A Summer Chat With Coach Travis Ford
July 5, 2006
AMHERST, Mass. - With one year under his belt at UMass, head coach Travis Ford heads into his second year in Amherst with a strong returning cast of players along with the addition of five instant impact players setting the stage for an exciting 2006-07 season. Prior to heading out on the road recruiting, Ford took a few minutes to chat about his first year at UMass, the summer including a training trip to the Bahamas and the upcoming 2006-07 season.
Question: Can you give us an overview of the summer months following your first season at UMass?
Ford: This is a great summer for our basketball team for the fact that we have everyone returning from last season, minus Jeff Viggiano, plus we have three players who were in the system last year, but could not play as transfers. There are just two players who were not in the system last year in Tiki Mayben and Ricky Harris, so everyone else understands what they can expect out of me.
We are coming off a great spring semester from an academic standpoint; we ended up in tremendous fashion. All of the players are here at UMass for summer school and working out with our strength and conditioning coach, Chris Boyko, everyday.
Another thing the players have had to work on over the summer, is a report that I have given to each of them for what they need to work on heading into next season. It wasn't all about basketball for some. It has been about working on their flexibility, foot speed, being more explosive and they can do all that working with Coach Boyko.
This is a big summer because it is a bit of a shortened summer because we are taking a preseason-training trip to the Bahamas.
Question: Tell us more about the reports, which you gave to the players, what did they entail?
Ford: Right before the end of the spring semester, we have exit meetings with each player before they go home for about a week. I bring each of the players in and I spent about 1-2 days compiling each player's report. I work on brainstorming what each player needs to improve on. I write everything down and then I go back and try to condense it and put it into a very organized format for the player. I try to cover every single area that they need to improve on before they get together with me in August.
When I have the report finished, I bring in each player, give them the report, I leave the room and let them read it. It takes them about 20-30 minutes to read it over to start. Then I come back in and discuss it with the player to get their feedback. I like to hear what they agree with and what they disagree with and what they have questions about. We really sit and go over each page and discuss all the details of the things they need to work on.
I put a formula together for each of them of how they are going to work on improving over the summer. It has been very beneficial; the players have really taken hold of it. I see them walking around campus and I will speak to them about their progress. During the summer, nothing is mandatory, but I will ask them, how they are coming along. I will ask them, "How are you working on the areas we talked about?" or "What are you doing to improve in certain areas?" You can't make them do it, but you hope they want to do it to become better players.
Some of the small examples are; Gary Forbes is working on his flexibility. Brandon Thomas is working on his foot speed and his free throwing shooting. Each player has a long list of items, such as taking a certain number of shots or 3-pointers on a given day. Rashaun Freeman is working on his jump hook. Some guys are working on channeling their emotions or tempers. Some are working more on the mental side instead of just on the court.
These meetings and reports are very in-depth. I go over with each player what his role is going to be on next year's team. The roles change from day-to-day, but I let them know what I expect out of each of them.
Question: How about video analysis? Do you give the players anything to watch over the summer?
Ford: Austin Newton, who handles our video coordination, breaks down every single game for us. He puts together a video for each player of every single play they each made from the entire season. He makes splice tapes, which are 30-40 minutes long for each player with good things, and bad things that the player did, what we call positives and negatives.
Summer is about individual improvement. This summer will be a little different because we get to work with our team in August, but ultimately, it is about individual improvement. In our meetings, we really try to prepare each player for what they need to improve upon. A lot of times, the things that players think they need to work on and what I think they need to work on are very different things. And, what matters is what I think.
Question: What makes your team the perfect team to take on an international training trip this summer?
Ford: I think we are the poster child for a team that can really benefit from a summer training trip. Most teams have to leave four or five guys as incoming players. But for us, we are only going to be leaving one player, Ricky Harris, who will be an incoming freshman this fall. So we get to take almost our whole team - even through Ricky is going to be a big part of our basketball team-- we get everyone together early. We get to start practice 10 days before we leave for the trip (starting Aug. 7). We will use those days to implement offenses and defenses. We will get in a lot of individual work as well.
Even though there were three players (Etienne Brower, Luke Bonner and Gary Forbes) who sat out last year, but practiced with us every day, they had different roles in practice than what they will have now. Many times they were the scout team. Also, as a coach, I did not correct them as much as I did with the players that were playing in the games. So, we have to mix those guys into their new roles. Now, they are running our offense every day and our defense each day. Now, you are held accountable much more than you were last year.
Those 10 days before we leave will be a big benefit for them and Tiki Mayben, who will also be a part of our team this year.
After the practice, we go to the Bahamas and play five games. I have talked to schools that have gone to the Bahamas for the preseason trips and they have said the competition is very good. Schools like North Carolina and Alabama have also told me how it is a great bonding experience. So hopefully, this trip will help us get a head start to the upcoming season.
Question: What can we expect to see out of the newcomers for this season, headed up by the three transfers and Tiki Mayben?
Ford: Each of the newcomers brings a dimension that will really enhance our team and make our team much better. A player like Gary Forbes, he brings offense to our team, which is something we desperately need. He can score in a variety of ways from the perimeter or inside. He can be a power player, but also has a great touch from outside. He has played at the highest level in the ACC and I think he will be ready for the competition in our conference. He will help us leadership-wise, scoring-wise and he could be one of the best players in the league. But, there is still a lot of work he has to do.
