Breaking down the Minutemen

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Michael Phillis/Collegian

The running theme in the 2007-08 Massachusetts men’s basketball team is how different this squad looks from last year’s.

Not only are there a number of new players, the style of basketball will look nothing like last season. Third-year coach Travis Ford now has the players in place to execute his preferred brand of basketball, which involves a lot of running and a lot of shooting.

Here’s a player-by-player breakdown of the roster. The ordering of players at each position is dictated by the expected playing time.

GUARDS

Chris Lowe

The 6-foot, 170-pound point guard from Mount Vernon, N.Y., was Ford’s first recruit to sign at UMass three years ago. And if you ask Ford, he thinks his junior guard is the perfect player to run the new offense.

“Chris Lowe is probably the fastest point guard from end-to-end in the country,” Ford said. “This really fits the way he plays. He’s the quarterback of this team; this is his basketball team.”

Lowe’s performance will be pivotal to the Maroon and White. And he has the ability, experience and skill set to do just that.

He’s one of the best defending guards on the UMass roster and has exceptional quickness with the ball. He’s a solid distributor, something that will the other guards and scoring forwards.

His 4.2 assists per game last year ranked third in the Atlantic 10. Although turnovers have been an issue in the past for the Minutemen, Lowe was solid in 2006, ranking fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Ricky Harris

Ford hopes Harris, a sophomore shooting guard, will be on the receiving end on many of Lowe’s passes. And Harris will likely be standing behind the 3-point line waiting for them.

Fans should expect the 6-foot-2 Harris to shoot at least five shots from behind the arc every game. Ford thinks that could translate to him leading the team in scoring this season. On some nights he may take 10 shots, and he is a prime candidate to the lead the conference in attempts from long range. Even on nights when his shot is not falling, Ford will likely tell Harris to keep shooting.

Harris played just under 11 minutes per game in 2006, but will start this year and see extensive playing time. He is also a capable defender; someone Ford hopes will guard elite players on the opposition.

He has some experience at point guard, but he is unlikely to see any of his minutes from that spot this season.

Max Groebe

Despite coming off the bench, this 6-foot-5 freshman shooting guard just might challenge Harris for the most 3-point attempts on the team this season. Groebe has good size at the wing spot, and is a terrific catch-and-shoot player. Lowe’s assist numbers are likely to rise when Harris and Groebe are on the floor.

With his shooting and athletic ability, coupled with his defensive skills, Groebe may lead the freshmen in minutes played.

He was a McDonald’s All-American nominee his senior season in high school in Miami, averaging 22.3 points and seven rebounds per game. Groebe was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is a member of the German national team. He was recruited by perennial Division I power Georgetown, but opted for UMass instead.

Ford is pleased he did, and expects him to make a big contribution off the bench in his inaugural season.

Gary Correia

The 6-foot-1 freshman is capable of playing both guard positions, but Ford is hoping Correia can quickly develop and be the backup at the point to Lowe. In the meantime, forward Gary Forbes may see some time at point guard when Lowe is getting a breather.

“It’s a very critical situation, it will probably be Gary Forbes until this point, until Gary Correia is ready,” Ford said about the backup point guard spot. “We don’t want to put a lot of pressure on him so early. But as much as any player on our team, he’s getting better every day.”

Much like the other guards, Correia is a capable shooter and another player likely to get his share of 3-point attempts. He’s also a strong passer and the leadership he displayed in high school will translate into significant minutes this season.

Matt Glass

Another freshman guard, Glass played a prep year with Correia at the Northfield Mount Hermon School last year. At 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, Glass has good size for a shooting guard and his good rebounding skills enable him to play at the small forward position as well.

His main attribute is his shooting touch, particularly from 3-point range. His ball-handling and defensive skills are not where Ford wants them to be, and his improvement in those areas will dictate his playing time.

Glass helped lead his high school team to two state titles, and he was named Mr. Vermont Basketball in his final two seasons. As a senior he averaged over 22 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Nana Ampim

The walk-on from London, England, has rarely seen the court in his three seasons at UMass. His senior campaign is expected to be more of the same for the 6-foot-1 guard.

Over that time he has appeared in eight games, seeing 11 total minutes of game action. However, he is one of the better athletes on the team and may be the best defensive player on the entire roster.

Ampim plays with a lot of intensity – particularly on the defensive end – but his overall game hasn’t been there. And that’s reflected in the sparse minutes.

Sedale Jones

Jones is one of many freshman guards Ford recruited to fit his style. A 6-foot-4 shooting guard, the Pittsfield native will likely get the fewest minutes of the freshman class.

He’s a good shooter, but the coaching staff wants him to play more physically and improve on his defensive skills. He comes to UMass after a year at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, a highly regarded program.

Anthony Gurley

This sophomore transfer from Wake Forest is perhaps the most highly touted of all the newcomers to Ford’s roster. But Gurley will sit out the entire season per NCAA regulations after transferring.

