First, temptation came calling on Marcus Camby, UMass's junior
center, with promises of wealth and opportunity in the NBA. But
the 6'11" Camby swatted the notion away last spring as if it
were a halfhearted jump hook. Then Minuteman coach John Calipari
had his ear bent by three NBA teams. But no incentive could pull
him away from Amherst either. The sighs of relief had half the
commonwealth on the verge of hyperventilation.
"I knew I wasn't quite ready mentally or physically to go pro
yet," says Camby, who was a likely lottery pick. "And Coach gave
me his word that if I came back, he'd be here for me."
Calipari's 10-year, $5 million deal made keeping his word that
much easier. Now, thanks to Camby's return, the Minutemen are
heavy favorites to win a fifth consecutive Atlantic-10 title and
again be in the national-title hunt.
"He's just like Danny Manning, only a better athlete," Calipari
says without a hint of sarcasm. "We're going to put him in the
high post, where he can pass, drive and create. People will
think I'm crazy for not playing him with his back to the basket,
but he has guard skills. Going to him actually means creating
for other players."
Coming out of Hartford Public High School, Camby had enough
versatility and coordination to make him the most sought-after
New England big man since Patrick Ewing 12 years before. Like
Ewing, Camby is known more for his defensive than his offensive
prowess. He has blocked 208 shots in 59 games, and his quick
feet and long reach can destroy an opponent's game plan. Despite
Camby's 13.9-point scoring average last season, his offensive
production seemed like an afterthought. But with leading scorer
and All-America Lou Roe gone, that is about to change.
"I was always able to score when I had to," Camby says. "Now I'm
going to have to score consistently."
His teammates agree--sort of. "The offense has to revolve around
him," senior forward Donta Bright says. "But it's not like he
has to do everything."
Bright and fellow senior forward Dana Dingle are bookend 6'6"
swingmen who can play both forward positions or shooting guard.
Junior guards Edgar Padilla, 6'1", and Carmelo Travieso, 6'2",
are also a matched set; both were born on May 9, 1975, in Puerto
Rico and moved to Massachusetts as teenagers. Both love the
trey; last year 60% of their shots came from beyond the arc,
helping UMass set school records for three-pointers put up (527)
and made (180).
The big question: Is there a wide-body to lend support when the
220-pound Camby goes against a powerful low-post center? Last
year the Minutemen were ousted from the East Regional finals by
Oklahoma State 68-54 when 295-pound Bryant (Big Country) Reeves
backed his way in to 24 points. Junior power forward Tyrone
Weeks, at 6'7" and 240 pounds, may be the answer.
Will the fit be right? The Minutemen will find out soon: They
open against Kentucky in the Great Eight tournament.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER To UMass's relief, Camby's jam returns. [Marcus Camby]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: John Calipari
Career record: 158-69 (7 seasons)
Record at UMass: 158-69 (7 seasons)
1994-95 record: 29-5 (final ranking: seventh)
Atlantic-10 record: 13-3 (first)
SF *Donta Bright, 6'6", Sr.
Scored under 10 in four losses
PF *Dana Dingle, 6'6", Sr.
Averaged just 5.3 shots per game
C *Marcus Camby, 6'11", Jr.
14 blocks shy of school record (222)
SG Carmelo Travieso, 6'2", Jr.
Launched a three every four minutes
PG *Edgar Padilla, 6'1", Jr.
Top returnee in steals and assists
Nov. 28 vs. Kentucky
Opening with a bang in Great Eight tournament
Dec. 6 vs. Wake Forest
Atlantic-10 champ vs. ACC champ
Dec. 22 vs. Georgia Tech
At Meadowlands--may not be only trip there
Jan. 4 vs. Memphis
Battle of big men: Camby vs. Lorenzen Wright
Feb. 11 vs. Temple
Chaney + Calipari = fireworks