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Friday, August 31, 2007

Background Stories on Tyrone Weeks, New Tiger Assistant Coach (2 of 3 in Series)

Where Are They Now?
The 1996 Men's Basketball Team Grows Up

— Matt Vautour ’96

Ten years ago, the UMass men’s basketball took us all the way to the Final Four. The players remember that era and share news of their lives since.

IT'S DIFFICULT FOR UMASS AMHERST basketball fans to picture them as adults, pushing 30 years old, or in some cases already past that mark.

In the minds and hearts of their fans, members of 1995-96 UMass men’s basketball team will forever be the 18- to 22-year-old kids that went 35-2 and nearly knocked off Kentucky in the school’s only trip to the Final Four. They’ll always look like they did in the photos and newsclips that still hang in homes and restaurants from Palmer to Pittsfield. They’ll be forever young in the memories of the fans who hopped on for the ride.

Those boys are men now, coaches and fathers and fans. They sell stocks, cars, and real estate. They are adults with real jobs. But their memories are long. We caught up with the members of that team, 10 years after.

Dana Dingle ’96
Position: Forward
Points per game: 10.1
Rebounds per game: 7.4
Nobody in the history of the UMass basketball program has played more games than Dingle’s 137. He had a career of indispensable quiet efficiency.

During the 1995-96 season Dingle didn’t get as much attention as some of his teammates, but his rebounding, leadership, and defense were critical components in the Minutemen’s success. He is still the program’s No. 10 all-time rebounder and No. 30 all-time scorer.
Dingle’s professional career spanned four continents before he hung up his high tops. “I knew I was eventually going to have to get a regular job so I decided to start sooner than later,” he said. “If I’d waited, I’d be on the bottom of the barrel and never make any money.”

Dingle worked on Wall Street for a while before moving to Monroe Capital, a hedge fund on Long Island. He also coaches the AAU Long Island Lightning. - -

People often ask him about his Minuteman days.

“I thought it’d be old by now. But people still remember. That team still stands out as far as UMass history goes,” Dingle said. “People are like ’Hey, I remember you guys. That was my team.’ For me, I’ve always been low-key and laid-back. I don’t really like the attention and all that stuff. But it’s cool. It’s better to be remembered than not.”

Dingle said new UMass coach Travis Ford has encouraged him to be part of the program again.

“The new staff has reached out,” Dingle said. “I told them I’d try to come up this year.”

Edgar Padilla ’97
Position: Guard
Points per game: 8.9
Rebounds per game: 6.7
Carmelo Travieso ’98
Position: Guard
Points per game: 12.6
Fewer duos in recent college basketball history are more closely associated with each other than the Minutemen’s Puerto Rican backcourt.

Friends, roommates, and countrymen, they seldom left one another’s side, and seldom left the floor during the 1995-96 season as both averaged more than 35 minutes per game. They were heroes on their island, helping spark increased interest in basketball in the United States’ Caribbean territory.

“It’s still the one thing that people remember, the Final Four year,” Padilla said. “It’s fun. You work so hard to get there. When you get there you don’t really understand what it means until years down the line. I would have never imagined that 10 years later it’s still considered something great.”

“I didn’t realize what an accomplishment it was at the time,” Travieso said. “We worked so hard, it became second nature. We worked hard enough to be able to do it.”

It will warm fans to know that the two guards are still close. They both live in Puerto Rico and are still playing professionally in the Superior League, Padilla for Arecibo and Travieso for Santurce. - -

Padilla sells real estate and Travieso works at a financial consulting firm, and both also work with Giddel Padilla’s sports agency (Giddel is Edgar’s older brother).

Travieso plans to relocate back to Massachusetts sometime soon. “It’s hard to follow UMass down here,” Travieso said. “When I get back up there, I’d definitely like to go to some games.”

Several players said they’d like to see a reunion of that team. “We’re both looking forward to someday meeting with these guys and see how everybody is doing,” Padilla said. “See if they have kids or where they’re living at. It’d be great if everybody could go back there and meet.”

Giddel Padilla ’96
Position: Guard
Points per game: .7
Games played: 21
For most of his career at UMass, Giddel Padilla was known more for his younger brother than for his own basketball career. But in his final game, Padilla delivered a memorable effort. Rarely used during the regular season, coach John Calipari called on Padilla to play against Kentucky in the Final Four when Travieso got into foul trouble. He played only eight minutes, but during that stint the Minutemen cut into a considerable Wildcat advantage, leading to a close game down the stretch.

Today, Giddel, like his brother Edgar, lives in his native Puerto Rico, where he works as a sports agent.

