, the bombs are flying at the FleetCenter in the second annual John Hancock Shootout, with the proceeds going to the Red Auerbach Youth Foundation. In last year's event, Ted Lyons of Suffield, Conn., playing for the John Hancock Fab Four, put on a show that was hard to believe. In a four-minute period, he hit 70 3-pointers, plus shots of lesser value, for an individual total of 268 points. In the 3-point challenge, he nailed 10 in a span of 60 seconds. That's the record some 50 teams (of four players each) will be going after today. The event will net more than $100,000, and all proceeds will go toward sending youngsters in need from the Greater Boston area to summer camps. Last year more than 2,000 kids took advantage of the program.

Minutemen give state a positive spin
By Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

NEW YORK – Tonight, shortly after 8 p.m., the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team will play the University of Kentucky in the semifinals of the NCAA championships. The winner plays the winner of Syracuse-Mississippi State Monday night for the national title.

UMass is in the Final Four. UMass has a chance to win it all. Our State U is lauded andapplauded throughout the land and we're not quite sure what to make of it.

Coach John Calipari and his band of warriors have folks across America talking about Massachusetts and it's nothing but positive. At long last, our state is being discussed in a national forum without the usual digs about taxation, traffic, Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, Willie Horton and Bill Buckner.

Local television ratings for last weekend's regional victory over Georgetown were impressive and more TV records could be set during tonight's showdown. Office pools have contributed mightily to the popularity of the tournament, but it's still difficult to grasp the impact this UMass ride has had on our region.

Do you count yourself as a fan of UMass basketball, and if so, how long have you been on the bandwagon? Do you remember when Julius Erving played at the Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst? When did you first learn UMass starting guards Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso were born on the same day in Puerto Rico in 1975? Is UMass basketball the talk of your house, or will you watch tonight and ask, “Which one is Marcus Camby?”

Maybe it's because UMass is 100 miles down the Turnpike in Amherst, or maybe it's because we are a pro sports town, but it would seem that many New Englanders have not yet grasped the magnitude of this situation. In America in the 1990s, the three top team sporting events are the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Final Four. And tonight Our State U is at center stage in an event that may prove to be the toughest ticket in the history of American sports.

New Englanders know all about the World Series. We've had major league baseball for more than 100 years and the October woes of the Red Sox are recited as easily as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”

Pro football fever occasionally has gripped the Hub, never more than in the winter of 1985-86, when the Patriots made their only run to the Super Bowl. For one month of Sundays, we were a Football People, as crazy and devout as those gridiron lifers in Dallas, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

And now the University of Massachusetts is in the Final Four in East Rutherford, N.J., where adults have actually offered $30,000 for a pair of tickets. By any rational measurement, this is our biggest splash on the national sports scene since the Red Sox went down in flames in the 1986 World Series. Are we sufficiently appreciative, or is the lustre of achievement diluted by our preference for the pros, our parochial jealousies (alums of Boston College wish their team was here) and the State House vision that anything that happens west of Route 495 doesn't count?

One of the best spinoffs of UMass' emergence as a basketball power is the effect it has had on hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts alums. For the first time in memory, UMass grads are bragging about their years in Amherst rather than feeling inferior because they didn't go to one of our smaller, pricier, private institutions.

“Calipari has galvanized the alumni,” says John Iannacci, a 1976 UMass graduate who's an export manager for J.P. Sullivan & Company in Ayer. “We were always like the kids who went to public high schools instead of private schools. You'd see somebody you went to school with and maybe say `Hi,' but we didn't have that feeling that we were a community. Now we're all getting our school newsletter and sending in money and loving the success of the basketball program.”

The racial breakdown of the UMass squad presents us with another happy angle. The Minutemen's starting guards were born in Puerto Rico and played their high school ball in Massachusetts. The starting frontcourt comprises three African-Americans who were raised in Baltimore, Hartford, and New York, respectively.

Recently we saw a South Boston High School team win the state basketball championship without much fan support because folks in the school's community felt no association with players who live in other parts of Boston. A university is different from a high school and UMass fans have embraced all the players recruited by Calipari.

So tonight they play. Ranked No. 1 in the country, Calipari's Minutemen will take the court against second-ranked Kentucky, a team loaded with future NBA stars. For the first time in 10 years, a New England team will put us back on the national sports landscape. And it's not the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, Bruins or Boston College. It is a team from the state school that was founded in 1863 under the Morrill Land Grant Act – the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Center stage
UMass coach John Calipari has made quite an impression among the coaching fraternity

By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There is no shortage of would-be somebody-or-others out there available for hire as Division 1 head basketball coaches at any given point in time.

We are talking about the youthful coaching machines, the little guys (99 percent of the time, anyway) for whom trekking the recruiting trails, mapping out a practice schedule and running a college basketball game are all epiphanies. They all spin their favorite Final Four tales. They all dream of someday having their names linked with Dean, Bobby and Coach K. They all have three work gears: Hard, Harder and Faint From Exhaustion. They're all (basketball) smart. They're all frighteningly ambitious.

And this weekend their official Poster Boy is John Calipari.

Whether his University of Massachusetts Minutemen win or lose against Kentucky tonight in the NCAA semifinals, John Calipari has made it. He is where all the other little wannabes desperately want to be. He's in the hotel suite, running the Kentucky tape through for the 117th time, searching for that little edge. He is up there on the podium, answering all the questions, be they specific or hypothetical. He is Up, and the wannabes are down. They're all studying his every move, wondering, “What's the secret? What's he got that I don't? And can I ever get it?”

Bob Burke coaches at Chowan College in Murfreesboro, N.C. It's now a four-year institution and a Division 3 school, but until two years ago, it was a junior college. In 13 years as a juco coach, he sent 35 of 70 scholarship players to Division 1 schools, the crown jewel being North Carolina State and Seattle SuperSonics mainstay Nate McMillan.

“I saw all those guys,” Burke says. “They all came through here at one time or the other. I knew this guy was something special when I first met him.”

To Burke, John Calipari was what so many of these wannabes were, only more so.

“He was polished,” maintains Burke. “Very professional. He went at it businesslike.”

Burke has kept an eye on Calipari's entire coaching career, starting with an assistant's job at Kansas, moving on to another assistant's job at Pittsburgh and culminating in his appointment as head man at UMass in 1988 when he was 29 years of age.

“He always touches all the right buttons,” says Burke. “If you had a checklist of things that a coach has to do in order to be successful, he'd have knocked off every one of them. He just doesn't make too many mistakes. And I think he's handled the pressures and all the glory really well, better than most guys I've seen. I mean, I'm talking about guys who are really in it.”

John Calipari is widely, but erroneously, perceived as a protege of Rick Pitino, without whose recommendation he would not have his present position. The relationship began years ago at the famed Five-Star Basketball Camp, where Pitino was a counselor and Calipari was a camper. People assume that because they share an Italian heritage, appear to favor the same tailor and have comparable lifetime winning percentages, they must be professionally joined at the hip. The truth is that Calipari has had many coaching influences, including his high school coach, Bill Sacco; his second college coach, Joe DeGregorio; and current NBA head men Larry Brown and Bob Hill, each of whom he worked with at Kansas. Anyone examining the respective Kentucky and UMass modus operandi could see that the styles are very dissimilar.

Calipari isn't an imitation anybody. His goal is to create a unique UMass image, one he will happily define. “UMass basketball,” he proclaims, “means playing with passion and emotion, being a warrior, making the extra pass, attacking the glass with reckless abandon, playing to win and having a refuse-to-lose attitude.”

It is a common recruiting practice at the highest levels to tell some self-absorbed high school senior that a starting job and X amount of minutes await him if only he will come to our school. In some cases, this is the only way to attract such a player. There are no such people at UMass, and as long as Calipari is coach, there never will be.

“All he ever says is that you will get a fair opportunity,” explains Derek Kellogg, the starting point guard on last year's UMass squad. “He tells you that he and his staff will dedicate themselves to helping you improve. But he does not promise you a job or playing time.”

“When I recruit,” says Calipari, “I never promise a kid he'll start. What happens if something happens? Now you've started off that relationship on a lie.”

Calipari's handling of Marcus Camby is the talk of the coaching industry. Most coaches would have inserted Camby into their lineup as a freshman and played him for 35 minutes. Calipari has continually held a carrot in front of his gifted 7-footer, always challenging him and never allowing him to get complacent or reliant on his natural gifts alone. Camby may be the universally acclaimed Player of the Year, but if he isn't carrying out his duties to the coach's satisfaction against Kentucky, he'll find himself sitting next to the coach until he straightens out.

The result of all this is that whichever pro coach inherits Camby will be presented with a coachable kid who lacks a superstar ego. You can bet that guy will be calling up Calipari thanking him for developing the whole Camby instead of simply disgorging him into the professional ranks.

“He will not place anyone over the program,” says Kellogg. “He was very careful with Marcus not to put unwarranted pressure on him; that was another thing. But the key was that he wouldn't make Marcus bigger than the school or the team.”

“I really didn't have much to do with him when I was being recruited,” says Donta Bright. “Coach [Bill] Bayno was my contact. What he told me about Coach Cal was that I was going to be pushed more than I ever was in high school. He was right.”

“He makes you do things you don't want to do,” adds Camby.

“He has ways of motivating you,” continues Bright. “A good example came this year after we lost that exhibition game to the Converse All-Stars. We were very sluggish. After the game, he talked to us for about an hour. He talked about what we needed to do. He said we'd have to do extra work, come in early, stay late and get into the weight room. He gave us the motivating factors right there so we could become a great team.”

Any ambitious young coach is bound to make a few enemies, if only because there are always going to be some casualties in the recruiting wars. Some people have it in their heads that the Big East coaches all have John Calipari voodoo dolls in their rec rooms.

Not so, says Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese.

“The animosity isn't as deep as most people think,” says Tranghese. “I know that Jim Boeheim, Ralph Willard, Pete Gillen and George Blaney are all friends of his. I think at one time there was some friction with some of the others, but I also believe that John has really matured. He may have done some things in the beginning he would never do now, but guess what. He's not the only one. And I do know this: If you go back in history, you will not find him knocking our league in public.”

“When he was recruiting me,” confirms Kellogg, “one of the things I remember was that he did not say anything bad about any other school. He said good things about UMass, but he also said that there were many other good schools out there.”

Many a coach has delivered many a speech, but few are ever called upon to prove themselves. So it was that John Calipari demonstrated to his team just exactly what his rhetoric was worth on that fateful January day when Camby collapsed prior to the St. Bonaventure game.

Calipari went to the hospital with Camby, leaving the team in the care of associate coach James (Bruiser) Flint. That the opponent was an Atlantic 10 also-ran hardly mattered. Coach Cal had been preaching non-basketball values to his kids and now they saw him put theory into action.

“He's always talking about `life skills,' “ says Ryan Ford, a former Providence player, former college assistant and close friend of the UMass staff. “Now they saw him living up to everything he'd been saying. By going to the hospital, he showed his feeling for Marcus, he showed faith in his coaching staff and he showed faith in his team to carry out the things they've already learned. And every player on the team believed he would have done the same thing if, instead of Marcus Camby, it had been one of them.”

The success of this particular UMass team has validated Calipari in the eyes of his players and in the eyes of his peers. Tributes pour in from every sector of the country, with “together” being the buzzword. “I just love the way they play,” says Gary Williams of Maryland. “They are so together.

“They are together,” says UCLA's Jim Harrick. “I love UMass. I love the guards. I love the forwards. I love the center. I just love UMass.”

Calipari's success has made him the leading candidate for every coaching vacancy from St. John's to the Ethiopian National Team. Calm down, he says. I'm not going anywhere.

“I can't see ever taking another college job,” he says. “The NBA? Perhaps, but it would never be a matter of money. It would be a question of my ego saying, `Do I have to coach in the NBA?' I'll tell you this: If I ever took an NBA job, I'd have to make as much money as the third-highest-paid player on the team. That would give me the security and authority I'd need. Then I could be like Pat Riley in Miami. He's not going anywhere. Some player is.”

OK, wannabes, don't you see? What John Calipari has going for him that you don't is that he's smarter than you. He can X and O, he can add and he understands people, especially young ones. He's several steps ahead. So just sit back and watch John Calipari coach in the Final Four. Perhaps someday he'll hire you as an assistant.

Walk-on role doesn't bother Burns
He's happy to be a part of the big show

By Michael Holley, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They screamed the names constantly. “Hey, Edgar . . . Edgar . . . EDGAR! . . . Hey, Marcus . . . Marcus . . . MARCUS!”

First names only. Serious University of Massachusetts fans have it like that with their Final Four basketball team. They yelled for 60 consecutive minutes yesterday at the Meadowlands, seeking autographs, smiles, waves and any other hints of recognition.

But you can't do that for long when you see a number and don't know the name that goes with it.

“Hey, No. 10 . . . No. 10 . . . No. 10!”

This time a “Hey, Ross” would have been refreshing. But Ross Burns knows the routine. Most fans don't know him. You can look for his mug in UMass' regular-season media guide. Keep looking. Not there.

This season he has played 16 more minutes than you. He has heard questions on issues ranging from undefeated seasons to knocking off the power known as the University of Kentucky. None of the questions is directed at him.

