Men's Basketball

 
Travis Ford Featured By ESPN's Andy Katz In A-10 Summer Session Article

Travis Ford was featured on ESPN.com.

Travis Ford was featured on ESPN.com.

July 25, 2005

  • ESPN.com's A-10 Summer Session
    ESPN's Andy Katz wrote about new UMass men's basketball coach Travis Ford and how he has taken the state of Massachusetts by storm. Check out the story, "Mass Appeal" right here. Katz writes about how Ford has been prominent in the public eye since coming to Amherst in March.

    Mass appeal
    By Andy Katz
    ESPN.com

    Travis Ford's appearance schedule has its own timeline on the UMass athletics Web site.

    Do you think the school is placing importance on that?

    UMass wants to make sure that you, the alumni, and anyone else surfing the site understand that Ford is out there to meet, greet and transform you into a Minutemen fan again.

    Ford has been in Boston, Worcester and all over the rest of the state to talk to alumni. He's heading to New York City Aug. 2. He even threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park May 9.

    What's he running for? He's got the job, but he wants you to come watch him coach a team that could be the sleeper to contend in the A-10 next season.

    "I'm spending most of my time making the rounds," said Ford, who came to UMass after leading Eastern Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament last season. "I'm trying to get people excited about basketball. They love the sport here. But they need to be re-energized.

    "I've been to every part of the state, probably doing 15-20 speaking engagements, and plenty here on campus to get the student body excited about basketball again," Ford said.

    Ford said he was not just getting them excited but reconnected. Clearly, the fans at UMass were into hoops in the John Calipari and even the Bruiser Flint years, but the interest began to fade in Flint's final year and continued to go downhill under Steve Lappas. To be fair, when UMass fans want to show up, they can provide a tough home court -- as last season's win over Connecticut exhibited.

    "When they went to the Final Four [in 1996] that gave them a look at big-time basketball," said Ford, who played for UMass alumnus Rick Pitino at Kentucky.

    "They can fill this place, it can be done. There are a lot of alumni in Boston and we're trying to get those season-ticket holders back. The biggest thing that I have found is that people find a reason not to come to the game. We're trying to get them (especially in Boston) to make the trip, and we're getting a warm reception."

    The Minutemen finished a disappointing 16-12 last season (9-7 A-10 East) when they lost three of their last four games, including their A-10 conference tournament opener to La Salle. But they have enough parts to make a run this season.

    Senior Rashaun Freeman (15.4 ppg) should be one of the top players in the league. Senior Jeff Viggiano is back after being limited due to injuries, and he's one of the team's top shooters. The recruiting class is solid with the addition of big-time JC scorer James Life, point guard Chris Lowe (who could be the starter), and wing Brandon Thomas, who played at Long Island University for two seasons before sitting out last season. For practice purposes, the Minutemen added a huge local coup when West Virginia's Luke Bonner (of the New Hampshire Bonners) transferred in.

    "There are good players here, but we've got to change their mentality," Ford said. "The consistency level is huge. They weren't used to staying here in the summer and working on academics and their bodies. The team has to develop better team chemistry and work on exploiting the talent we do have."

    Ford wants to play up-tempo basketball, like Pitino. That certainly would sell well in western Massachusetts if the Minutemen win.

    The schedule will be daunting with games at Connecticut, Boston College, Florida State and Davidson, all games Ford is quick to point out that he inherited (although Connecticut and BC probably aren't moving off the schedule anytime soon).

    He also picked up the Holiday Festival in New York and a home game against regional rival Boston University (never easy, just ask Michigan). The Minutemen also have a home game scheduled with Gonzaga, but that one seems less likely as the two sides haggle over dates and a proposed buyout.

    With that daunting schedule, if Ford wins, he won't have to spend as much time convincing fans to come back to the Mullins Center. They'll already be waiting to get into the building.

    - Andy Katz

     

     

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