Luke Bonner brings us shooting from the perimeter as a 7-footer. He may be the best 3-point shooter on the team. Luke also has a great understanding from the post position. He really understands the game and our offense. He is our biggest player so he brings a size element and depth inside. The thing that gets me most excited about Luke is his shooting and his high basketball I.Q., he really understands the game.
Etienne Brower is going to fill Jeff Viggiano's role for us. He is the most versatile player we have along with Forbes. They can both play inside and outside. Etienne is tremendous on the fastbreak. He can shoot the 3-pointer very well. He is an extremely hard worker. If you had twelve Etienne Browers on your team you would be very successful because he can do a lot of everything very well. I am very excited about all of the different roles Etienne will play for us, it will be endless. That is something we spoke about in his meeting, that he will play 2-3 different positions on a regular basis.
Tiki Mayben is a man that is blessed with great talent. He does a lot of things that you just don't teach. His ability to handle the basketball is sensational. He has great court vision, he sees plays happen before they happen. He has incredible instincts for a point guard. The best thing about Tiki is that he makes everyone else around him better. I am looking forward to him playing a lot. He can play the point guard or the two-guard position for us.
These guys are going to add depth, defense, scoring and rebounding. They all bring different aspects to our team and it will really benefit us.
Question: The team returns so many seniors this season, how are they working on their games to make their final college seasons special?
Ford: We do have several very good seniors returning. What I am looking forward to the most this year, is for them to provide leadership. As seniors, you want them to be leaders. We need our seniors to have the No. 1 goal of wanting to win, no matter what. They should not be worried about playing time or points scored. They are all good basketball players, all our seniors will play, but we need them to step up and hold everyone else accountable for this season - their senior year. This is their last go-around and should want to go out on a positive note and help UMass get back to the top of the Atlantic 10 and beyond.
Question: There are very high expectations from fans heading into your second year, how do you handle those feelings?
Ford: I am not a person who sets goals outside of the normal ones that everyone in our league sets. We want to win the league and go to the NCAA Tournament. We are no different than anyone else. I am very optimistic every year. Some years you can see that you have the make-up in a team that is going to be more successful - and I think this is one of those teams.
Last year, we were so thin in terms of depth with just eight scholarship players. It was our staff's first year so it was a transition year. But now, we have a year under our belts. We have a lot of players that are very good and will help us compete at a high level. I think we can compete at the top of the Atlantic 10, I don't think there is any question about that.
I am not big on expectations. You want to have fun with the season. For our fans, I don't want them to expect that we have to go to the NCAA Tournament. Yes, we want to go to the NCAA Tournament. Yes we have a team that I think is capable of going to the NCAA Tournament. But, its like going to a party that you are so excited to go to, it becomes anti-climatic. I tell everyone to enjoy the ride. This is a good basketball team and we want to the fans to enjoy every single game, enjoy watching this team play, and enjoy watching these seniors go out for the last time.
I don't want the fans to get caught up in the expectations, I want them to get caught up in the UMass basketball team and that UMass is going to have a very good team this year. If you start labeling what you need to do to have a successful season, then people start saying,'"You should have done that, so it's no big deal." We want to make the NCAA, we want to win the A-10 and I think we have a team that is capable of doing that, but I don't expect it.
Question: The fan support was great last season, what type of effect does that have on the team?
Ford: The fans at UMass have been terrific since I arrived. They were especially noticeable during the season. One of the big positives out of my first season is that we went 10-2 at home at the Mullins Center. That was very encouraging. We beat some very good teams at home and had some very good crowds at home drawing close to 5,000 fans per game.
Winning your home games is one of the first steps to having a successful team. Now we have to go on the road and win games. Most of the fans that saw us play, saw us play at home, so they saw us play well. In all the golf tournaments I have played in, everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive and excited about the upcoming year. They are not shy to let me know about the expectations, and I tell them to enjoy it. I let them know this is a process we are going through to get UMass back to the top.
We have a great schedule for the fans to look forward to this upcoming season. We have Boston College at home and Miami at home. We have some great non-conference games on the road. We also have the A-10 conference games against our traditional rivals.
Question: Finally, the team has excelled in the classroom recently, tell everyone about that success off the court.
Ford: Last season was a transition year, especially the first semester last fall. I was disappointed in the first semester academically, but much of that is a part of being new. I was trying to understand how the academic support system was handled in the first semester.
For the second semester, I really put a lot of the pressure on our players to do well in the classroom. I laid the law down, because I had a better understanding of what needed to be done and had a better understanding of our players and their capabilities in the classroom. We set up a system that really worked well in the second semester that resulted in almost a 2.8 cumulative team GPA, which is very good.
Luke Bonner led the team with a 3.8. Gary Forbes had the highest GPA he ever had in a semester at college. Four players had over 3.0 GPAs. Dante Milligan posted a 3.2 GPA, Matt Pennie had a 3.3 GPA. We had some players who really performed very well which means a lot to me.