A 6-foot-3-inch freshman walk-on from Greenfield, Mass., Burns should be a first-name-only guy; he has more in common with fans than any other UMass player. He is not on scholarship. He is enjoying this UMass season, which continues tonight with a national semifinal against Kentucky. And like yourself, he will not play against the Wildcats.

“But this is great,” said Burns. “The Final Four. I always dreamed of getting here. It's crazy with all the media attention. There are always people hanging around, calling you, saying stuff to you. I'd like to play, but being here and not playing gets me motivated.”

Motivation. Yet another reason there should be a Ross Burns Day in Amherst as well as Greenfield if UMass wins the championship. Imagine how hard it is to stay motivated when your job description is to “make practice difficult for the starters,” even though you don't always play in practice.

Or this: You averaged 25 points and six rebounds at Cushing Academy and led your team to a 20-3 record. But five times this season you have had “0+” next to your name. That means you played less than a minute in a game.

“Yeah, it was hard feeling like a part of the team,” Burns said. “Before this, I always started games. Then it went to not playing at all. I had to learn to do the little things.”

Yesterday's practice was, in essence, a reward for Burns. Most of the time, his “little things” are done in practices at the Mullins Center, with only coaches and teammates around. In Final Fours, there are always crowds. So when Burns completed a reverse dunk during the UMass shootaround, the incessant shouting for No. 10 turned into some random “oooohhhs.”

The more important rewards will take place tonight around 8. At that time, it will be good that Burns won't be in the game. That way, he will be able to glance in the Meadowlands stands and find his father, Bill Burns, his mother, Gail Callahan, and his younger brothers, Casey and Timmy. Ross Burns was given four tickets to distribute for the Final Four, and despite “40,000 messages from people who wanted me to hook them up with tickets,” he gave them to his family.

It was an easy decision.

“My dad. Man, he's done so much for my basketball career,” Burns said. “He used to take me to tournaments all over the country. We would fly, drive, whatever. He'd always go with me. Before I could drive, he would take me to gyms. He's done so much for me. Being at a Final Four is something he will enjoy.”

So will Gail Callahan, even though she may be feeling sentimental. Her son is a member of the UMass basketball team. She is a Kentucky graduate. “She wants us to win,” Burns said.

If they win and Burns doesn't play, “I'm still going to tell my children and grandchildren I was part of this.” Before the kids and grandkids come, Burns plans to reach and possibly surpass the standard set by Rigoberto Nunez.

A UMass senior, Nunez walked on for three straight years before getting a scholarship this season. He played 150 minutes and became a fan favorite. He is not known by his number (44) as much as by his nickname (Rigo).

Burns won't mind if a nickname doesn't come, as long as the playing time does.

AP latest to name Camby Player of the Year
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – University of Massachusetts center Marcus Camby picked up another player of the year honor yesterday, this one from the Associated Press. It is the seventh national player of the year award for the junior from Hartford, who has won a total of 21 postseason honors.

Camby said he would trade them all for a national championship. “It feels good to be considered the best in many people's opinion,” he said. “All the individual awards are great. But I don't let the individual awards affect me or the players on my team. Without them, the awards wouldn't be possible. We just want to get these two victories here.”

UMass' John Calipari finished fourth in the AP coach of the year balloting among member publications, trailing winner Gene Keady of Purdue, Tim Floyd of Iowa State and Rick Pitino of Kentucky.

Endowing chairs?

Athletic director Bob Marcum said the most unusual request for seats came from someone who asked for 200 tickets at face value in exchange for a $2,400 donation per ticket to any UMass scholarship fund. “We considered it but decided not to,” said Marcum . . . UMass players, who have been here since Tuesday, say they have primarily spent their free time catching up on schoolwork and watching television. “It really just feels like a regular game,” said senior forward Ted Cottrell. “We've played everybody in the country. It's not as if we're playing against something new.” . . . Backup forward Inus Norville said his right ankle is still in much pain but it should not restrict his playing time tonight. “I'm all right. I'm practicing on it, so I guess I'm OK,” he said. “It's sore; when I start to run on it, it gets loose, but when I sit down, it starts getting tight again.” . . . Camby is undoubtedly the most popular person at the Final Four. Throughout the UMass practice, young ladies in the upper level at the Meadowlands chanted his name. Before long, patrons throughout the arena joined in.

A-10 is now A-1 financially
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – By reaching the Final Four, the University of Massachusetts is not only making money for itself, it is also making lots of money for the Atlantic 10.

The league has benefited tremendously from the Minutemen's success under coach John Calipari as its take has risen from slightly more than $50,000 six years ago to more than $2 million this season.

The formula the NCAA uses in determining payouts is based on financial units varying in value each year, averaged over six years. Each league earns more units if its teams do well in the NCAA tournament.

In 1991, the Atlantic 10 was entitled to only one unit, worth slightly more than $50,000. This year, with UMass and Temple winning tournament games, the Atlantic 10 payout increased to 35 units, each worth $60,403.

Some leagues – including the Big East – use an equal revenue-sharing plan, with each team getting approximately the same amount.

The Atlantic 10 does not. “Last year we received $157,000,” said UMass athletic director Bob Marcum, who pointed out that was in addition to the money the university received after the overall payout was divided equally among the eight league teams in 1995.

Marcum said this year's payout would be determined at a league meeting in May. “I would expect we would get an increase on that this year,” he said with a laugh. “But the way it works is that the members of the league sit down each year and just dole out the money.”

Marcum said paying teams who do well in the tournament extra is necessary in the Atlantic 10. “We don't have football revenue money [from television],” he said. “So we can't be as equal in handing out the money as those other leagues.”

The revenue-sharing plan used by the NCAA has changed from several years ago, when teams would be paid a flat sum for each game they won in the tournament, up to a maximum of more than $200,000 for reaching the Final Four. But the NCAA wanted to do away with such obvious monetary significance on each game and changed to the current system.

Globe staff selections
From The Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

JOE BURRIS: UMass and Mississippi State. The prognosticators picked Kentucky to win. That doomed the Wildcats. All UMass needs is motivation to play all-out basketball. The game will be close, and the Minutemen, the best team in college basketball down the stretch, will make the necessary plays.

DAN SHAUGHNESSY: Kentucky and Syracuse. Don't want to jinx UMass by picking them now. Syracuse's John Wallace looks like what Len Bias could have been.

MARK BLAUDSCHUN: Kentucky and Syracuse. The Kentucky Derby starts at about 8:12 tonight, and Syracuse continues the Big East streak of never losing to a non-Big East team in the semifinals.

MICHAEL HOLLEY: Kentucky and Mississippi State. Kentucky because it's better. Mississippi State because Syracuse doesn't have anyone to match up with Dontae' Jones.

BOB RYAN: UMass and Mississippi State. UMass over Kentucky in OT in perhaps a game for the ages? In the opener, a grind-it-out special.

MICHAEL VEGA: UMass and Mississippi State. Mississippi State is the scariest team here, and UMass is perhaps the toughest. Irresistible force meets immovable object in final.

DON SKWAR: UMass and Syracuse. Both teams have what you need to win, the best inside and outside play. Padilla/Travieso/Camby are deadly, and watch Lazarus Sims feed John Wallace just when he's supposed to.

JOE SULLIVAN: Kentucky and Mississippi State. Unfortunately for UMass, Kentucky appears to have a little too much talent and should prevail in a close game. Mississippi State gets in by default; Syracuse doesn't really belong.

He'll take the team (UMass) over the talent
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Along about 11 p.m., people might be saying to themselves, “Probably just as well we skipped World Wars III, IV, V and VI and went right to WW VII.”

They will be discussing the UMass-Kentucky game, or, as they articulate it in Lexington, “This is why we get out of bed in the morning.”

UMass vs. Kentucky has a chance to be one of the truly great NCAA games ever played. A chance. We are talking about two exceptionally well-coached teams. We are talking about two eminently well-qualified 1996 national champions. We are talking about the emotional charge of a rematch in which the previous victor (UMass) can enter this game feeling abused and not sufficiently respected while the previous loser (Kentucky) has all the stop-drained emotion of the aggrieved party who feels that the first game was a major miscarriage of justice.

Is there a college basketball fan left in America who does not know the basic story line? Well, just in case . . .

WHY KENTUCKY THINKS IT WILL WIN – We have 10 first-rate players. They have six. We have the best full-court press in America. We have more good shooters. We have more lineup flexibility. We are a much better half-court defensive team than we are given credit for being. No Kentucky team has won an NCAA championship in 18 years, and this is a violation of the laws of nature and the state constitution.

WHY UMASS THINKS IT WILL WIN – We are the best half-court defensive team in America. When push comes to shove and there is no other choice and we need a basket, no team in America runs a more efficient half-court offense than we do. They may have the best 10 players on any one team in the country, but you can use only five at a time, and no matter what combination Rick Pitino puts out there, it won't be a more cohesive unit than ours.

Kentucky took Wake Forest's Tim Duncan out of the game by double-teaming, but his teammates did not help him by cutting to the basket. UMass will not be so easily defended. When Marcus Camby gets the ball, his mates will move and he will find them. Camby can help UMass win without scoring, which is why he's the most influential college player in the country.

If UMass wins, it will be a tribute to taking a conventional approach (a solid six or seven, augmented by happy-to-be-here subs), then playing textbook two-way basketball. If Kentucky wins, it will be a tribute to gluttonous recruiting. John Calipari wants to construct a nice basketball team. Rick Pitino wants to overwhelm you with athleticism.

I like nice basketball team over oodles of athleticism – in OT.

The first game is most definitely not the JV game. The first game has a team fully capable of beating either second-game winner in Monday's final, and that team is Mississippi State.

You probably didn't know that Mississippi State holds opponents to sub-40 percent shooting, but you can bet your autographed picture of Bailey Howell that both Messrs. Pitino and Calipari do. This team has a tall, athletic front line and a dangerous 3-point threat in Darryl Wilson. Center Erick Dampier is a lottery pick (whenever) and forward Dontae' Jones is a scary talent. This is a team that whupped Kentucky.

Syracuse has had a nice ride, but come on! The Orange easily could have lost to Drexel had Malik Rose been healthy, and they got by Georgia by the hair on their chinny-chin-chin (OK, OK, close games are part of everyone's deal). They have gotten mucho mileage out of a high school 2-3 zone (some would say an intramural league 2-3 zone), but it's taken them as far as it can go.

Take Mississippi State by 8, then get ready for the Big One.

The Minutemen of the hour
Boston Globe Editorial, 3/30/1996

There is something almost fatally jingoistic about big-time university athletics. Maybe it's the partisanship. Maybe it's the chauvinism. Maybe it's the glitz. The weary, the cynical and the just plain uninterested can be forgiven if they can't find much to recommend college sports over the high-priced professional spectacle.

But somewhere between the hype and the hoopla, between the squeaky sneaker deals and the odor of cold, hard cash, there remains for us an undeniable spot of appreciation for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team.

The Minutemen have reached college basketball's Final Four for the first time in their history, a fact that could be unknown only to someone who has assiduously avoided all forms of print and broadcast media all week. They go up against perennial powerhouse Kentucky this evening in the national semifinals. If they win, they will play for the championship on Monday.

UMass is ranked No. 1 in the country and defeated Kentucky in their only matchup this season. But the men from Amherst are 8-point underdogs. Kentucky plays a high-flying, pedal-to-the-metal style of basketball, while Massachusetts prefers a more fundamental game. Kentucky attracts top high school players from all over the country. Most of the Massachusetts players are from the Northeast. Star center Marcus Camby missed four midseason games to heart trouble, but the rest of the team was able to rally and win them all without him.

Underrated, well-balanced, a tad provincial, surprisingly competent – the UMass team happens to share those traits with the state it has represented so well. In this winter of the Bay State's athletic discontent, UMass has played any number of games worth staying up late for.

UMass is the first New England team to reach the men's Final Four since Providence in 1987. We hope the next visit won't take another nine years. But even (or especially) if it does, the good taste left by this year's effort will endure. Nice job, Minutemen. And good luck.

ESPNET SportsZone

Calipari builds a masterpiece
By Dick Vitale, Special to ESPNET SportsZone

NEW YORK – John Calipari is a great story … he can flat-out coach. What he has accomplished at Massachusetts is one of the greatest achievements in the history of college basketball, in terms of building a program. He is truly a Frank Lloyd Wright.

Flash back to April 25, 1988, when he was named coach of the Minutemen. He took over a program that used to be in the Yankee Conference, and taken the people of Amherst on a ride. Now Massachusetts challenges all the big boys as a Rolls Royce program.

It is an amazing story as he shows his toughness and mental tenacity. He has handled adversity all season long, from Marcus Camby's collapse to a difficult schedule. Consider how tough his schedule was: Kentucky, Wake Forest, Maryland, Georgia Tech and on and on.

More importantly, coach Calipari represents what teaching is all about. He is more concerned with teaching than the W's and L's. He refused to put pressure on his team this season.

Pitino contributed Ricky Pitino created the biggest problem for himself. Think about when a 29-year-old kid came strolling in to talk about the Massachusetts coaching position. Pitino was on his alma mater's committee to choose a new coach of the Minutemen.

The current Kentucky coach even threw in $5,000 of his own money because he was so excited about hiring this guy. That money helped seal the deal because it looked like Massachusetts might look elsewhere.

Reflect back on that moment now. John Calipari, who attended Clarion State, was a pretty good candidate.

