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AIC presents first public test for UMass men’s basketball

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts fans will get their first look at the much anticipated 2012-13 men’s basketball team Saturday at 1 p.m. when the Minutemen host American International College in an exhibition game at the Mullins Center.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg hoped to see his team improve from its performance in last weekend’s closed scrimmage against Drexel in Philadelphia.

“Against Drexel I thought we pressed OK and I thought our halfcourt defense was decent. I was a little surprised that our transition offense wasn’t as good as I anticipated. We didn’t capitalize on our defensive rebounds and really push it at them,” Kellogg said. “I’d like to see how some of our younger guys do against a different opponent. The season is coming on us pretty quickly. It’s good to get an indication if guys can play when the lights come on. Some guys look great in practice and not so good in games. Some guys are gamers who look a little better when the lights come on.”

Kellogg will be focused on his young big guys. He projected that sophomore Cady Lalanne, UMass’ likely starter, would only play 18-22 minutes per game early in the season. That will leave more minutes for sophomore Maxie Esho, who’ll also play forward, and freshmen Tyler Bergantino and Izzy Freeman. Kellogg didn’t think any combination of Lalanne, Begantino and Freeman could be on the floor at the same time yet.

“I don’t think the big guys — Izzy, Cady and Tyler — can play together. You’ll probably see one of those guys on the floor at a time,” Kellogg said. “I’m hoping somewhere down the line we might be able to play Cady in that trail spot (forward) because he shoots the ball so well. I have to get him to master the paint area before I let him slide out to the perimeter.”

Like UMass, AIC relies heavily on a diminutive junior point guard, as 5-foot-9 Spencer Braithwaite will square off against Chaz Williams. Braithwaite averaged 13.5 points and 3.2 assists last year.

The Yellow Jackets, who were 8-18 last year, have decent size for a Division II team. Redshirt freshman center Oshawn Bannister is 6-foot-9, 230 pounds. There are three other players on the roster that are 6-foot-5 or taller.

AIC has regularly played Division I foes during exhibition season. The Yellow Jackets fell 78-63 at Connecticut Thursday. They open their regular season against Dowling Nov. 9 in Springfield.

Kellogg said scouting has been limited.

“Not too much. We’ve looked at their roster a little bit and remembered how they played from a few years ago,” Kellogg said. “I’ll probably talk to Coach (Art Luptowski) tomorrow to see what they’re planning on doing as far as style and how much zone and pressing. We want to give each other a little bit of a scouting report just to make it fair so that we’re not surprised and they’re not surprised and the fans see a good game where it’s not super sloppy.”

Senior forward Terrell Vinson was looking forward to playing in a game-like environment.

“It’s going to be fun Saturday. A lot of people are excited to come out and watch,” Vinson said. “The season is starting. It’s pretty much time to go. It’ll be like a game environment with real refs and real fan support and stuff like that.”

NOTES — The game will be aired on WMUA-FM (91.1). ... Northampton High School graduate Brennan Cooper plays for AIC. The forward started against UConn, played 21 minutes and had two points, four rebounds, three turnovers and five fouls.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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