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Lasme and Gaffney remain two of the best UMass hoops players in recent years: Fan’s take
Former UMass basketball stars Stephane Lasme and Tony Gaffney are participating in free agent workouts with the Oklahoma City Thunder on June 8th and 9th, according to UMass Athletics. As an alum of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I hadn't seen much of the two players since they left the Minutemen to embark on NBA careers which have gotten off in fits and starts. The recent news brings back fond memories of both players, who still happen to be among the best I've ever personally seen in Minutemen maroon and white.
After being drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 2007, Lasme bounced around from the D-League to the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, eventually ending up in the Euroleague in 2008 and Israeli League in 2009. Gaffney followed much the same course, playing in Israel and Turkey after training with the Lakers and Celtics. Both are talented, though whether or not they'll join former Cs star Kendrick Perkins on the OKC squad remains to be seen.
My undergrad career at UMass coincided with Lasme's, and I first saw Lasme play under a languishing basketball program headed by Steve Lappas. As a freshman, Lasme was more or less forgettable during the 2003-04 season when the Minutemen ended up with a 10-19 record. The next season, Lasme would start in all 28 games, averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Lasme was a solid bridge for the team as they transitioned to new leadership and an uncertain future under Travis Ford. Although the team went 13-15 in the 2005-06 season, Lasme averaged 10.5 points and 7 rebounds. He was also proving to be a dominant defensive presence on the court, racking up 108 blocks.
Of course, the 2006-07 proved to be magic for UMass basketball, the perfect send off for my senior year, and Lasme deserved much of the credit. Lasme established himself as a clear team leader, winning much-deserving conference accolades as the Minutemen went on to a 24-9 record and advanced to the second round of the NIT. Lasme averaged 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and was .611 from the field. His 168 blocks that season remains the highest single season tally in UMass history.
If the departure of Lasme left the team in uncertain shape in 2007-08, Gaffney's entry proved to be perfect timing. It was the first season he could play as a redshirt junior, though we didn't see much of him on the court that first season. Nevertheless, Gaffney made a solid impression, shoring up the roster, and leaving his mark when he got 6 rebounds, 6 steals, and 8 points in his very first start for UMass on November 10th against Northern Illinois. UMass went 25-9 that season, advancing all the way to the NIT Final.
Gaffney's senior year in 2008-09 may not have been a glorious one for UMass basketball, as Derek Kellogg took the coaching reins, and the team went 12-18. Nevertheless, like Lasme, Gaffney proved to be an essential, reliable element on the roster during that transition period. He averaged 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and had 61 steals and 115 blocks that season. It came as no surprise when he was named the Atlantic 10's Defensive Player of the Year, in addition to a seemingly countless list of other honors he received.
Whether Lasme or Gaffney end up with OKC, they're undoubtedly two of the best players to take to the court for UMass in years. If Kellogg can get the same kind of spark they had out of the roster in the upcoming season, the Minutemen will be in good shape going forward.
Taurus Londono is a proud UMass alumnus who graduated in 2007, his time on campus making him a fan of the Minutemen for the life.
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