Coach Pitino, you served your alma mater well, baby! All that you've done is placed in front of you the biggest obstacle from the coaching dream of a lifetime–winning a national title.

Mr. Calipari, you're a PTP'er. Even if Massachusetts loses, the school is now in the Rolls Royce class of college basketball.

And Pitino is one person the school should thank.

Backcourt reflects Calipari's personality When you look at Carmelo Travieso and Edgar Padilla, you can see how they reflect the personality of their coach. It's more than just the “Refuse to Lose” mentality. No other backcourt in America plays the game the way they do.

Travieso and Padilla, both born on May 9, 1975 in Puerto Rico, hook up together to make a great combination. The duo understands tempo, defense, spacing, shot selection and how to win. What separates them is the desire to win and it spreads to their teammates.

The Travieso-Padilla combination reminds me of a backcourt pairing of 20 years ago: Indiana's tandem of Bobby Wilkerson and Quinn Buckner provided leadership and tough defense. That Hoosiers team was the last one to finish the season unbeaten. Massachusetts cannot accomplish that feat (a perfect season), but a good weekend at the Meadowlands would put this team in the company with some of the great teams in the sport's history.

But first, there's a Kentucky team to worry about!

UMass keeps its guards up
By Art Spander, Special to ESPNET SportsZone

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – They are more than just teammates. They are amigos – friends. And they are countrymen, two young athletes who verify once more that when it comes to skill and dedication, no nation has an advantage over any other.

That Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso would end up as the starting guards for the University of Massachusetts in the Final Four is a tale built as much on pursuit of the American Dream as it is on coincidence and plain dumb luck.

“Our relationship is special,” confirmed Travieso the day before UMass met Kentucky in a game that promised to be special.

Said Padilla: “We come from the same background.”

If he means being born in Puerto Rico on the same day – May 9, 1975 – or needing to conquer difficult circumstances on the bumpy road of life, then the statement is more or less true. But while Travieso and Padilla are in some ways similar, in other ways they are quite different.

Travieso, 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, is the shooter, the guy who gets the 3-pointers when Marcus Camby is being swallowed by a zone. He arrived Dorchester, Mass., when he was only 4. His English offers only the slightest hint of his background.

Padilla, 6-2 and 175, is the passer, the guy who gets the ball to Camby, Travieso or when the situation dictates into the basket. He was already 14 when he followed an older brother to Springfield, Mass. He speaks with more heavily accented English, which is completely understandable – and, yes, that can be interpreted in more than one way.

“The coach talks about breaking barriers,” Travieso said, alluding to man of the minute for the Minutemen, John Calipari. All well and good for the guards, who one way or another have broken a great many barriers on their way to success.

“I don't think it's ever happened,” says Padilla, “to have two Hispanics play in the backcourt of a top-five program.”

Edgar Padilla is the son of deaf parents. Growing up impoverished in Puerto Rico, he hung paint cans in which to shoot tennis balls. His idol was a brother two-and-a-half years his elder, Giddel, who was so proficient at hoops he moved in Massachusetts with an aunt and uncle in an attempt to get a college scholarship.

And he earned one, at UMass, and not long after, Edgar, who showed up at Springfield Central High with an English vocabulary of only a few words, would in time earn his own scholarship. And surpass his sibling who now sits on the Massachusetts bench.

Carmelo Travieso's parents were Dominicans who had traversed the Caribbean to Puerto Rico where he was born. Then a divorce sent Carmen Pena, his mother, and her four small offspring including Carmelo to the gritty suburbs of Boston. As Padilla, Travieso learned basketball by improvising, using wire coat hangers or milk crates as baskets.

His break came when the elite Thayer Academy provided a $40,000 scholarship to attend the private prep school, a remarkable contrast to his boyhood years when the family had so little money it often had to choose between heat and food. And Carmelo often slept in a parka to stay warm.

Padilla and Travieso met for the first time at a basketball camp in California before their senior year in high school. Padilla committed first to UMass. Travieso signed on a brief while later.

“Trying to meet with the families of both was unusual,” recalled Calipari. “Because Edgar's parents are deaf, we had to go through the sister with sign language. And in Carmelo's house, the older brother (Dixon) translated to the mother because I don't use good enough Spanish.”

He obviously uses good enough recruiting methods. And motivational ones as well.

When Travieso was a freshman, Calipari told him if he didn't play defense he wouldn't play. Carmelo and Padilla are now recognized for their ability to pressure the ball and thwart entry passes to the low post.

When Camby collapsed in January from an affliction doctors still have not diagnosed, the guards raised their level of play. Undefeated at the time, Massachusetts simply kept winning without its big man.

“Edgar started giving me the ball a little more and told me to look for my shots just to see what could happen,” said Travieso. “That's when I started getting confident.”

Padilla's confidence came earlier in the season. It had to. In what would be described as an exhibition opener, against the Converse All-Stars, Padilla, starting as point guard for the first time, literally couldn't handle the ball. Then, next time out, against Kentucky, he had six assists – and six turnovers.

“I was thinking I couldn't do it,” said Padilla. “But we started working together. The end of the season, against Georgetown and Arkansas, we showed what we can do against a press.”

Reminded Travieso: “That's what happens when you mature.”

Everybody grows. In sport as in life, only a few grow up.

Art Spander, a longtime columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, contributes regularly to ESPNET SportsZone.

ASAP FastScripts

Friday Press Conference with John Calipari
From ASAP FastScripts, 3/29/1996

COACH CALIPARI: Well, we've pretty much did our thing this week preparing for the game and now we're going to let it go, let it fly, see what happens. If they're knocking threes down through the rafters and off banners, we go home 35-2. I think the kids are ready for the challenge, even though we know it's a big, big challenge for us to play with them and win the game.

Q. John, could you talk a little bit about how and why you got involved in coaching and some of the people who were influential in getting you there?

COACH CALIPARI: Well, two of them are right back there in Pittsburg, Bill Sacco my high school coach who will be at the game with his wife. And my college coach, Joe DeGregorio (Clarion), who will also be here with his wife, sitting behinBBybb. They're people that are special to me, that are great friends of mine and have had a lot to do with the opportunities I have. And I always say, you know, I'm just an ordinary guy, nothing special, trying to do special things. And those kind of people there have given me the opportunity to be here and be in front of you today.

Q. Could you talk about Bright and Dingle a little bit. Marcus has been getting publicity a lot and the guards are starting to get that, too, but these two guys seem to quietly do a great job.

COACH CALIPARI: One thing I've been telling my team all year, when the tide rises all the boats rise. Right now I'm seeing stories written about Tyrone Weeks, Charlton Clarke, Inus Norville. Donta Bright is as good a finisher as there is in the country. In my opinion he's the best finisher in the country. Dana Dingle is a warrior; a great rebounder, especially in traffic. A great defender, and he's really, really improved his offense. I think both of those two will have opportunities to play basketball when their careers are over at the University of Massachusetts.

Q. John, a lot of people talk about the minutes that your back court starters play, but they've seemed to hold up well. Was that a concern of yours, coming into the season and playing them so much?

COACH CALIPARI: If you asked college players, would you rather play 36 minutes a game or 24 minutes a game, there's not one that would tell you 24, not one. Unless he can't play, then he may be telling you, yeah, just give me a few minutes. If they can play they want to play every minute they can be on the floor. We play a style of basketball where we run every opportunity we can. We press probably 20 to 30 percent of the game, no more than that. And you can sustain it if you take care of your body, if you're in good physical condition. And you understand that you have to eat right and do things to keep your body ready for the challenge. And those two guys are the best I've seen.

Q. John, Kentucky obviously is under a lot of pressure to win a championship this year. Do you feel under any pressure to win one? What pressure do you feel like you're under at this point in time?

COACH CALIPARI: None of you guys picked us to win (laughter). We're big time underdogs, we know that. And the good news for us, I've got a group of kids that met every challenge. We're going into the game as loose as we can be, but I'll tell you what, I really think Kentucky will be the same way. It's going to be a great, great college basketball game.

Q. I wondered your opinion of playing the Final Four, the mecca of basketball. And why did you decide to bring your team Tuesday and has it been difficult?

COACH CALIPARI: I didn't hear you. You're going to have to start again.

Q. Three part question. How do you feel about playing the Final Four in the New York area, the mecca of basketball?

COACH CALIPARI: Very excited.

Q. Why did you decide to bring your team here on Tuesday, and has it been difficult to keep them away from distractions?

COACH CALIPARI: We're in a hotel where there are no distractions. If they want to leave they may walk about four hours. We're in a hotel where there's no place for them to go. We were going to leave Wednesday morning and we decided to leave Tuesday night so that we could come down and see St. Joe's play in the NIT semifinal and support them. We thought about leaving after classes on Wednesday or Wednesday night or Thursday morning but for us the best thing was to leave, leave the distractions of the media and the families and the friends behind. We're going to graduate four of our five seniors on time. We have no academic problem, so it wasn't an academic issue. It was about getting away, getting down here and getting ready to get started, and getting away from the distractions. But they've been going out to malls. They went to a movie last night. I like my team to be together. And I'll be honest with you, I enjoy being around them. And they enjoy being around each other.

Q. John, psychologically Kentucky might have an advantage since you beat them earlier. But does the fact that you guys have been listed as that much of an underdog, does that cancel out the psychological advantage they might have?

COACH CALIPARI: I don't know. You have the revenge factor. I just know that we're going to have to do certain things. It doesn't matter what's printed. It doesn't matter what the line is, all that stuff does not matter when that ball is thrown up. If we don't do the things we need to do we're going to get buried.

Q. Does your relationship with Rick make this feel a little – you saying you're loose and the team is loose, does that help you approach the game?

COACH CALIPARI: I would rather not play Rick Pitino unless it was the very last game for both of us. The reason is I owe him a lot. I'm very grateful for the opportunity he's given me and my family. You don't want to play great friends unless it's the last game for both teams. We have to do this, so we're going to play. Between now and game time before it ends, he's the other coach. When the game ends I'll hug him, win or lose, and tell him how much I appreciate what he's done for me and my family. But until then we're both going after the jugular.

Q. John, when you look at the team that beat Kentucky in that first game and look at the one that just beat Georgetown again here, what strikes you as the biggest difference between – because it's the same guys, what's the biggest difference when you look at the two tapes?

COACH CALIPARI: We are better defined. Our team has evolved over the year. And we're a better defined team right now. We have a better idea what we have to do to win. We have a better idea what our roles are. And right now I would say before this game our team is in as good a frame of mind as individuals and as a team as I've seen. It doesn't mean much, but –

Q. Coach, in the Final Four there's always players who just take that spotlight, this could be an opportunity for Marcus. Is this the type of setting he thrives in and would want to do that?

COACH CALIPARI: He's played his best games in our biggest games. But I don't want to put pressure on him. And what I've said to him, as long as you defend and rebound and block shots we'll be okay. If you score we'll be in pretty good shape. But don't worry about that. We'll still be okay if you just rebound, defend and block shots. Those are all effort things. You don't want to put pressure on any one player on our team. Our program is based on balance. We don't live by the star system. And that means on the basketball court everybody has opportunities to score. And off the court if someone screws up they pay the price, whether they're our best player or our worst player. And then we move on after that happens. I think our team knows that, sure, Marcus is going to play a part in this, but so is Edgar, so it Carmelo and Tyrone Weeks and Inus Norville, and they're all going to play a part in this.

Q. What's your take on most people viewing your game as the “championship game before the championship”?

COACH CALIPARI: I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about preparing my team for the game. Hopefully after, worrying about the next game.

Q. Coach, you hear the phrase “UMass basketball” from your kids, “If we play UMass basketball”, what is your definition of UMass basketball?

COACH CALIPARI: Playing with passion and emotion, being a warrior, making the extra pass, attacking the glass with reckless abandon and playing to win, having a refuse to lose attitude.

Q. You've spoken a number of times late this season about realizing at some point that your players wanted to succeed as much or more than you. What observations led you to that conclusion and in general how rare is that in this business?

COACH CALIPARI: Very rare. This is a unique team. And I'm not saying that that will lead to a victory on Saturday. But this is a unique team. In all my years of coaching and playing you've always had two or three guys on every team that didn't want it that badly. And either they didn't want it for themselves or they didn't want it for their team that badly. So they broke the team down a little bit. This team, to a man, wants it as bad for themselves as we want it for them. And it's fun coaching. That means I don't have to check curfew, because they know how important it is to get rest. I don't have to see if people are going to be where they're supposed to be, because they know how important it is. We've had, in a year now, I don't know how many practices we've had, Malcolm, imagine we've had about four bad practices. That is incredible. Somebody came over to one of our practices, said where would you rate that? I said eight. We haven't had many bad practices, because they want it bad, for themselves and their team. It makes my job easy. It makes me look like I'm doing a fabulous job. The reality is I'm just kind of pushing them in the right direction and they're doing it all.

Q. John, describe your team as big time underdogs. There are a couple of other underdogs here, too. Can you discuss the notion the tournament maybe should be re-seeded after the regional rounds?

