Revival in the Pioneer Valley

By Mike Marzelli Collegian Staff

For those in and around Massachusetts men’s basketball, there is little to no doubt that this is a make or break year for head coach Steve Lappas and the Minutemen. A year after going 11-17 and bowing out in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament for the second consecutive season, UMass returns all five starters and a plethora of cautious optimism surrounding the program.

Lappas has displayed a prowess for igniting dormant programs from the doldrums of mediocrity, and it was for that very reason that he was brought to Amherst. After three consecutive losing seasons, however, the uneasiness of losing has begun to grow uncomfortable for the Maroon and White’s thin but loyal fan base. Nonetheless, in his stays at Manhattan and Villanova, Lappas combined to go 51-16 in his fourth season at the helm, and the veteran coach has every reason to believe his young and talented group will be primed for success in 2003-04.

With a year of experience under their belt and a few more pieces of the puzzle fitting in around them, this group has the potential to be the team that re-ignites the basketball flame and takes back the cold, bitter Amherst winter that once belonged solely to basketball and nothing else. With success will come interest, and with interest will come fans, but one will not come without the other. The opportunity is there for the taking, as are the fans who have waited anxiously for the return to glory of UMass basketball, all that’s left is for this group to make it happen.

Backcourt

As he has over each of the past three seasons, Lappas will once again rely on senior point guard Anthony Anderson to take charge of his young team and direct traffic on both ends of the court. A four year starter and a two year captain, Anderson now has three years’ experience running Lappas’ motion offense, and the 2001 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year has evolved into a reliable floor general who takes care of the ball and can effectively create his own offense.

His shot selection is shaky at times – he often passes up open looks in attempting to get teammates involved – but he remains one of the Atlantic 10’s premier shooters after connecting on nearly 39 percent of his three point attempts and averaging 12.9 points per game last season.

Anderson will also be looking to make a final mark in the UMass record books in this, his final season in Amherst. The Lynn native currently sits third on the program’s all time list in three pointers made (227), fourth in three point attempts (584) and fifth in three point percentage (.389).

Additionally, he is one of only six players in UMass history who have recorded 100 or more assists in three consecutive seasons, and if he can accomplish the feat again, he will join Carl Smith as the only two players in school history to reach that level in four consecutive campaigns.

“Anthony knows exactly what to do out there at all times,” Lappas said. “He’s a very smart player who understands what we’re trying to do in the offense, and he really serves as another coach on the floor. The guys look up to him and respect him, and he’s the kind of player who can really help to hold a young team together.”

Joining Anderson in the backcourt will be sophomore guard Art Bowers, who was named to the A-10 All Rookie Team after averaging 9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists during his freshman campaign. A pure scorer known for his dynamic mid-range game, Bowers will be relied on heavily to pick up more of the scoring slack along the perimeter. He has proven he has a knack all his own offensively, but must improve on his 3 point shooting to take the pressure off of Anderson and help draw defenders away from the post.

Classmate Maurice Maxwell, who is listed as a forward on the roster but will likely serve in a variety of roles on the wing, has a chance to become an elite defender in the A-10 with his long wingspan and good athleticism, but must show he can shoot the ball consistently to balance out his offensive game. He displayed good court awareness and an exceptional ability to attack the basket in averaging just over eight points per game in 2003-04, and if he can further his feel for the offense he may find himself filling in for Anderson at the point in certain situations.

Senior Chris Chadwick, a solid combo guard will once again serve as the team’s backup point guard, is a player whom Lappas feels is poised for success this season, and has shed nearly 20 pounds to get back in what Lappas calls “much better shape.” A steady hand at the point who is fearless with the ball, Chadwick is a streaky shooter who can help the Minutemen with senior leadership at either guard position, and gives the Maroon and White four relatively interchangeable parts at the guard position.

“Around the perimeter, we have the chance to be very solid both offensively and defensively,” Lappas said. “We have guys who do a lot of different things well, and with the year of experience they got last year they should be primed to succeed for us this year.

“Artie Bowers and Maurice Maxwell are guys that we’re counting on to step up this season, and we feel they both have a chance to be very good players if they keep working … Chris [Chadwick] is also a guy who can really give us a boost as well. He’s worked hard in the off season, and we’re confident that he’s going to give us another formidable option off the bench.”

