UMass, burning for respect, hopes East is springboard Team aims to take page from Georgetown's book

March 23, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - For a historical perspective on tonight's East Regional final, go to the small forwards.

When Donta Bright was growing up in East Baltimore, Georgetown jackets were the rage, thanks to the Hoyas' national profile, which included three Final Four appearances in four years and an NCAA title in 1984.

Two years ago, Boubacar Aw had never heard of UMass.

According to Bright and the rest of the Minutemen, today's East Regional final isn't about conferences, the Atlantic 10 against the Big East. It isn't about the star power of the two first-team All-Americans, Marcus Camby of UMass and Allen Iverson of Georgetown. It isn't about Hoya Paranoia vs. Refuse to Lose, either.

To UMass, it's about its ubiquitous quest for respect, of coveting something that Georgetown has, the status that comes with not just getting to the Final Four, but winning the whole thing.

UMass is ranked No. 1 in the nation and seeded first in the entire NCAA tournament, but it is second-seeded Georgetown, its opponent tonight at the Georgia Dome, that has been considered the regional favorite ever since the bracket was unveiled 13 days ago.

"It's not just a perception," said UMass coach John Calipari, describing his belief that few outside his locker room consider the Minutemen serious contenders for the NCAA title.

"Every commentator, every writer has picked us not to get out of this region," Calipari said. "We're still UMass, and the respect isn't there, basically because we haven't been to a Final Four and won a national title. One of the teams here has done that, and its coach is a Hall of Famer. The other hasn't, and it's coached by a guy who's still learning the game."

Calipari was a senior guard at Division II Clarion (Pa.) State in 1982 when Georgetown's John Thompson began a stretch of three Final Fours in four years.

Calipari said he and his team "live for challenges like this," but Thompson sounded oblivious of UMass, other than the fact that it's in the way of his first Final Four appearance since the Patrick Ewing era.

"I don't have any dreams about this game," Thompson said. "All the talk, the rankings . . . it doesn't matter now. They've won, they're good, but we are, too."

This is the most intriguing East final since 1992, when Duke beat Kentucky in one of the best college games ever. It's the first regional final matching teams from the A-10 and the Big East, which occupy many of the same cities, and the first meeting between Georgetown and UMass, the past and present kings of Eastern basketball.

While Aw, a native of Senegal, knew little about the pecking order in college basketball when he came to Georgetown in 1994, UMass climbed the ladder by beating the game's most recognizable powers. The Hoyas are viewed as one more name to add to a list of victims that this season includes Kentucky and five other Sweet 16 teams.

"When the seeds came out, we hoped that Georgetown would win all its games, so we could face them," UMass senior forward Dana Dingle said. "No matter who we played, everyone always doubted us. He [Calipari] hasn't made this out to be us against the world, but the only way to get that respect is to win a national championship."

No program in the nation has more wins over the past five seasons than UMass. Still, the Minutemen are looking for the A-10's first Final Four berth. The Big East hasn't had a team there since 1989. Georgetown had floundered until Iverson arrived last season now he's the top scorer left in the tournament. And Camby is the premier shot-blocker.

"It's not me against Marcus," Iverson said. "It doesn't do any good if I go out and have a good game and he has a bad game if we lose."

Iverson is the point man in the Georgetown press, but Arkansas discovered Thursday that you can't scramble if you can't score against UMass.

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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