COACH CALIPARI: Let me throw you this. People say we shouldn't be playing in the first game with Kentucky. How would you re-seed? The seed coming into the tournament? Right now Mississippi State is playing as well as anybody. How would you say they would be seeded, third? They're playing better than us and may be better than Kentucky, and just beat Kentucky. So maybe they should be seeded first. Who would judge it? Who would do it? People are mad where they're seeded going in. I think it would open up another can of worms. I think the tournament the way it's run, the success of this tournament is unparalleled. I don't think you mess with it. I think you leave it alone, and we play Kentucky. I said this, I thought Georgetown was one of the best four teams in the country, we had to play them in a regional final, one of us was not coming here. Unfortunately, that's where the chips fall. That may happen one year, where we're one of the best, and we play the regional finals and get beat. You have to take the good with the bad.

Philadelphia Inquirer

UMass' Daunting Job: Beat Kentucky Again
By Mike Jensen, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After 35 victories in 36 tip-offs, after most of a season spent as the top college basketball team in the land, after Marcus Camby's collapse and his rise to national player of the year, the Massachusetts Minutemen find themselves back where they began, playing Kentucky.

As underdogs.

Even though UMass handed Kentucky its only loss of the regular season, oddsmakers see the Minutemen as heavy underdogs in tonight's NCAA semifinals at the Meadowlands.

Do it again, the Minutemen have been told, and you are a great team.

Yesterday, on the eve of the most anticipated game of this season, Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said that UMass (his alma mater), under John Calipari (his personal choice for UMass coach), is the “definition of team.” The Minutemen are so together, Pitino said, that Vince Lombardi would be proud of them.

Talking about the UMass forwards, he said it's “like having two or three Dennis Rodmans on the floor.”

The pressure is on the Minutemen because they already have beaten Kentucky, which, under Pitino, is 13-0 against teams it lost to earlier in a season.

The pressure is on Kentucky because the Wildcats were No. 1 in the preseason and will consider their season a failure if they don't win two more games.

After Calipari listened to Pitino say that the Minutemen play together better than any team in the history of New England, pro or college, he said: “I'm just an ordinary guy, nothing special, trying to do special things.”

Both men talked about how their teams had evolved since UMass defeated Kentucky, 92-82, on Nov. 28 at the Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.).

In that one, Camby established himself as front-runner for player-of-the-year honors, showing off a new assortment of offensive moves on his way to 32 points. That was about the last time that the Wildcats didn't double-team a post player.

Pitino said Kentucky's defensive pressure hurt UMass, which committed 23 turnovers. But the Minutemen's front line of Camby, Dana Dingle (19 points) and Donta Bright (17) dominated.

That was the end of Tony Delk's tenure as Kentucky's point guard. He said himself that he was playing out of position. Switched to shooting guard, Delk was named a second-team all-American by the Associated Press.

“Typical of a second game in the season, the difficulty I had early on was trying to find out who would mesh the best together,” Pitino said. “I made up my mind early on we were going to play it like a professional team with two units. And I had to find out who the point guard was going to be, who the [shooting] guard was going to be, and how they interact.

“We won our first two exhibition games by a substantial margin. Everything seemed fine. Then we played against Maryland and got down big in the game [before winning, 96-84]. It was obvious we were not playing the right people together. And we made a change: We put Anthony Epps at [point guard], and we let Tony Delk concentrate on scoring. And now it's been a great situation as far as the cohesiveness of the basketball team.”

Maybe the most impressive thing about UMass is that it kept getting better after beating the Wildcats.

“We are better-defined,” Calipari said. “Our team has evolved over the year. We have a better idea of what we have to do to win. We have a better idea of what our roles are.”

As for how far Camby can take them, his coach said: “He's played his best games in our biggest games. But I don't want to put pressure on him. And I've said to him, `As long as you defend and rebound and block shots, we'll be OK. If you score, we'll be in pretty good shape. But don't worry about that. We'll still be OK if you just rebound, defend and block shots.' ”

Camby said he was comfortable carrying the load, “but I'm surrounded by a great team. You don't have to score 35, 40 points to be successful. This is a great team, and there are a lot of great players on it.”

Maybe not as many as on Kentucky. While the Wildcats routinely go 10 or more deep, UMass sticks with a seven-man rotation.

“I don't think that will play a factor in this game,” Camby said. “It's do or die for both teams. Everybody is going to go all-out on our team. If they want to substitute, that's fine for them. I think substituting that much, the team gets out of rhythm. And once we get in rhythm, we go from there. When I hit a couple of shots and get my rhythm, I start getting into the flow of the game.”

Even with their constant substitutions, the Wildcats have been able to find a rhythm. A fast style of play tonight obviously would benefit the Wildcats. But a slower pace wouldn't necessarily finish them off.

“We have numbers,” center Walter McCarty said. “We can play a lot of people and work people down. We're very capable of playing a half-court game. We did against Virginia Tech [in the second round of the tournament, winning, 84-60]. We're very much capable.

“We have an offense to play in the half-court game. But the fastbreak kind of game plays more to our talent and the individuals we have on the team. It lets us get out and do a lot of things we're capable of doing.”

The 7 1/2-point point spread for this one makes sense. When Kentucky wins, it wins big. Only two of its 32 victories have been by fewer than 10 points. None has been by fewer than five.

The Wildcats are used to turning games into avalanches.

“It doesn't matter what the line is,” Calipari said. “All that stuff doesn't matter when that ball is thrown up. If we don't do the things we need to do, we're going to get buried.”

Recaps

Associated Press

#2 Kentucky 81, #1 Massachusetts 74
From The Associated Press, 3/30/1996

Tony Delk scored 20 points to lead Kentucky to an 81-74 victory over Massachusetts in an N-C-A-A Final Four game featuring top seeds at East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Kentucky (33-2) avenged a regular season loss to Massachusetts and advanced to the N-C-A-A championship game for the first time since 1978. The Wilcats are 5-2 in N-C-A-A title games, and defeated Duke, 94-88, in the 1978 championship game. U-C-L-A has won 11 national championships, and Kentucky and Indiana are tied with five each.

Kentucky will play Syracuse in the N-C-A-A Final Monday night at New Jersey. Syracuse beat Mississippi State, 77-69, in the first semifinal game.

Marcus Camby led Massachusetts (35-2) with 25 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. The six blocked shots tied a Final Four single-game record.

“We used our quickness to double down on Camby and I thought we did a pretty good job on him, but he's a great player you're not going to shut him down,” said Kentucky forward Antoine Walker, who had 14 points. “The important thing is that we shut down everybody else.”

“They played a good, aggressive defense,” said Camby. “They played great today. I probably should have been a little more aggressive when the double team came.”

Kentucky succeeded in stifling Massachusetts' starting backcourt of Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso. The UMass guards combined for 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the field.

Delk scored 12 of his points in the first half when Kentucky built a 36-28 lead. The Wildcats then scored the first seven points of the second half to increase their lead to 43-28.

Massachusetts responded with a 13-4 run to pull within 47-41. Camby had a dunk and converted a three-point play in the run. But Kentucky reeled off seven straight points on a three-pointer by Delk and dunks by Walter McCarty and Walker.

A pair of three-pointers by Travieso, who took only seven shots, pulled Massachusetts within 56-49 with 9:20 left. A three-pointer by freshman Ron Mercer increased Kentucky's lead to 59-49.

But Massachusetts went on an 11-4 run to pull within 63-60. A basket and a tip-in by Donta Bright, who finished with 15 points, capped the run with 4:56 remaining.

Kentucky answered with an 8-1 spurt to increase its lead to 71-61. Jeff Sheppard scored on a dunk and added a free throw in the spurt. Sheppard played eight minutes in the second half for Delk, who was bothered by leg cramps.

“I started catching leg cramps in the second half, but Shep (Sheppard) gave us a big lift,” said Delk. “Hey, that's our team. We have guys off our bench who give us a lift at any time.”

“Tony (Delk) cramping up hurt us a little bit,” said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. “We knew we were going to have to win it with halfcourt offense and halfcourt defense down the stretch.”

Massachusetts again fought back with a 9-2 run. Camby converted a jumper and a pair of free throws and Padilla hit a three-point jumper to pull Massachusetts within 73-70 with 62 seconds left.

But Mark Pope hit a pair of free throws, Walker scored on a dunk and Delk converted a layup in the final minute to seal the win.

“When we had a 10-point lead, we usually put the knockout punch, but they kept fighting back,” said Pitino. “When they made their run, the thing I feel best about is that there was no panic in our players.”

Massachusetts, which beat Kentucky, 92-82, in the Great Eight back in November, was making its first-ever Final Four appearance.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end and that's all I could ask,” said Massachusetts coach John Calipari. “We played to win right down to the end and played hard right down to the end. I'm proud of them.”

Pitino is making his first trip to the national championship game. He advanced to the Final Four in 1987 with Providence and in 1993 with Kentucky. The Wildcats won their last national championship in 1978 under coach Joe B. Hall.

Delk scored five points to highlight an 11-2 run which opened a 28-20 lead for Kentucky.

After Bright converted one-of-two free throws to give Massachusetts an 18-17 advantage, McCarty scored on a dunk and Walker hit a jumper to ignite the run.

Bright scored another basket for Massachusetts, but Delk hit a jumper, Pope scored on a dunk and Delk completed a three-point play to give Kentucky a 28-20 lead.

Massachusetts pulled within 32-28, but Kentucky closed the half with jumpers by Walker and Delk.

Prelude to a championship: Kentucky drops UMass
From The Associated Press, 3/30/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was billed as the “true national championship game,” and it played out just like that.

Two heavyweights going toe-to-toe. No. 1 Massachusetts versus No. 2 Kentucky.

Kentucky won on points, 81-74, avenging a regular season loss to UMass and advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1978. The Wildcats will play surprising Syracuse, which handled Mississippi State 77-69, in the Monday night's final.

After winning its four NCAA Tournament games by an average of 28 points, even gaudier than the 23-point margin over the season, the Wildcats finally were tested as the Minutemen (35-2) closed a 15-point second-half deficit to 73-70 with one minute to play.

Mark Pope made two free throws with 52 seconds left to make the lead five and Antoine Walker's dunk 14 seconds later after a missed 3-pointer by Edgar Padilla had the Wildcats on their way to a chance at their sixth national championship, second only to UCLA's 11.

They reached their first title game in 18 years by answering those who wondered how they'd fare in a tight matchup.

“The question was legitimate,” Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. “How do you know if you didn't have a lot of close ones? I always felt we'd play very well in a close game because we're a good free throw shooting team and a good passing team but I couldn't give you the answer because we didn't do it.”

All-America center Marcus Camby led UMass with 25 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots in perhaps his final college game.

“We used our quickness to double down on Camby and I thought we did a pretty good job on him, but he's a great player you're not going to shut him down,” said Walker, who had 14 points. “The important thing is that we shut down everybody else.”

The rest of the Minutemen starting lineup had just 39 points, and the backcourt duo of Padilla and Carmelo Travieso combined to hit five of 17 shots for 16 points.

“They played a good, aggressive defense,” said Camby, a junior. “They played great today. I probably should have been a little more aggressive when the double team came.”

The teams had met in November, and UMass came away with a 92-82 victory. The Wildcats won their next 27 games until losing to Mississippi State in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

In that game, UMass opened the second half with an 11-1 run to take a 10-point lead and then held off two Kentucky runs. This time it was Kentucky that had to hold off the Minutemen.

Delk scored 12 of his 20 points points in the first half when Kentucky built a 36-28 lead. The Wildcats then scored the first seven points of the second half to increase their lead to 43-28.

It was beginning to look like a Wildcat cakewalk. But UMass responded with a 13-4 run to pull within 47-41. Camby had a dunk and converted a three-point play in the run.

But Kentucky reeled off seven consecutive points on a Delk 3-pointer and dunks by Walter McCarty and Walker.

A pair of 3-pointers by Carmelo Travieso, who scored only two points in the first half because of foul trouble, pulled UMass within 56-49 with 9:20 left. A 3-pointer by freshman Ron Mercer increased Kentucky's lead to 59-49.

“We gave ourselved a chance to win at the end and that's all I could ask,” UMass coach John Calipari said. “We played to win right down to the end and played hard right down to the end. I'm proud of them.”

But UMass went on an 11-4 run to pull within 63-60. A basket and a tip-in by Donta Bright capped the run with 4:56 remaining. “They're a better team. They're more defined,” UMass coach John Calipari said. “I thought when we got close they would panic but they didn't. They did a little bit at the end, but they made all the plays.”

Kentucky answered with an 8-1 spurt to increase its lead to 71-61. Jeff Sheppard scored on a dunk and added a free throw in the spurt. Sheppard played eight minutes in the second half for Delk, who was bothered by leg cramps.

“I started catching leg cramps in the second half, but Shep gave us a big lift,” Delk said. “Hey, that's our team. We have guys off our bench who give us a lift at any time.”

Said Pitino: “Tony cramping up hurt us a little bit. We knew we were going to have to win it with halfcourt offense and half-court defense down the stretch.”

UMass again fought back with a 9-2 run. Camby converted a jumper and a pair of free throws and Edgar Padilla hit a 3-pointer to pull UMass within 73-70 with 62 seconds left.

But Pope hit a pair of free throws, Walker scored on a dunk and Delk converted a layup in the final minute to seal the win.

“When we had a 10-point lead, we usually put the knockout punch, but they kept fighting back,” Pitino said. “When they made their run, the thing I feel best about is that there was no panic in our players.”

UMass was making its first-ever Final Four appearance. Kentucky is in the Final Four for the second time in four years under coach Rick Pitino. The Wildcats won the national championship in 1978 under coach Joe B. Hall.