Donta Bright ’96
Position: Forward
Points per game: 14.5
Rebounds per game: 5.8
The tough but smooth senior from Baltimore, Maryland, was the first McDonald’s All-American ever to sign with UMass. As a senior, Calipari called him the best finisher in the game. When Camby was out of the lineup, it was Bright that stepped forward to lead the Minutemen in scoring. At one point during the season he made 40 free throws without missing.

Bright’s playing career spanned Europe, South America, and stateside minor leagues. He stopped playing in 2002 and returned to his native Baltimore.

Charlton Clarke ’02
Position: Guard
Points per game: 1.4
Games played: 23
It would surprise very few people that Clarke ended up in sales. The ebullient Minuteman guard was a freshman on the 1995-96 squad. It was his early season foot injury that turned Padilla and Travieso into iron men.

While he was unremarkable on the court that season averaging just 8.9 minutes in 23 games, Clarke blossomed after that. Despite scoring just 32 points as a freshman, he finished his career as a member of the school’s 1,000-point club.

Clarke is back in his native Bronx, where he manages a car dealership. “You name it I got it,” Clarke said of his automotive offerings.

Clarke still plays, sometimes running in pickup games with his old roommate, Ross Burns ’99, up at Fordham University. He admitted he’s not as quick as he used to be, but said his offensive arsenal remains intact.

“The running one-hander still works; that floater still works. The jump shot works. The legs don’t hold up as well as they used to, but it’s fun to get out there and compete,” Clarke said. “I get in some local tournaments from time to time.”

Television often allows him to look back on his career. “Every now and then I can catch our old games on classic sports,” he said. “Plus I see a whole lot of people that we manhandled that are doing well in the NBA.”

Like his teammates, Clarke is stunned that the years have gone so fast. “I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” he said. “That’s the way time flies.”

Andy Maclay ’99
Position: Guard
Games played: 18
Maclay wore the Minuteman colors for arguably the two greatest sporting events in UMass history. The walk-on guard’s regular gig was punting for the Minuteman football team, and he was a key member of UMass’s Division I-AA National Championship team in 1998. Maclay remains the school’s all-time leader in punt yardage with 12,278.

He’s currently working as an athletic director at a high school in New Jersey.

Ross Burns ’99
Position: Guard
Games played: 17
To most people it looked like Burns just had the best seat in the house for the greatest sports show UMass Amherst has ever seen.

He was a walk-on, the kid from Greenfield, whom the crowd loved. The team’s success earned him minutes in 17 games, but for the most part he was a practice body, used to push his more high-profile teammates.

But the fans who chanted his name late in big wins didn’t realize that Burns was soaking up as much basketball knowledge as he could. Even then assistant coach Bruiser Flint - - said he could see Burns someday becoming a coach.

He was right. Burns began his sixth season as a Division I assistant coach. He helped Dereck Whittenburg turn around Wagner’s previously moribund basketball program and is now at Fordham with Whittenburg.

Calipari’s and Flint’s influence still affects him. “I find myself reflecting on how they would deal with situations. I reflect on how they dealt with us,” Burns said. “Being around great coaches like that really rubbed off on me.”

Ted Cottrell ’96
Position: Forward
Points per game: .9
Rebounds per game: .9
Games played: 22
Cottrell will be most remembered for his high socks, classy attitude, and role as the team barber. On a team with a deep frontcourt, his time was limited. But like Burns, Cottrell got the most out of his time in practice and on the bench; he too has pursued a career in coaching.

Cottrell began working as an assistant coach at Palmer High School in Massachusetts, moved to Mount Holyoke College, and is now working with the men’s program at Emmanuel College - - in Boston. “I enjoy basketball, and I enjoy helping others through basketball,” Cottrell said. “I’m hoping to move up in the business if the opportunity arises.”

Rigoberto Nuñez ’96
Position: Forward
Points per game: .5
Rebounds per game: 1
It’s impossible to quantify with numbers what Rigo Nuñez brought to the Minutemen during his four-year career. He wasn’t much of a scorer and his rebound numbers were negligible, but Calipari used him to provide a spark. When he entered the game, everybody’s energy level rose, from the players to the crowd.

The Lawrence native began his career as a walk-on but eventually earned a scholarship. He’s currently working as the assistant admissions director in the law school at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon.

Tyrone Weeks ’97
Position: Forward
Points per game: 5.8
Rebounds per game: 5.2
His Final Four ring always attracts attention.

“People think for football because of my size,” said the six-foot seven-inch, 250-pound former forward. “But then they see UMass, and they’re like ‘Oh yeah. I remember those teams.’”