Walk-ons Drew Rossi and Mike Jones will also provide added depth at the position.

Frontcourt

There is little doubt that the 2004-04 Massachusetts Minutemen will only go as far as reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year Rashaun Freeman can take them.

A physically dominant force with a soft touch around the rim and an exceptional arsenal of offensive moves, Freeman led the Minutemen with 15.4 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game in ’03-04, and is a leading candidate for A-10 Player of the Year honors. After shooting almost 55 percent from the floor, recording 12 double-doubles and being named A-10 Rookie of the Week seven times, Freeman must remain consistently stellar on the offensive end for UMass, and continue to be a physical force on defense.

“Ray has a chance to become one of the elite players in the conference, no doubt about it,” Lappas said. “He’s worked hard in the offseason again, and is ready to pick right up where he left off last year. We’re counting on him again for a great season, because we know he’s capable of special things.”

Another key for UMass along the front line will be sophomore forward Stephane Lasme. One of the conference’s premier shot blockers, Lasme ranked second in the A-10 with 51 blocks last season, an average of 1.8 per game. Tall, athletic and an exceptional leaper, Lasme is a key figure for the ’04-05 Minutemen. If he can continue to develop into an intimidating defensive force and the avoid problems with foul trouble that plagued him much of last season, he’ll give Lappas a difference-maker in the pivot who will help take the heat off of Freeman defensively and help slow opponents inside game. If he can also further his game offensively to the point where he can contribute consistently, it will be an additional bonus for the Maroon and White.

“Stephane is a guy who has really come a long way since last season,” Lappas said. “He’s still very new to the game, and he’s learning things every day that are just helping him get better and better. The more experience he gets, the more he’ll be able to help us.”

Back for his third season at UMass is Jeff Viggiano. The Suffield, Conn. native has started for Lappas through the majority of the past two seasons, and will provide key leadership and stability off the bench both at the wing and inside as an occasional power forward. Viggiano averaged 9.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for UMass last season but, despite being recruited as a shooter, still hasn’t shown the consistency from behind the arc to be a mainstay within the offense. Nonetheless, Viggia
no is one of the toughest players on the team, and the many intangibles he brings will help keep the Minutemen together on both ends of the court.

Highly touted freshman Lawrence Carrier will also help take some of the pressure off of Carrier, and will team with Viggiano in giving Lappas a pair of forwards who can play both inside and out. A former top five high school recruit who played at the Salisbury (Conn.) School after moving east from Southern California, Carrier is known for his deadly 3 point shooting ability. He needs to work himself into better shape at this point, but has the athleticism and potential to be a true difference-maker on the offensive end. If he can work on his transition game and finish strong on offense to allow himself more open looks around the perimeter, he will likely get better with as the season progresses.

“We have the chance to go big or go small, and that flexibility is good,” Lappas said. “We have guys like [Viggiano] who can play a number of roles, and those guys can really help us in finding the best possible matchups on both ends.”

The final two thirds of UMass’ 2004 recruiting class will also be put in a position to help the Minutemen this season. Canadian high school product Olivier Lamoureux missed most of early season practice after hernia surgery, but has rebounded nicely and has the potential to come in and help right away. A tall, lanky forward who can shoot and run the floor, Lamoureux remains untested against the big, physical forwards in the A-10, and needs to prove he can hold his own inside.

Holding his own will not be a problem for 6 foot 11 325 pound Bristol, Conn. native Jeff “Big Deli” Salovski. A monster of a man who can move bodies inside, Lappas says Salovski still needs to lose some weight and gain quickness and stamina before he can contribute regularly, but strongly emphasizes that he thinks “Big Deli” will one day become a solid A-10 big man.

“The young kids that we’ve brought in are guys we really think can contribute, but we don’t necessarily need them to because we have such a strong returning group,” Lappas said. “Over the course of the season, I think the three freshman are going to have their chance to make a difference, but they won’t have the pressure on them of having to do it all right away.”

Senior Brennan Martin will also contribute at the forward position, and will compliment UMass’ inside presence with his strong shooting ability. Sophomore forward Alassane Kouyate, meanwhile, had double knee surgery in the off season, and has had difficulty during the recovery process. He is continuing to rest his knees and weigh his options, and will likely be out for the foreseeable future.

Walk-on Tim Collins will also provide depth at the position.