Delk scored five points to highlight an 11-2 run which opened a 28-20 lead for Kentucky.

After Bright converted one of two free throws to give Massachusetts an 18-17 advantage, McCarty scored on a dunk and Walker hit a jumper to ignite the run.

Bright scored another basket for UMass, but Delk hit a jumper, Pope scored on a dunk and Delk completed a three-point play to give Kentucky a 28-20 lead.

UMass pulled within 32-28, but Kentucky closed the half with jumpers by Walker and Delk.

Kentucky held UMass' starting backcourt of Padilla and Travieso to a total of five points in the first half.

“I guess we handled it well,” Walker said of the Wildcats' first close game. “We weren't worried about the game. It was tight, but we handled it well. It was very difficult for us, but we handled it well and we're happy.”

Delk led Kentucky with 20 points, and Walker added 14. Six other Wildcats had between nine and six points as they again flaunted their depth.

Massachusetts basically uses seven players.

“We were going to suffocate them at every level,” Pitino said. “We knew though we were going to have to win it with our halfcourt offense and halfcourt defense.”

Bright added 15 points for the Minutemen and Travieso had 10 points, but was plagued most of the game by foul trouble. Padilla, his partner in what many considered one of college basketball's best backcourts, finished with six points and 12 assists.

“We've had a great season and this was one of the goals we set, and we have one more Monday night,” Walker said before addressing what seems to be the demand of winning it all from their fans. “It's a good kind of pressure. It makes us play that much harder. That's what makes us go every day.”

Now Kentucky gets a chance at Syracuse.

“They're a heck of a ballclub that everybody is underrating,” Pitino said.

ASAP FastScripts

UMass Post-game Conference
From ASAP FastScripts, 3/30/1996

COACH CALIPARI: I was proud of our guys. We played hard. It's just that they played with a little more emotion than we played. If you were wondering why I was jumping, I was trying to get them to go or reach down. But I thought the game was played and unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold. We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great basketball club. We refused to lose. We never stopped playing. We played right down to the end. And I'm proud of them. (click for audio clip 64k WAV) I told the team after this game in the locker room that I learned more about myself as a coach and a person this year than I have in all my other years of coaching and I thanked them, because you're talking about unbelievable human beings that I coached this year. And it may never happen for me to coach a group. It's about the kind of people and character they had. You don't come back. You don't win close games like we do without kids with strong character and smart kids like we have.

Q. For Edgar Padilla. Could you talk about how hard it was to play against the press. You played so much of the game, particularly while Carmelo was out with personal fouls?

EDGAR PADILLA: It was kind of hard, because we had a lot of guys standing instead of moving and coming to the middle. And sometimes I didn't cut to the middle, either, and that made it a little harder. But they just played hard on us, and that's why we lost.

Q. This is for Marcus and Donta. You guys both had good success inside scoring and rebounding against Kentucky, but I was wondering if you could make comments on their front court defense?

DONTA BRIGHT: They came out and we didn't attack them the way we should have. And they just made us make tough shots. Every time we shot the ball, there was a hand in our face. They played pretty good defense.

MARCUS CAMBY: They played good, aggressive defense. In the beginning, they forced me to take some bad shots, which I did. They played great today.

Q. For Marcus Camby. Have you thought at all about what your future is? Will you come back to UMass?

MARCUS CAMBY: I haven't thought about it. I'm just down right now.

Q. This is for Coach Calipari –

ALFRED WHITE: We're going to take the players' questions before we get to Coach Calipari.

Q. For Marcus. Can you talk about their attack ability offensively, the way they can score so quickly?

MARCUS CAMBY: They came down and made some big plays. We were scrambling and a couple of guys drove deep and got baskets. They're a great ball club and they proved that tonight.

Q. Carmelo, there's a lot of talk about how Kentucky had not played a lot of close games, and no one was sure how they'd react. When you got it close, did you see any panic or how did they react at the end when you guys got close?

CARMELO TRAVIESO: I don't think they panicked. They made the plays they had to make. They passed the ball real well and they executed when they had to and made plays.

Q. Marcus, looking back on the game now, what would you have done differently in the game now that you've had a chance to go through it? Was there anything you'd be doing or changing in your game?

MARCUS CAMBY: I probably needed to be a little more aggressive when the double team came. They were knocking balls out of my hand and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable taking. So I probably should have played a little bit more aggressively. (click for audio clip 30k WAV)

Q. This is for Edgar or Marcus. Since you played the most minutes for UMass, could you talk about their depth and how much that wore you guys down because they didn't have a single player that played over 33 minutes?

MARCUS CAMBY: I didn't think it wore us down. This was our last game of the season and it was do or die. We would rather be playing than sitting on the bench. I wouldn't say their depth had that much of a factor because we like to play.

Q. John, down the stretch, there were several places where it seemed like they had thrown enough punches to finish you, and there was always a chance to cut it to two. It seemed like they could have finished you up four different times down the stretch. And even with Padilla's shot nearly went down in the last minute, you're still there. I don't know if you had to ever come back that many times during the season, certainly not against a ball club of this caliber. But it was something to see.

COACH CALIPARI: We've done that, though. And I just think that this basketball team plays to win. They're not playing not to lose. They're not worrying about the time. They play to win. That's how we try to work it. I keep telling them play to win. We got to three with four minutes to go and had two possessions and got away from how we played. Took a bad fader and took a three, and barely caught it and threw it at the rim and got an air ball. We had our chances. And that's all – in this kind of game, when you're playing an opponent like that, that's what you're trying to do. That game unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold. We just didn't make plays down the stretch and they did. Marcus needed to make more plays in the first half. The second half he was fine. They're a great basketball club. You watched the game. I would say people enjoyed that basketball game.

Q. John, you said in your opening – you told the players you'd learned more about yourself this season than any other. What did you learn?

COACH CALIPARI: Well, I honestly learned that it isn't life or death, winning basketball games. And I learned that when you're coaching, you understand that when you have good people, it's very fun to coach. And when you have guys that you're struggling with, it's not very fun to coach. And the record of your team doesn't matter as much as that. And I think I also learned when there's some adversity thrown at me how I'll respond. And when it's thrown right quickly in your face. Until that stuff is done, you don't know how you're going to react. And I learned a lot about myself. I made moves this year, spontaneous moves that happened. And I'm not just talking Marcus's situation, other things that happened throughout the year. But I'm just – I learned a lot about myself as a coach, too, because of these guys.

Q. Coach, can you talk about is it like playing two teams when you're playing Kentucky, with the ten guys, and Syracuse, like you, doesn't play a lot of people. How hard does that get as the game goes on?

COACH CALIPARI: Doesn't bother us. We've played teams that play a lot of people. I think what happens is at times for us, we want a team to sub a lot because we think they get out of rhythm. Because in a full court game, up and down the court, you can sub liberally because you're trying to do it on athleticism, speed and quickness. In a half court game, it's about chemistry, and the more you sub, the less chemistry you have. We have a chance,, don't worry about them subbing. That's not going to wear us down. That didn't play a factor in the game. We didn't make plays down the stretch. We didn't get to about four or five loose balls or rebounds that if we get, we're right there in a buzzer kind of game. We never got those balls. A couple of breaks, that could have gone one way or another, seemed to go another. That happens in a basketball game of this magnitude at times.

Q. John, can you comment briefly on Edgar's game tonight, 39 minutes, 12 assists and only four turnovers?

COACH CALIPARI: He was terrific. They banged him and it was physical. He got knocked around. It's not just his legs. It's like playing a little like football out there when they're hand checking and pushing. He did a pretty good job defending, too. Edgar Padilla has done it all year. Edgar, our starting five, and Tyrone. I'll tell you, I was most proud of Giddel Padilla. You're talking about a guy I haven't played that much. I looked down the bench and said, “Giddel, get in there,” and you know what, he played to win. He played to show people he's good enough and he went out there and the lead went from 13 to 6 or 7 when I took him out. And I put Carmelo in and it stretched up and so I put him back in. And as a coach, that's what you're hoping, that guys wait for an opportunity and then they take advantage, instead of being mad and crying. When I get an opportunity, even if it's the last game of the season, I can show that I can play. And I think he learned a lot from this season and I'm happy for him.

Q. Coach, how far has Kentucky come and how have they changed since the first time you played them? And having played both teams in the National Championship, what kind of game do you expect?

COACH CALIPARI: I don't know what to expect and I haven't thought much about it, but I think Kentucky is a better basketball team. They're more defined. As that game got close, I thought they might panic. They did at times, but not enough to sway the game. There was a couple of plays they didn't make. But in the end, they did everything, including making free throws and play our press and do some good things. The last time we were up 4 to 6. We were up. And we made the plays. This time they were up and they made the plays. But they're a better team, they're more well defined. They've accepted roles and they're going to be tough to beat. But I'm so happy for Jim Boeheim, because you're talking about a guy I believe can coach basketball, who has been maligned as a guy that can't, but he can. I'm happy he's here and in that final game. And obviously Rick and I are close, so it will be a good game and I wish them both well.

New York Times

Kentucky Holds Off Never-Say-Die UMass
By Malcom Moran, New York Times, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 30— They had very little experience with the business of losing, just one misstep through a winter the Massachusetts Minutemen could call their own. As they struggled tonight with an aroused group of Kentucky Wildcats, the Minutemen were true to themselves, right down to the very last final buzzer of their season.

They were behind by 15 points with 18 minutes to play. They trailed by 10 with 2 minutes 35 seconds to go, a defeat seeming more and more certain. “Ninety-nine percent go under with the pressure we were applying,” said Rick Pitino, the Kentucky coach and Massachusetts alumnus.

The Minutemen refused. They still would lose. But the Wildcats, who had turned the national collegiate tournament into an extended highlight film, were pushed en route to a 81-74 victory in a way they had not been challenged in the last two weekends.

Kentucky advanced to the championship game Monday night against Syracuse with a chance to earn its first title since 1978 and a sixth over all. Massachusetts, 35-2, lost its chance to become the first New England team to reach the title game since Holy Cross, the 1947 champions.

Kentucky, 33-2, used a purposeful interior defense that required Marcus Camby of the Minutemen to work for his game-high 25 points. Camby made 9 of 18 shots, 6 of 9 in the second half as UMass manufactured its comeback.

The Minutemen were within 3 points after Edgar Padilla's 3-point shot with 1:02 to go – his second basket in 10 shots – made the score 73-70.

But that is as close as UMass would come. Kentucky extended one of the most telling winning streaks in its seven seasons under Pitino. For the 14th consecutive time, the Wildcats defeated a team they had lost to earlier in the same season. The Wildcats, who were forced to use their final timeout with two minutes to play, were nearly flawless in the final minute. In a memorable display of their trademark balance, five different Wildcats scored the final 10 points to hold off the comeback.

“When it was time to do it, we didn't do it,” said Edgar Padilla, the point guard of the Minutemen, who had 12 assists and only 4 turnovers despite having to deal with the force of Kentucky's pressure defense for 39 of the 40 minutes.

Kentucky made its last eight free throws, a sign of its efficiency at the most important time. The four previous Wildcat tournament victories had been by an average margin of 28.3 points, with no margin less than 20. If ever there was a time for panic, this was it. If there was any sense within the Kentucky dressing room that this season would be a failure without a national championship, it was not visible tonight.

“We don't care about pressure,” said Antoine Walker, a sophomore who helped in the defensive effort against Camby and scored 14 points. “That's good, pressure. It makes us work harder. Everybody expected us to fold this year. When people try to put us down and think we're going to fold, it makes us work harder and harder.”

Tony Delk, a point guard in a brief experiment when these teams last met on Nov. 28 in a 92-82 UMass victory, scored 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting, overcoming leg cramps in the final minutes. Walter McCarty had 8 points, 10 rebounds and a long night of effort on the inside. With McCarty bearing much of the responsibility, the Wildcats squeezed Camby at every opportunity in the first half. They forced the national player of the year, who had scored 32 points in the first meeting between the teams earlier this season, into an uncomfortable series of poor judgments.

“I probably needed to be a little more aggressive when the double team came,” Camby said. “They were knocking balls out of my hand and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable taking.”

By affecting the strength of the Minutemen, the Wildcats began to sap UMass of the emotion that made its season so successful. “We're not a good enough club when they have that advantage,” said John Calipari, the coach of the Minutemen. He ranted. His team responded.

Kentucky had begun to establish control during a 11-2 stretch in the first half, when four of five field goals were the result of UMass turnovers. Camby endured a stretch of 15:44 without a field goal, a span that extended until a dunk with 15:59 to play in the second half.

It was during that span, early in the second half, when two fouls against Carmelo Travieso in a span of 13 seconds sent the junior guard to the bench. But with Giddel Padilla, a senior and Edgar's older brother, making a rare appearance, the Minutemen came back. When they were within 3 points, 63-60, they were unable to score on three consecutive possessions.

The first two – a steal by Anthony Epps and a missed 3-point shot by Travieso – could have brought the Minutemen within a point. “We didn't play their game,” Calipari said. “They played our game. They beat us at our game.”