Weeks was a pioneer in college basketball history. He was one of the nation’s first players to take advantage of a rule change that rewarded academic performance. Weeks was academically ineligible to play as a freshman, but earned his degree in four years, allowing him to make up his lost season as a fifth-year senior.

Weeks worked in coaching for six years with Jim Baron at Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure. He’s now in management at Stop & Shop in Rhode Island.

Marcus Camby ’96
Position: Center
Points per game: 20.5
Rebounds per game: 8.2
Blocks per game: 3.9
Before his junior season, Camby’s talent was obvious, but he lived in Lou Roe’s shadow. It was evident right away that Camby was ready for a larger role in 1995-96; he took command in UMass’s season-opening upset of No. 1 Kentucky.

That game launched a season that saw Camby dominate en route to earning National Player of the Year honors. To no one’s surprise, Camby entered the NBA draft after the season and was selected by the Toronto Raptors as the No. 2 overall pick.

In nine NBA seasons with the Raptors, the New York Knicks, and the Denver Nuggets, - - Camby has averaged 10.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game.

Camby, who tutored South Hadley students during his UMass Amherst days, has been active in charities throughout his career. He recently toured Africa with Basketball Without Borders.

Inus Norville
Position: Forward, Center
Points per game: 2.4
Rebounds per game: 2.1
Norville was a reserve big man on the 1995-96 team. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, he provided size off the bench.

Norville transferred to Wright State in Dayton, Ohio, where he played for former UMass Amherst assistant coach Ed Schilling as a senior.

Norville’s professional career has taken him to several spots in Europe and the Dominican Republic. He played last year in Sweden and is on the roster of Keravnos Strovolou in Cyprus, Greece, - - this season.

1995-96: A Year Without Peer

Some said that the Minutemen’s 1994-95 year would be the one to remember; UMass had claimed the No. 1 spot in the AP poll, becoming the first New England team ever to do so. That spring, the team lost three senior starters, including Lou Roe, the top rebounder and second-leading scorer in school history. Hopes for the 95-96 season were tempered by the reality of the lineup, and when the team lost its final preseason match to a motley outfit called the Converse All-Stars, it seemed clear the program had indeed peaked a year before.

The history books tell a different story: A 35-2 record, best among Division 1 teams; 10 weeks at No. 1 in the AP poll; a fifth consecutive A-10 regular season championship, coupled with a fifth consecutive A-10 tournament title, the first time in 45 years that a team from any league accomplished this feat; two National Coach of the Year honors for Calipari; and a sweep of all the important National Player of the Year awards for Marcus Camby.

But the numbers don’t tell the real story, of a team that won the hearts of the public. They were a team in the truest sense, possessing an old-fashioned blend of selflessness and effort. They were not the most talented, but pushed by Calipari, they added up to far more than the sum of their parts.

A Few Highlights:

November 28, 1995
UMass stuns No. 1 Kentucky, 92-82.

Dec. 9, 1995
A full house of 18,974 fills the Fleet Center and watches UMass hold off rival Boston College, 65-57.

Dec. 22, 1995
UMass takes the No. 1 spot in the AP poll after beating Georgia Tech 75-67.

Jan. 14, 1996
Marcus Camby, star of the team, loses consciousness on the court for 10 minutes. Calipari accompanies him to the hospital while the team wins one for its fallen comrade against St. Bonaventure. Camby’s best friend, Tyrone Weeks, plays the best game of his collegiate career.

Jan. 27, 1995
Camby returns to the court, and in a perfect twist, helps beat St. Bonaventure—again.

Feb. 14, 1996
National attention heats up as pundits begin comparing UMass to other great teams in basketball history and talk about the 20-year drought for an undefeated team…

Feb. 24, 1996
…but UMass won’t break that record. They fall to George Washington, 86-76…

March 8, 1996
…but they must have learned something in that game: UMass takes GW, 74-65.

March 20, 1996
How sweet it is: UMass advances to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. People wonder if it’s an omen that, at a press conference, Carmelo Travieso falls five feet off the stage, twisting his back. Instead, Travieso sparks a winning momentum as the Minutemen take down Arkansas and Georgetown and are ushered into the Final Four.

March 30, 1996
The Minutemen fall behind by 15 points early in the second half, then shave the gap down to three. Kentucky proves too much in the end, besting UMass 81-74. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino ’74, who took his team to the national title two nights later, said it best in his post-game commentary: “I’m proud of our ball club, but as an alumnus of [UMass], why, I can’t say enough of that team.”

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