He played in all 31 games for the Demon Deacons, making one start. He averaged over 14 minutes per contest, scoring over six points per game. He’s a 6-foot-3 shooting guard capable of scoring in bunches, and will bring a lot of excitement to the Mullins Center in 2008-09.

FORWARDS

Gary Forbes

Ford classifies the 2007-08 Minutemen as Lowe’s team, but Forbes is his best player. He’s a virtual lock to lead UMass in scoring and he also has a good chance to lead the team in rebounding.

The 6-foot-7 redshirt senior took time to acclimate himself last season after transferring from Virginia, but he still managed to average 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Those numbers will see a big increase now that he’s more comfortable and responsible for the scoring load.

Forbes is one of four captains this season, and is capable of playing any position on the floor. He will start at the small forward spot, but will also see some time at point guard. He is a dangerous offensive weapon with an inside and outside game, providing matchup problems for the defense.

He spent the summer playing in the FIBA Americas Championship for his native Panama, gaining valuable experience against world-class competition. Although the Panamanian team struggled, Forbes excelled averaging 17.8 points per game.

Forbes was named to the A-10 Preseason Third Team; that should serve as good motivation for him, although he’s never lacked drive to improve on the basketball court.

Etienne Brower

Another senior captain, Brower is a terrific athlete that will start at the power forward position. He battled through injuries last season that limited him to 22 games, but this will be his year to prove himself, provided he stays healthy.

He is a versatile player, capable of playing anywhere in the front court. He’s generally considered the
hardest-working player on the team, and Ford raves about how important it is to have players like Brower on the team.

The 6-foot-8 forward can shoot the ball well, and is a 3-point threat. He can also get to the basket, using his phenomenal leaping skills to throw down power dunks to pump up his teammates.

With the lack of established big men, it will be important for Brower to help out with the rebounding. His athletic ability should allow him to do that.

Tony Gaffney

After transferring from Boston University, Gaffney sat out last season. But the 6-foot-8 redshirt junior power forward is now ready to contribute in many ways.

Gaffney will get plenty of playing time and his primary concern will be rebounding. He’s a good rebounder and a capable defender – using his long arms to get steals, help on defensive traps and block shots. Much like the other new players, Gaffney can shoot the ball from the perimeter and seems like a good fit to the team.

His role should increase as the season wears on, and he could find his way into the starting lineup from time to time if his offensive game becomes more complete.

Trey Lang

Ford is impressed with this 6-foot-7 freshman’s strength and physicality, but is looking for him to develop a more well-rounded offensive game. He is a good finisher, but his jump shot and release need to improve.

He has a pretty good post game already, and is a player that the coaching staff is really excited about. But it appears much of that excitement will be generated in the coming seasons, not necessarily this one.

Matt Hill

Hill won’t see much time this season as a freshman. He was injured last year and is still recovering. The coaches are taking their time with Hill, getting him accustomed to the offense and trying to get him fully healthy.

A 6-foot-7 power forward, Hill can shoot mid-range jump shots and also take it into the low post. He has a good all-around inside game, capable of blocking shots and getting rebounds.

Matt Pennie

Pennie may play sparingly – typically in the final minutes of uncontested games – but he plays a key role on the team.

Now a graduate student, the former team manager and walk-on was named a captain for this season. He works extremely hard in practice, trying to bring out the best in all his teammates.

CENTERS

Dante Milligan

The 6-foot-9, 215 pound redshirt senior will likely get the majority of the starts at center. He played less than 10 minutes per game in 32 contests last year, but improved his play as the season progressed.

A captain this year, Milligan is one of the best of the team at blocking shots and will be counted on to rebound regularly. Milligan, a captain this season, has struggled with consistency.

Being a senior and a captain, a lot is expected out of Dante. He’s a hard worker and will need to continue improving his offensive game and overall rebounding skills.

Luke Bonner

Milligan will have to show the improvement Ford is looking for; otherwise Bonner will get more starts at center.

The redshirt junior has tremendous size at 7-foot-1 and 245-pounds, but he needs to improve his rebounding production. Without Stephane Lasme and Rashaun Freeman it will be crucial for him to grab a high number of rebounds.

Bonner’s minutes should see a big jump from last year (7.2) and Ford thinks that he’s up for the task.

Bonner can shoot the ball well for a big man. But with many solid shooters on this basketball team, it will be his inside game that matters most. Bonner’s development is something to watch for this season. His high intelligence on the court should help him improve his overall game.

Papa Lo

This is a player who will instantly be a fan favorite, for a multitude of reasons.

First, he’s very similar to Lasme, who was an extremely popular player in his time at UMass. Like Lasme, he comes to UMass from abroad – Senegal – as a tall and skinny shot-blocking extraordinaire. He also has a lot to learn offensively like Lasme did, but Ford thinks Lo’s offensive skills are better.

Lo is shorter than most good shot-blockers, but he has tremendous length and natural ability to alter shots. He will get sparing minutes, but they will likely get more substantial as he becomes more comfortable.

Fans had a taste of his defensive skills in the exhibition against Concordia, when they erupted after an emphatic block by the 6-foot-9 freshman.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]