REBOUNDS

MARCUS CAMBY, the UMass center who considered leaving school for the National Basketball Association draft after last season, said after the game that he had not thought about whether he would leave after this junior season. JOHN CALIPARI, the UMass coach, said he would speak to Camby about his options during trips to Los Angeles and Atlanta where Camby will attend player of the year dinners. . . . Camby's six blocked shots tied a record in a Final Four game with DANNY MANNING of Kansas. The UMass total of eight blocks was second to the Kansas record of nine in a semifinal victory over Duke in 1988. . . . UMass and Kentucky had a total of 39 assists to tie a record for two teams in Final Four play. The figure had been reached three previous times.

Boston Globe

Time ticks away for Minutemen
Kentucky takes out UMass
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They never got a chance to cut the nets down. They passed on the opportunities at the conference championship and NCAA East Regional title game, taking a risk they'd be there for the final game of the college basketball season. And why not? Throughout the year, they had smashed through every barrier they had encountered.

But yesterday, the No. 1-ranked University of Massachusetts ran into shatterproof glass. Again and again they tried to break free. Again and again they were turned away. When the final buzzer sounded, it was the Minutemen's hearts that were broken; tomorrow night, someone else will be cutting those nets.

The greatest season in UMass basketball history came to a dramatic end in last night's tournament semifinal. No. 2-ranked Kentucky, which lost to UMass in the Minutemen's season opener, returned the favor – jumping out to a 15-point second-half lead then withstanding several UMass rallies for an 81-74 victory.

Paced by leading scorer Tony Delk (20 points) the Wildcats frustrated UMass with their backcourt pressure and half-court motion offense to earn their first trip to the national title game since 1978. Kentucky will meet Syracuse, a 77-69 winner over Mississippi State in the first semifinal, tomorrow night. “I'm an alumnus of the University of Massachusetts and I can't say enough about that team,” said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino.

“Ninety-nine percent of the teams in the country would have gone under with the pressure we applied. They're just a remarkable group.”

National Player of the Year Marcus Camby scored a game-high 25 points for the Minutemen (35-2), who were hoping to become the first men's Division 1 team in New England to win a national championship since Holy Cross in 1947.

“I'm proud of our guys,” said UMass coach John Calipari. “We played hard, it's just that they played with a little more emotion than us. I thought the game unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold. We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great ballclub.

“We refused to lose. We never stopped playing. We played right down to the end. And I'm proud of them.”

Calipari's team, which beat the Wildcats, 92-82, in the Great Eight Invitational, found the Wildcats' pressure more difficult this time for 40 minutes – unlike the first game, where it was most effective over the last 10 minutes of the first half. The Wildcats beat the Minutemen on backdoor plays – aided most by quick whip passes from the perimeter – and helped themselves to a 36-28 halftime lead.

“It was kind of hard playing against their press because we had a lot of guys standing instead of moving and coming to the middle,” said UMass guard Edgar Padilla. “Sometimes, I didn't cut to the middle, either. That made it a little harder.”

The Minutemen, who have outplayed many teams over the first 10 minutes of the second half (including Kentucky in the Minutemen's season opener), clearly were outplayed in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Wildcats outscored UMass, 7-0, over the first two minutes of the second half, converting several steals and offensive rebounds for ..

UMass didn't get on the board until the 17:35 mark of the second half, when forward Dana Dingle – who left the game in the first half after suffering a cut lip – scored on a bank shot to cut the lead to 43-30. UMass cut the lead to 43-32 on an inbounds bucket by forward Donta Bright. Kentucky kept the Minutemen at bay, however; center Walter McCarty scored on a pump shot over Camby to put the Wildcats up, 47-34.

“They came down and made some big plays,” said Camby. “We were scrambling and a couple of their guys drove deep and got baskets. They're a great ball club and they proved that [last night].”

UMass cut the lead to 47-36 as Camby scored on a put-back dunk of a Charlton Clarke miss and UMass got the ball back on the alternating possession rule. Dingle scored to pull the Minutemen to 47-38 with 15:04 left, and Kentucky turned the ball over again. With UMass guard Giddel Padilla in the lineup, the Minutemen continued to climb back in it.

Camby scored on a 3-point play (assist Giddel Padilla) to cut the lead to 47-41 with 14:31 left. Then Kentucky surged; Delk hit a pull-up 3-point basket to put the Wildcats up, 50-41. After several UMass misses – including a 3-point attempt by Camby – Kentucky scored on a dunk by McCarty to go up, 52-41, with 11:33 left.

Then UMass guard Carmelo Travieso – who scored just 2 points in the first half and had his only 3-point attempt blocked – finally got into the game scoring-wise. He hit consecutive 3-point baskets to pull UMass to 56-49 with 8:27 left. But Kentucky forward Ron Mercer sank a 3-point basket with 7:45 left to give the Wildcats a 59-49 lead.

But the Minutemen clawed back. A 3-point play by Camby with 6:18 left pulled the Minutemen to 59-54 with 6:18 to go. With 4:57 left, Bright tipped in a miss by Dingle to pull the Minutemen to 63-60.

With 4:04 left, Kentucky center Mark Pope sank two free throws to put the Wildcats up, 65-60. Antoine Walker sank a free throw with 3:23 left to put Kentucky up by 6. Then at the other end, Camby was triple-teamed, Walker batted the ball away, and Kentucky converted on a dunk by guard Jeff Sheppard – 68-60, Kentucky.

“Late in the game, I started going away from my man and helping out on the double-team,” said Walker. “When we triple-teamed him, I got a hand on the ball and took it away from him. Then I looked up the floor and hit Jeff for the dunk.”

“I probably needed to be more aggressive when the double- team came,” said Camby. “They were knocking balls out of my hand and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable in taking.”

But again UMass rallied. Consecutive buckets by Camby and Giddel Padilla pulled UMass to 71-67 with 1:42 left. After a Kentucky turnover, Camby misfired and Giddel Padilla had his shot blocked. But after two free throws by guard Derek Anderson, Edgar Padilla drained a trey to pull the Minutemen to 73-70. But Kentucky scored 6 straight points, the latter on a lay-in by Delk with 21.6 seconds left to put the Wildcats up, 79-70. And the Wildcats fans began to celebrate.

“In the locker room, I told them that I learned more about myself as a coach and person this year than I have in all my years of coaching and I thanked them,” said Calipari. “It may never happen for me to coach a group like this. It's the kind of people and the character we had.”

Good team is finally kept down
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – OK, OK, it's all true. Rick Pitino's cast of thousands was good enough to beat John Calipari's Six Good Men, only last night there was an extra Padilla to consider, so make it Seven.

Kentucky moves on to the national title game against Syracuse tomorrow night. UMass goes back to Amherst, but the Minutemen go back the way Coach Cal has always hoped they would – with their dignity intact, their reputations enhanced.

How many times has he said it along this long, long season? A rough paraphrase would be as follows: “As long as we play UMass basketball, as long as we play with passion and emotion, if the other team turns out to be better, we'll just congratulate them and go home.”

Well, guess what? UMass lost the game, but UMass also won the praise and admiration of the basketball community. There is only one team in America that could have spotted the Deepest Team In History a 15-point lead and come back to make it a game. UMass went down so hard they might have to bring in workmen today to reinforce the Meadowlands Arena floor.

“I'm proud of my ballclub,” said Pitino, “but as an alumnus of Massachusetts [Class of '74], I am also proud of them. Ninety-nine percent of the teams in the country would have gone under with the pressure we applied. They're just a remarkable group.”

UMass let the game get away from them (or Kentucky took it away from them, depending on one's point of view) in two bursts, one in the first half and one at the start of the second. It might not have been a coincidence that UMass had problems at the end of the half when senior leader Dana Dingle retired to the locker room in order to have his lower lip stitched up. But that was always supposed to be the difference between these clubs, wasn't it? UMass was the solid core unit of six, maybe seven. Kentucky was the team with the seemingly endless supply of talented and well-coached athletes, sort of a Noah's Ark of basketball. UMass only comes one to a species.

There was more trouble at the outset of the second half, when Kentucky scored the first 7 points, expanding its 36-28 halftime lead to a menacing 15 at 43-28. In the normal Kentucky game, that 15-point spread, at that juncture, means that from there on out the over/under escalates to 30. That's precisely what happened to a good Utah team, a 101-70 tournament victim.

“We weren't 30 points better than Utah,” said Pitino at the time. “What happened was that they had to play our game, and they couldn't do that.”

But UMass would not allow Kentucky to play its game. The book says that Kentucky gets a lead and then annihilates people with its depth. Against UMass, the book did not factor into the equation. Against UMass, that 15-point lead was the slap in the face that initiates the duel at 20 paces.

A word about the 81-74 victors: their official nickname is the Wildcats, but this group, at least, should be sub-nicknamed the Piranhas. They swarm, they attack and they feast, and they do it with superb, and superbly conditioned, athletes, the kind that only a few elevated and committed “programs” (as opposed to “teams”) can gather under one roof. It is very much a mutually beneficial relationship. Pitino is fortunate to have these players, and they are equally fortunate to have him as their coach, because if they pay attention to what he says they will come away much better players than they were upon enrolling at the institution.

The same can be said for the UMass players. They came into the school at a certain juvenile level, and now they are seasoned young men. If they weren't, this game could oh-so-easily have turned into one of those 115-77 fiascos, because Kentucky has such astonishing depth.

Check this out: With 3:32 remaining, and Kentucky leading by a shaky 6 (66-60), Pitino had a five-man unit on the floor that had the following point totals at the time: 2-4-9-7-6. Here was Pitino in Certified Crunch Time with a unit on the floor that had compiled a scant 28 points, and yet he was totally comfortable with them. Sitting on the bench for quite some time while this was going on was guard Tony Delk, who most people believe is the best player on his team. Only Rick Pitino would even think of doing either of those things at that time, because only Rick Pitino has the Kentucky roster to play with.

But Kentucky could not KO this resilient UMass team. The 15-point lead early in the second half didn't matter. A 10-point lead at 71-61 (2:35 remaining) didn't matter. UMass hung in and hung in, and well – what other way is there to put it? – Refused To Lose.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great basketball club,” said Calipari. “We refused to lose. You can't come back as many times as we did this season, or win as many close games as we did, without strong character.”

The UMass comeback was led by the Usual Suspects, the Cambys, the Traviesos, the Brights, the Dingles, and the Padillas. The kicker this time was that the list of Padillas was expanded to a pair. For throwing his heart out there on the floor was little-used senior Giddel Padilla, the older brother of Edgar, the gritty starting point guard. Giddel Padilla got out there in his big moment and made plays that got his team back into the game. He spun into the lane for a dish-off to Camby that resulted in a 3-point play. He grabbed a big offensive rebound. He made a steal. As much as anyone else, he exemplified the spirit of this magnificent ballclub, perhaps the best New England has ever seen.

Perhaps there really is no story here. Perhaps this whole salute falls under the heading of a redundancy. The Kentucky players, we learn, expected nothing less.

“I don't think you expect to blow out a team as good as UMass is,” shrugged Kentucky's Mark Pope. “They're too strong and too tough. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win.”

There's a kid with insight.

The run is over
Kentucky turns back each rally, topples UMass
By Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The University of Massachusetts basketball team, ranked No. 1 in the nation and first in the hearts of New England sports fans, finally went down last night. In a semifinal game of the NCAA's illustrious Final Four, UMass was beaten, 81-74, by a team of thoroughbreds from Kentucky. The Wildcats will play Syracuse tomorrow night for the championship.

The 1995-96 Minutemen were a team of no retreat, no surrender and no regret. In a winter of record snowfall, the Sons of John Calipari gave us a season of utter content. While we were battered by a succession of storms – and bored by mediocre Bruins and bad Celtics – the Minutemen cruised through most of the winter as the nation's top-ranked team.

They pushed their cause to the ultimate event, the Final Four. And in their last moment of glory, they cut Kentucky's 15-point second-half lead to 3 in the final minute. But in the end, they could not overcome the blue-chip, blue-ribbon, blue-clad Wildcats. UMass finished its starry season with a lofty record of 35-2.

So now there will be no more storms and no more college basketball for the sports fans of our region. We have prolonged winter long enough and it's time for spring. The Red Sox open their season tomorrow in Texas.

“I was proud of our guys,” Coach Calipari said after the defeat. “We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great basketball team. We refused to lose and played hard at the end.”

UMass had high hopes entering last night's match.

The Minutemen defeated highly touted Kentucky by 10 in a November tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan. UMass had a chance to run the table in the regular season and compiled a 26-0 record before being upset at home by George Washington in February. It was a mere bump on the road to the Final Four.

The Minutemen cruised through the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney, earning their ticket to Jersey with an impressive 86-62 thumping of Georgetown in the East Regional Final at Atlanta. UMass became only the third New England school to participate in the Final Four, the first since Providence in 1987.

They arrived in Jersey as 9 1/2-point underdogs against star-studded Kentucky. They talked about not getting any respect, even though Calipari and center Marcus Camby were named coach and player of the year.

UMass alums were out in record numbers here in the swamps of Jersey. Celebrity grads like Bill Cosby and Julius Erving called for tickets and thousands of other UMass fans found their way to Exit 16W on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Harvard grad, made an appearance in the Minuteman locker room before the game and no doubt gave Calipari some tips on handling the Kentucky pressure. By halftime, Coach Cal probably was wondering if he could get Doctor J to suit up for the final 20 minutes.

Kentucky led by 8 at intermission and there wasn't much optimism in the UMass section of Continental Airlines Arena. The Minutemen simply appeared outmatched. Kentucky's defense wore down UMass. Carmelo Travieso took only two shots in the first half and one was blocked. Camby had two Wildcats in his face every time he caught a pass. Everybody knew it was going to be tough to stop the bleeding.

