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Gary Forbes Enjoying Life

March 7, 2008 Columns No Comments

Gary Forbes Enjoys Life In College

by Phil Kasiecki

Gary Forbes is enjoying life. An overwhelming theme with him that can be seen is that he’s embracing the college life he has right now, and that’s probably a big reason he’s so focused on it. If you want something to illustrate a college player having the experience college should be, he’s a ready-made example.

The UMass senior forward didn’t start his career in Amherst, but he’s finishing it up in fine fashion while hoping to lead the Minutemen into the NCAA Tournament. A leading candidate for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, he’s second in the conference in scoring (20.3 points per game) and fourth in rebounding (8.0) and hands out over three assists per outing. He makes a lot of things happen on the highest-scoring team in the conference, and it’s what was expected of him, especially with head coach Travis Ford having put in place a fast-paced offense.

“I think the way we play really benefits him as far as opening up the court a lot, and we can send him down on the post,” said Ford. “We’re putting a lot on his shoulders. We expect a lot out of him, we require a lot out of him. We expect him to score, rebound, defend, bring the ball up a lot. I don’t think there’s anybody on our team that we expect to do as much as Gary is expected to do.”

That wasn’t quite what he did last year, although there were certainly flashes of the ability that made him a big-time recruit coming out of high school. He averaged 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but wasn’t the chief option on a team that had two post players that led the way. A highlight was a career-high 31 points against Temple in February.

Besides not being the go-to guy, Forbes was adjusting to some time off the court. After two years at Virginia, he transferred when a coaching change was made. UMass was the choice in part because assistant coach Steve Middleton, who was once Forbes’ travel team coach, was at the school and he trusted Middleton. Once he got back on the court as a junior, Forbes went through some things that any transfer goes through in a new surrounding.

“It’s typical of all transfers, it takes a little bit to get going,” said Ford, himself a transfer back in his playing days. “Gary was no different, and it took a little longer. In his junior year, I don’t think he played up to his ability. He was forcing some things a lot early last year.”

One thing that did help is not only having Ford to consult with, but the makeup of the team. Forbes was one of four transfers who sat out that season, and Ford said they made up a large part of the scout team in practice. That meant they got a lot of good practice time on a regular basis, which helped prepare them for the day they would be eligible to play the following season.

Born in Panama, Forbes has been playing basketball almost since he was born. The youngest of six children, he came with his family to the U.S. at age three and grew up in Brooklyn, a haven for basketball players. When he was two years old, his father made him a basket, and he’s been playing ever since.

As a child, his idol was one of his older brothers, Anthony. That hasn’t changed with both of them growing up, as Anthony has been a constant supporter and critic of Gary. Now a Baltimore resident, Anthony has been to a number of the Minutemen’s games the past two seasons, will be at their regular season finale at George Washington and at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Atlantic City next week.

“He’s just a great role model, somebody who’s always business-first,” Forbes said of his brother. “He takes care of what he has to take care of, is responsible. He’s always been there for me, at so many games.”

While Forbes has had a season with a lot of good things, it hasn’t just been his coaches who might bring him back to earth. Anthony has done just that, as has been the case often over the years.

“He’s always been my biggest critic – he never tells me when I’m doing something good, he always points out the negative in my game and tells me I need to correct them,” said Forbes.

Last summer, Forbes was a busy man. Highlighting it was having the chance to represent Panama in the Tournament of the Americas. In four games, he averaged 17.8 points per game and shot 55.6 percent from the floor, but grew from it and cherished the opportunity to represent his home country and play against professionals. Forbes was also one of the counselors at camps run by Nike and Adidas in July, where he also got to play in some pick-up games with other counselors.

Forbes grew up in Brooklyn and starred at Benjamin Banneker High School in the powerful Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL). By the time he was a sophomore he had a sense that basketball could take him somewhere. He had a lot of success that year, and he continued later on as a senior en route to being in the Jordan Capital Classic, one of the major post-season all-star games for high school players. Virginia was his first college choice among many suitors.

During his sophomore year at Virginia, Forbes became diabetic. While it is in his family, he has a mild case, so it hasn’t changed his life in a drastic way and there’s basically nothing that changes to manage it during games. Although he has had to change his diet some, that’s really the biggest change it has meant to him. If you kept an eye on him for an entire game, nothing would seem out of the ordinary.

Very confident and engaging, Forbes seems to enjoy talking with the media more than a lot of athletes do. He always has a smile and has fun with the media, having been known to make an entrance into the interview room when he’s had a radio commitment first and other players were already in the room. In doing so, he’s showing the kind of free spirit that he is; Ford describes him as a “pretty fun-loving guy”.

Another thing about him that is notable is that he’s very aware of what’s going on. While many players are quick to dismiss things like a notable scout in attendance or a statistic regarding an opponent, Forbes freely mentions things like the eight-game losing streak against Boston College the team broke earlier this year and admitted to seeing an official from a nearby NBA team at another home game. He’s a bright young man, but he’s also just being real about what’s going on.

“He’s very astute to what’s going on around him,” said Ford. “He loves the game, he studies the game, and he knows what’s going on.”

Ford also raves about his free-spirited personality. It’s one reason he can see success coming after basketball is over for him.

“He has a very engaging personality, everybody loves him,” said Ford. “He’s very affectionate to everybody. If you talk to him a couple of times, it’s like you’ve known him forever.”

Forbes, whose internships have included the UMass Media Relations Office and who once served as a radio broadcaster for UMass women’s basketball, will have a shot at the NBA with his size and versatility. When he’s done playing, the communications major is not sure what he wants to do just yet. The reason is simple: he’s enjoying being a kid and not thinking so far ahead. All season long, he has talked about how his college career has a finite amount of time left, and he’s just tried to live in the present and make the most of what he has.

In other words, he hasn’t figured out his later plans in life yet because he’s too busy enjoying life as a college student right now.


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