Oral Bullen Is Unquestioned Leader On UMass
Sept. 8, 2005
Oral Bullen Is Unquestioned Leader On UMass
AMHERST, Mass. - The stories have been told and the articles written on how UMass senior men's soccer captain Oral Bullen grew up in the heart of Brooklyn and how he is now the Minuteman's number-one scoring threat and team leader.
However, Bullen hasn't always been UMass' main man on offense. Although he played in all 20 games in 2002, his freshman season, his playing time was still very limited. That season Bullen only managed to get off 10 shots, with just one finding the back of the net.
By comparison, the Maroon and White's leading scorer that season was Jeff Deren, who had an astounding 22 goals on 92 shots. It's no surprise that Bullen had such a limited role on a team that had such prominent scorer such as Deren.
UMass coach Sam Koch explains that Bullen's lack of offensive production was a combination of little playing time and not yet understanding the Minutemen's system. Koch's philosophy is that when you get an opportunity to shoot, you take the shot.
"As with most kids coming out of high school, he didn't understand that we don't get upset when you miss shots," Koch said. "We get upset when you miss opportunities."
When Koch was recruiting Bullen out of Martin Luther King High School in Brooklyn, he said Bullen had all the positive qualities he was looking for.
"He's just a genuinely good human," Koch said. "He has great character, incredible speed and good enthusiasm for the game."
Koch knew it was these qualities that would help shape Bullen from the kid from Brooklyn into a Division I college star.
Don't take this the wrong way, however. It's not as if Bullen had a lot of growing up to do to get where he is today. Koch was reassuring in addressing that Oral had already done his fair share of growing up.
"After the first year academically, he was already pretty mature," Koch said. "It wasn't one of those boy-to-man deals at all."
In his sophomore season of 2003, Bullen saw much more of the field and took advantage of the opportunity that was given to him. The so-called sophomore slump was nowhere to be seen.
It's hard to decipher at exactly which point in 2003 Bullen's collegiate career took a turning point.
Perhaps it was when he scored multiple times against Birmingham South on Sept. 5, and against St. Bonaventure on Oct. 26. Or maybe it was when he scored three points (one goal, one assist) against Navy on Nov. 14.
All that is known is that at some point during his sophomore campaign Bullen went from role player to top tier scorer.
That season Bullen saw vast improvements in all of his offensive numbers. He took four times as many shots as his freshman season (41) and scored eight goals to go along with four assists. His 20 points were good for second on the team.
Also in 2003, Bullen showed that, when it mattered, he wanted the ball on his foot. He scored two of his four career game-winning goals as a sophomore. He also stepped up his game in conference play. Against Atlantic 10 competition, Bullen recorded 12 points (5 goals, 2 assists) in 11 games.
It seemed that Bullen's breakout 2003 season showed just how good he is and how many skills he utilizes on the field. His coach continually praises the captain's wheels.
"He has incredible speed," Koch said. "His speed is what puts him ahead of everybody else."
Last year, Bullen was recognized for his leadership skills as he was named captain of the Minutemen. Although just a junior at the time, the title seemed to fit him very well.
Last season again saw all of Bullen's numbers rise for a third consecutive year. He led UMass in every offensive category. His 23 points were good for third in the A-10, and his nine goals tied him for second in the conference.
Also for the third consecutive year, Bullen's shot percentage rose nearly 100 points from .100 in 2002 to .195 in 2003 and finally .281 a year ago.
So not only was he taking more shots, but he was finishing them more often as well.
Bullen also gained a skill during his junior season that completes any great player in almost any sport. That is the ability to make the players around them better. Michael Jordan could do it in basketball and Wayne Gretzky could do it on the ice.
Bullen's five assists a year ago were a career high for him and placed him 10th in the A-10. His improved ability may have come from necessity more than anything else.
After the breakout season of 2003, more people began to notice Bullen. Those people included the opposition. Last year, opposing coaches started shadowing Bullen with their best defenders to try and make him a non-factor. Saying their attempts failed is an understatement.
Coach Koch believes Bullen's ability to distribute the ball is what makes him such a complete player.
"Last year, he showed a more apparent ability to find other players and that's very important," Koch said. "His field vision is much better."
It's still to be seen where Bullen's game can go from here. It already seems he's the total package. If his game continues to improve, 2005 should be a very exciting time in Amherst.
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