“Every time we shot the ball, there was a hand in our face,” said forward Donta Bright.

It looked like a blowout early in the second half. Kentucky ran out to a 15-point lead (43-28) and there was no joy in Amherst. But the Minutemen would not die. Every time Kentucky pushed its lead back to 10, gutsy guard Edgar Padilla (12 assists in 39 minutes) would make something happen by stealing the ball or penetrating Kentucky's defense.

The 'Cats led, 71-61, with 2:36 left, but it still wasn't over. Camby scored from inside, Padilla stole the ball and fed Travieso for a score, and suddenly Kentucky was backpedaling from UMass' pressure. With just under a minute and a half to play, UMass trailed by only 4 and had the ball.

It didn't happen. The Minutemen missed two shots, then had to foul. A Padilla 3-pointer cut Kentucky's lead to 3 in the final minute, but the Wildcats did not buckle and advanced to the title game by making free throws and beating the UMass pressure.

“We just didn't make the plays and they did down the stretch,” said Calipari.

Calipari's band of warriors was a team that awoke an alumni group that's been too sleepy for too long. UMass fans last night left the arena with their heads held high.

“We showed the country how we play basketball,” said Calipari. “When I think of what these young men have done for the Commonwealth, and what they've done for the state system . . . People now are proud to say that our state system is as good as anybody's.”

It took a team of players from Puerto Rico, Hartford, Baltimore and New York to bring out this kind of state pride. For the first time in memory, Massachusetts students and graduates are bragging about their university. They are true to their school. And their wonderful team was worthy to the finish.

UMass faithful had company: in CBS booth
By Jack Craig, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

At several points in the second half of last night's Kentucky-UMass telecast, viewers in neutral parts of the country could have switched channels. The Wildcats were quicker and appeared to be too far ahead.

But for Minutemen rooters watching on Channel 4 around here, and nervous hearts in Kentucky, it was a battle to watch to the finish.

You could almost hear CBS announcers Billy Packer and Jim Nantz cheering for the Minutemen whenever they narrowed the margin to single digits. “Don't count them out yet,” Packer warned for the umpteenth time after UMass scored two quick baskets to cut the deficit to 6 with two minutes left. A few seconds earlier, just about anyone who was not thinking about the point spread (7 1/2) had done so.

Packer, who implied during he week that he believed Kentucky was the best team in the country, at two junctures cited the Minutemen's “miraculous comeback.” It was an exaggeration both times, but so what?

“I really didn't think UMass could come back like that,” Packer would add later on.

Said Nantz, “They left a lot of heart out here.”

After all that praise while losing – and before a huge national television audience – last night's defeat may turn out to be a great recruiting victory for UMass coach John Calipari. CBS' camera work was first rate, including isolated shots of family members of the athletes and coaches that blessedly did not linger.

When Camby was announced as the top UMass player in the game, Quinn Buckner said it was the junior's last game for UMass. Not so fast, Quinn.

Those intending to watch Mississippi State-Syracuse as a way of passing the time until UMass-Kentucky had reason to pay attention.

The underdog Orangemen battled State evenly (36-36) through the first half and took command in the final 20 minutes to spring an upset.

With Syracuse effectively deploying a 2-3 zone, not common these days, Packer had plenty to talk about.

No one breaks down strategy better than Packer. His description of Mississippi State's problem with the Syracuse defense – even while State was hitting 3-pointers early on – proved true.

Packer did reach when he insisted Mississippi State's Dontae Jones' subpar play was telltale in his facial expressions. “He isn't smiling,” he said.

Nantz was restrained, getting out of the way of his talkative partner.

CBS' coaches roundtable, heard during the pregame, halftime of the first game and prior to UMass-Kentucky, avoided picking winners. That left them too often saying the obvious . . . CBS' 90-minute pregame show appeared to be about 45 minutes too long. When Pat O'Brien asked NCAA president Gene Corrigan what was his biggest problem, Corrigan responded good-naturedly, “Sitting here talking to you.” It was the only really funny line during the show. Corrigan offered an answer when asked how more tickets can be made available for public sale during the Final Four. “Move the games to a larger building,” Corrigan suggested . . . Among the many features were two on loyal families of John Wallace of Syracuse and UMass' Edgar and Giddel Padilla. Later, CBS aired a touching piece about Marcus Camby's support of a dying boy . . . Camby added the Chevrolet Player of the Year award that was presented on the pregame.

Progress has come doggedly
By Michael Vega, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For nine weeks, they had a tight grip on the nation's No. 1 ranking. After they stumbled in an 86-76 home loss to Atlantic 10 rival George Washington Feb. 24, they regained their top billing, along with the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, just in time for the NCAA tournament.

In a season rife with trials and down-to-the-wire victories, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen faced one last water jump in this 64-team steeplechase when they convincingly defeated the second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas, 86-62, in the final of the East Regional last Saturday in Atlanta.

With that, UMass finally made the quantum leap to where no Minuteman had gone before – the Final Four.

A year ago, UMass came to East Rutherford and stood on the doorstep of its first Final Four appearance but was left in the vestibule when Oklahoma State eliminated the Minutemen in the final of the East Regional.

Last week UMass kicked the door open to earn a Final Four matchup against Kentucky last night.

“I thought Georgetown was one of the best four teams in the country, and we had to play them in a regional final, so one of us was not coming here,” Calipari said. “Unfortunately that's how the chips fall. You have to take the good with the bad.”

Although UMass had the best overall record (31-1) in the 64-team field, Calipari seemed to wrestle with the perception that the Minutemen were vulnerable. At almost every stop on its Road to the Final Four, UMass had to prove the critics wrong – that the Minutemen were strong enough indeed to make it out the rugged East bracket, one loaded with teams such as North Carolina, Penn State, Texas Tech, and, of course, the Beasts of the Big East, the Hoyas.

“It's just that every commentator, every writer, and everybody I've seen has picked us not to get out of the region,” Calipari said. “I think it's more of a reality than a perception.”

But Calipari explained why he thought the perception existed, which, quite possibly, also explained why the Minutemen entered last night's game as 8-point underdogs.

“I think part of it is because we're still UMass,” he said. “The respect level is not there and it's basically because we haven't won a national title.”

It might sound like another case of a coach tugging at his tie and pleading, “No respect, no respect at all,” but Calipari insists he has never played that game and never will.

“I don't do that, and I think it's wrong to teach that to players because that's not what this country was built on,” he said. “When these guys get away from me, it's not about `me against the world,' it's about, `how many people can I help who will eventually help me?'

“I just know that's the real world and what's going on right now,” he added. “We haven't been there and we haven't won a national title and until we do, people will say, `Ah, they can't do this,' and that's OK, it's not a problem. It's a great barrier for us to break.”

These seeds of doubt seem groundless
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – You can hear the tom-toms off in the distance. Seditionists among the college basketball community are spreading the message from village to village that just because No. 1 Massachusetts met No. 2 Kentucky in an NCAA semifinal game last night the tournament should be reseeded at the Final Four so no such thing ever happens again.

Great. How quintessentially modern American that is, in two ways. 1. Take a short-term problem born out of specific circumstance and magnify it with a needless longterm solution that demonstrates a complete desire for instant gratification and a complete noninterest in such things as tradition, luck and the human factor. 2. Micro-manage everything we touch into dust.

For those of you who aren't college basketballaholics, the issue is that the current system pairs semifinal opponents on a rotating three-year basis.

Everyone has always accepted this arrangement – until this year. Whiners now say it's not “fair” for perceived superheavyweights UMass and Kentucky to be slugging it out in the semifinals while the supposedly less-deserving Mississippi State and Syracuse teams played for some kind of bogus free pass into the championship game.

Excuse me, but where have these people been while the NCAA tournament was making itself into one of the premier sporting events in America? Where were these by-the-book micro-managers when a lengthy list of sure-thing winners found themselves accepting runners-up trophies? Have these people got any soul whatsoever?

“The idea has very little merit,” snorts Larry Donald, who, as editor and publisher of Basketball Times has his finger on the pulse of the sport as much as any man alive. “If you're going to reseed, that presumes you're saying the committee's ability to seed in the first place is perfected. You're saying they have special insight, that they have some all-knowing, encompassing brilliance in the first place.”

“I am emphatically opposed,” agrees Alex Wolff, a noted college basketball expert and author (“Raw Recruits,” among others). “It's ridiculous. As if the top powers need any more breaks.”

At present the only official seeding done is at the regional level. Since 1979, each region has been seeded 1 through 16. Pairings through the regional final are done on a numerical basis. But that's it. Whether it's four No. 1s in a Final Four (which has yet to happen, incidentally) or four 16s, or, like this year, two 1s (UMass and Kentucky) a 4 (Syracuse) and a 5 (Mississippi State), the pairings revert to the regional rotations, the way God and the tournament committee intended it.

The above opinions, while valued and prescient, don't matter, at least not compared with the ones offered by the people who put up the money. It is true that Billy Packer is a vocal exponent of reseeding. It's also true that the men he answers to are unalterably opposed to the idea.

“I don't like it at all,” says Rick Gentile, lead producer of the CBS telecasts. “It would take a lot of the fun out of it. As it is now, you slug your way through the brackets, and then whatever happens on Saturday, happens. The way it is now, something special can happen.”

“In the 15 years we have had this tournament,” says CBS vice president (and former Boston College play-by-play announcer) Len DeLuca, “this is the first time this idea has ever been seriously discussed. I disagree with people who say this is something which must happen.

“As it stands now,” says DeLuca, “we have a great, great Saturday night – looking at it selfishly, of course – and then we have the possibility of a David-vs.-Goliath game on Monday. The great lure of this tournament has always been the idea that something unpredictable could happen, and we need look no farther than 1983, when we all thought we were looking at the championship game in Houston and Louisville. The way it is now, we've kind of known what to look forward to since March 10. We've all known it could be UMass and Kentucky today. This way there is no jury-rigging. But what it comes down to is that if we had reseeding we never could have had North Carolina State over Houston.”

Let's go back to Mr. Donald's references to the sagacity of the committee, and let's introduce a Mr. John Calipari, a resident of Shutesbury, Mass., who had a very good seat for the UMass-Kentucky confrontation.

“If you're going to reseed,” he asks, “who's going to reseed, and, more importantly, on what basis? Who says it should be UMass-Kentucky, 1-2? Mississippi State is playing better than any of us right now. Who's going to tell them they should be a 3 seed here?”

And speaking of tournament committee wisdom, why was Mississippi State a 5 seed in its region to begin with?

“Because,” explains an amused Donald, “the SEC plays its championship game on a Sunday afternoon for television. Mississippi State went into the Kentucky game as a 5 seed in the eyes of the committee and even after beating Kentucky badly came out of that game a 5 seed because the Selection Show was going on the air at 6:30 and there wasn't enough time for them to change the seeding and alter their brackets.”

Brackets, ratings, seeds, who cares? The reason the tournament is so wonderful is that you've got to play the game on the floor, not in the committee room. I mean, geez, isn't it enough of a computer world already?

Camby: Lasting . . . last impression?
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The game was part of the history books now. It did not turn out the way Marcus Camby had hoped. Instead of playing one more game this season, in what thus far has been a spectacular and emotional college career, Camby was going home.

And so was UMass. Its epic matchup with Kentucky had turned into an 81-74 defeat in last night's Final Four semifinal game at the Meadowlands.

Camby, UMass' 6-foot-11-inch All-American center, college basketball's Player of the Year, had done what he could. He had scored a game-high 25 points. He had blocked six shots, tying a Final Four record. He had tried to carry a team that was struggling on his back.

But last night that was too much to ask. Walking off the court, almost an hour after the game, his warmup jersey draped over his head, Camby was a kid again.

A man in a wheelchair wearing a Syracuse sweatshirt stopped him. “Do you mind if I take my picture with you, Marcus?” he asked.

Camby sighed. “Sure,” he said with a smile. The picture taken, Camby walked off the court.

UMass fans and coach John Calipari probably wonder whether last night was Camby's last appearance on court wearing a UMass uniform.

The National Basketball Association will beckon again in a few months, enticing him with the prospect of financial security in exchange for his senior season.

Naturally someone asked about those plans. “I haven't thought about that right now,” said Camby.”I'm just down right now.”

Camby had problems with Kentucky, but then again everyone does, most recently Wake Forest All-American center Tim Duncan, who was befuddled and frustrated by the sagging and groping defenses used on him.

“I probably needed to be a little more aggressive when the double-team came,” said Camby. “They were knocking balls out of my hands and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable taking. So I probably should have played more aggressively.”

Camby had most of his problems in the first half, when the Wildcats sagged and trapped and double-teamed him, holding him to 8 points.

But then, just when it seemed like Kentucky would pull away with a 15-point lead two minutes into the second half, the Minutemen started their own charge. Suddenly Camby was all over the place, playing the way he had in the first meeting between the teams when Camby shredded the Wildcats for 32 points.

The Wildcats had no solutions. “I asked you all for advice yesterday,” joked Kentucky center Mark Pope. “And you didn't have any. So who knows, he's the best player in America and he plays great every night. And he's a great player.”

Forward Antoine Walker, who handled some of the double-team duties on Camby, offered this evaluation. “We did a good job on him early,” he said. “He's a great player. He's tough to stop. He's the guy that can handle the ball. So we knew he was going to get his points. Our job was to stop the other guys.”

The Wildcats did that, but Camby almost came back and got them anyway. He helped bring the ball up against Kentucky's pressure. He backed his way into the low post. He went outside and tried to hit from 3-point range.

On defense he roamed underneath and tried to will the balls out of the basket as Kentucky squeezed and squeezed some more, attempting to take the life out of the Minuteman comeback.

It wasn't enough. Camby felt he could have done more.

But it was all after the fact now. He had done what he could and it wasn't enough. A season that had had so many ups and downs had ended with one final dip.

Travieso couldn't find range
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Carmelo Travieso had yet to find his shooting range in the University of Massachusetts' season-opening game against Kentucky. The junior guard was just 2 of 9 from the floor in that game and hit just one 3-point basket. Aided by 5-of-6 shooting from the foul line, he scored 10 points.

Many expected different results yesterday, as Travieso had improved much since that game – finding his shooting range midway through the season as UMass center Marcus Camby was out of the lineup. But yesterday, Travieso found his outing uncannily similar to the first time out: He was 3 of 7 from the floor, had just 2 treys and finished with 10 points.

“They denied me the ball and most of the time I found myself going away from the ball,” said Travieso, who played much of the second half with four fouls. “I didn't do a good job of moving around. In the second half, I got free a few times and I got a few open looks.”

That's when Travieso found his range, hitting consecutive treys to cut Kentucky's lead to 56-49 with 8:27 to go. But with his team trailing, 63-60, he threw up an airball from behind the arc and the Wildcats converted at the other end on two free throws by center Mark Pope. The UMass faithful were waiting to erupt when Travieso squared up for the trey. When he missed, there was collective despair.

“I figured someone had to step it up when I took that shot,” he said. “We were down by 3 at the time, and if I hit that, we tie the game. It could have changed the whole complexion of the game. It took a while for us to get going. We needed to make plays but we couldn't run our motion offense and get into a flow.”

Will he or won't he?

Camby said he hasn't considered whether he would forgo his final season for the NBA draft. “I haven't thought about it. I'm just down right now,” he said. Camby added he would not watch the final tomorrow night . . . UMass's Edgar Padilla had 12 assists against Kentucky, which matched the second-highest total in Final Four history.

Nuñez is Minutemen's wild man off the bench
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There was a time when Massachusetts coach John Calipari would turn to his bench and say, “Rigo,” and most every UMass follower knew what came next. Minutemen forward Rigoberto Nunez would check into the game and spend the next few minutes behaving, as he put it, like a wild man.

Nunez' role was to provide defense and enthusiasm, and he delivered. He was more known for the latter, however, as he defended chest to chest with bulging eyes, a screaming voice and frantic body movements. His antics, and his athleticism, made him a crowd favorite.

But just when Nunez was on his way to asserting himself, he suffered a torn meniscus at West Virginia his sophomore season. He had offseason knee surgery, and has since seen his time dwindle. As his career went on, Nunez found his best attribute was finding ways to adjust to setbacks on and off the court.

“Before the injury, I was at a place in my game where everything was going the right way, and people were taking an interest in me,” said Nunez, a Dominican-born resident of Lawrence, Mass., who spent a season and a half as a walk-on.

“After that, it's been tough. No one wants to take a chance on an injured player, even though I'm just as good as I was before the knee injury occurred. I'm in great shape.”

Nunez enjoyed the fact that his energetic approach to the game earned him playing time and made him a crowd favorite. But he knew that would take him only so far if he wanted to play professional basketball in the NBA or overseas. Prior to the injury, he was earning a reputation as a player who rarely took bad shots and was always around for key plays.

Then came the setback.

“My injury occurred late in my sophomore season, and I didn't even know my meniscus was injured,” he said. “Then against GWU [three games later] I injured it again and it swelled up that time, so I had an MRI done and we found out how serious it was.”

Nunez has had decent minutes since then but will probably finish his career with one claim to fame – drawing a controversial intentional foul against St. Joseph's in overtime that led to a UMass win this season. To this day, some (including St. Joseph's faithful) question whether he was fouled.

Nunez is simply pleased that his role changed from a player known just for his effervescence.

“I've changed,” he said. “I matured a little bit. I used to go out there to be crazy and wild and get everybody going. I play smarter now. I study defenders more and I see how I'm going to play a defender while I'm on the bench.

“Now, if someone on the team needs an emotional lift, I provide that for us. Like if Edgar [Padilla] is in foul trouble, I talk to him about it. If Marcus [Camby] needs a lift, I cheer him on.”

Nunez was an exceptional high school player, but he knew he would have to make adjustments to his game to fit in on the Minuteman squad.

“When you come out of high school and you average 20 to 30-plus points a game, that's the thing you have to adjust to,” he said.

“At first, I didn't think I was getting enough minutes. But my role had to change. I saw [UMass forwards] Dana Dingle and Donta Bright doing it for the sake of the team, so I did it as well. We sacrifice for the sake of the team so we can all look good.”

But perhaps the biggest transition Nunez made was from being a walk-on to a scholarship player – not that it changed in his on-the-court activities. But off the court, it made things a lot easier for him and his family.

“There were times when I didn't know what to do,” he said. “I had to pay so many thousands of dollars to the school and here I was playing basketball. I had no time to work. It was tough on my mother. I would call her all the time, and though she works, she doesn't make that much money.

“I thought of everything possible to pay the university. But then Coach Cal helped me out by giving me a scholarship for the second half of my sophomore semester. Now, to know that I have a scholarship and that [his family] doesn't have to worry about it, that helps.”

Although his career has seen setbacks, Nunez is ecstatic about the ending.

“I'm leaving on top,” he said. “Not many players can say that they left on top. I'm graduating, and going to the Final Four is like icing on the cake.”

Padilla (Giddel) gets a shot
By Michael Holley, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Edgar and Giddel Padilla play together during summers, on playgrounds, in recreation centers and practice. Never in games. Until last night.

The nation knows Edgar, the younger Padilla. He is the starting point guard for the University of Massachusetts basketball team. He rarely makes mistakes. He's a starter who usually leads the team in minutes played.

Giddel Padilla is a senior walk-on. He played 34 minutes all season and didn't even average a point per game. For the last two months, coach John Calipari has told him to be ready. But that was all theory until the Minutemen were wheezing against Kentucky in last night's national semifinal at the Meadowlands.

“Coach always tells me that he believes in me and knows I can play,” Giddel Padilla said. “The guys needed somebody to play defense out there. I know I can play defense. We weren't playing with any emotion. I wanted to give us that.”

Giddel Padilla played eight minutes, his longest stretch of the season. The last time he and his brother played at length in an official game was in high school. But this was an exceptional case. Kentucky guard Tony Delk was hot and Carmelo Travieso needed help checking him.

So Calipari went to an all-Padilla backcourt and a 13-point lead was soon down to 6. Edgar Padilla finished with 12 assists and four turnovers. Giddel had 4 points and one assist, which turned into a 3-point play for Marcus Camby.

The spark was evident for UMass, but the team still lost, 81-74. The Minutemen ended their season 35-2. Last night, several members of the team were making plans to visit their hometowns today.

“Edgar Padilla has done it all year,” Calipari said. “I'll tell you, I was most proud of Giddel. You're talking about a guy I haven't played that much. I looked down the bench and said, `Giddel, get in there.' And you know what? He played to win.”

Giddel Padilla has played these games several times in his mind. Before each game, he watches videotapes of opponents. During games, he is as intense as the coaching staff. He didn't think his biggest chance would come in the Final Four, but this was no time to act surprised.

“I play against these guys in practice,” he said. “They all have confidence in me. They know I can play defense.”

The Padillas did a good job of defense last night. But they won't be able to play it again for UMass. It was the last game for Giddel, a senior. The next goal is to play together on Puerto Rico's Olympic Team.

“I wish we would have won this one together,” Giddel said, “but that's how life goes sometimes.”

Calipari left searching
By Michael Holley, Boston Globe Staff, 3/31/1996

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After a couple of timeouts, he met his team at halfcourt and began screaming at them. John Calipari had to do something. His basketball team was dragging, gasping, losing.

“Something was missing all game,” he said when it was over. “I still can't put my finger on what it was.”

Calipari was clearly bothered by this. It was one of the few times this season that the University of Massachusetts basketball coach couldn't tell you exactly why his team lost. The Minutemen played well against Kentucky, but the Wildcats were a whisper better during last night's 81-74 national semifinal win at the Meadowlands.

What Calipari was able to do was put his team's 35-2 season in perspective. When the team gathered in a small room, cried and talked about the appreciation they had for each other, their coach talked about how special they are to him. It wasn't all basketball talk.

The coach realizes that there are Latino kids from Jamaica Plain to Springfield who gained ethnic pride in seeing the starting backcourt of Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso. He knows that long after Marcus Camby and Dana Dingle have left the Amherst campus, UMass will benefit from what those players established. And, as a coach who has been involved in basketball since he was a kid, he knows that this may not happen again for him.

“I learned more about myself as a coach and a person this year than I have in all my other years of coaching,” he said. “And I thanked them, because you're talking about unbelievable human beings that I coached this year. It may never happen again for me to coach a group like this.”

Calipari said he gained a new perspective on basketball. The January collapse of star player Marcus Camby had something to do with it. Perhaps Calipari had taken the game and himself too seriously at times, but that incident gave his basketball focus a makeover.

“I learned that basketball isn't all life and death,” he said.

This was not his way of rationalizing a loss. He wanted to win. Like most of his players, he probably wanted to get a good cry in private, but long after the game, he stood and answered questions. He acknowledged that the loss hadn't struck him fully when he was asked if he planned to stay in the area for Monday's championship game.

“I don't know,” he said. “It depends on how I'm feeling then.”

As midnight approached, Calipari had the look of several UMass fans at game's end. They couldn't believe it was over. They couldn't believe that they wouldn't, for one more night, check the coach's area and see how Calipari was getting on the refs. Or when he would give his first chest-bump to a player and say, “That's the way you play basketball.”

He said last week that if the Minutemen lost, they would go home and be happy with their 35-2 record. That will come. Just not yet. Last night, he went back to the team's hotel 10 minutes away from here and contemplated checking out, a couple nights earlier than planned.

Other Content

Notes

Several members of the 1995-96 Kentucky roster went on to be selected in the NBA Draft.

  • Four in 1996: Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Mark Pope
  • Two in 1997: Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson

Two other Wildcats from that era were also drafted, though they did not play in the UMass Final Four game:

  • 1998: Nazr Mohammed
  • 1999: Scott Padgett

Images

Box Score

MASSACHUSETTS (74)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Dingle          31   4-6   0-0   0-4  0  3    8
Bright          32  7-14   1-2   2-9  1  5   15
Camby           36  9-18   7-9   4-8  3  4   25
E Padilla       39  2-10   1-2   2-2 12  5    6
Travieso        26   3-7   2-2   0-4  0  4   10
Weeks           15   0-2   1-2   2-2  1  0    1
Clarke          10   1-2   1-2   0-1  1  1    3
Norville         2   1-1   0-0   0-0  0  0    2
Nunez            1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
G Padilla        8   2-4   0-0   1-1  1  2    4
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 29-64 13-19 11-31 19 24   74
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.453, FT-.684. 3-Point Goals:
3-9, .333 (Bright 0-1, Camby 0-1, E Padilla 1-3,
Travieso 2-4). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 8
(Camby 6, E Padilla, Weeks). Turnovers: 19
(Dingle 4, E Padilla 4, Camby 3, Travieso 3,
Bright 2, Weeks 2, Clarke). Steals: 8 (Bright 2,
E Padilla 2, Clarke, G Padilla, Travieso, Weeks).

KENTUCKY (81)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Anderson        21   1-3   4-5   2-5  4  4    6
Walker          32  5-10   4-5   1-6  4  2   14
Mccarty         23   4-8   0-0  3-10  4  1    8
Delk            32  7-16   5-9   1-2  0  2   20
Epps            33   3-6   0-0   1-4  4  1    7
Pope            23   1-2   6-6   2-3  1  4    8
Sheppard        10   2-2   3-4   0-2  1  3    7
Turner           6   1-2   0-0   0-1  1  0    2
Mercer          16   4-6   0-1   0-0  1  1    9
Edwards          4   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  2    0
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 28-55 22-30 10-33 20 20   81
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.509, FT-.733. 3-Point Goals:
3-9, .333 (Anderson 0-1, Mccarty 0-1, Delk 1-4,
Epps 1-2, Mercer 1-1). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked
shots: 6 (Walker, Mccarty, Delk, Pope, Sheppard,
Edwards). Turnovers: 17 (Delk 4, Walker 4,
Anderson 2, Mccarty 2, Sheppard 2, Epps, Mercer,
Pope). Steals: 12 (Walker 4, Epps 2, Mercer 2,
Anderson, Delk, Pope, Turner).
__________________________________
Massachusetts      28   46  -   74
Kentucky           36   45  -   81
__________________________________
Technical fouls: None.  A: 19,229. Officials: Ed
Hightower, Tom Rucker, Mike Kitts.
1)
approximate start time, after the conclusion of the first Semi-Final
game19960330_kentucky.txt · Last modified: 2017/10/03 22:18 (external edit)