The Daily Orange - Sports
Issue: 3/21/03

Flores key to Manhattan's upset hopes
By Chico Harlan

For all its lessons, college still hasn't taught Luis Flores a speck about patience.

Patience? That's for people who have time. That's for people who can afford to be wrong. People who can afford to lose.

Patience? That's not for a person who's on his second school and his second chance. That's not for a person who led his current school, Manhattan, almost single-handedly into its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995. That's not for a person who's decided that today, when his team takes on Syracuse in the first round, is the time to transform himself from a mid-major star into a major attraction.

Impatience, for junior guard Luis Flores, is a virtue. Without impatience, perhaps Flores would still be at Rutgers, where he enrolled as a freshman in 1999 but transferred a year later, frustrated with little playing time. Play now. Win now. Succeed now. That's what Flores wanted, and that's what he still wants.

"He can't be sitting on the bench, that's not the kind of person he is," said Keith Griffin, Flores' high school coach at Norman Thomas in New York. "He needed to go to a place where he could play."

So Flores welcomed a chance at Manhattan, a school offering an opportunity, albeit on a decidedly smaller stage. There, he's further established a work ethic — a drive born out of impatience — that's made him one of the best small-conference players in the nation.

A “SportsCenter” package earlier this week ranked Flores as the top unknown player in the country, and for good reason. He averaged 24.8 points per game this year, shooting a snip over 90 percent from the foul line. On Jan. 23 against Fairfield, which finished in second place behind Manhattan in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Flores dropped 44 points. Flores was eventually named conference player of the year, a MAAC Daddy at age 21.

"I don't think anyone really stopped him all season," Loyola head coach Scott Hicks said. "He's as talented as any mid-major player in the country. He can knock down all kinds of shots, and when he gets to the line, he's a good free-throw shooter as well."

Still, it's not enough to satisfy him. Make no mistake, Flores will work. He'll work until he gets results. Then he'll work some more. While at Rutgers, teammate and best friend Jeff Greer remembers trying to replicate Flores' training regimen.

Extra shooting before practice, extra shooting after practice. That was the recipe, spiced generously with extra wind sprints. "I couldn't keep up with him," Greer said.

"The interesting thing about him is that he takes things so personally," Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "He is such a competitor, if I say to him, 'Luis, guys in this league don't feel as though you can shoot the 3-ball,' he will go out and shoot 150 3s right after I say it to him."

Gonzalez said he constantly looks for ways to keep his top player motivated and challenged, but chances are that’s unnecessary. While starring at Norman Thomas, in fact, Flores was the one keeping his coach motivated.

During his junior season, Flores demanded that his coach, Griffin, force the team to practice every day at 6 a.m. When Griffin, a self-described night owl, allowed that he'd have difficulty waking up before 7:30 a.m., he handed Flores the keys to the gym.

Soon, though, every player was coming to the early-bird workouts. Griffin had no choice. His team, which would advance to the city's Final Four, practiced every day before school from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and after school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

"Unbelievable," Griffin said. "They had two-a-days every day that year."

Yet Flores soon went from second practices to second-guessing. He was all but set to sign on with Manhattan when his cell phone rang. On the other end, Greer, already a Scarlet Knight, said that Rutgers was about to offer Flores a scholarship. The lure of a major conference offered too much for Flores to turn down.

"He heard 'Big East'," Gonzalez said, "and he went to Rutgers."

But as it would turn out, he'd only put Manhattan on hold. Flores needed patience in his freshman year, and he quickly discovered he didn't have it. Head coach Kevin Bannon insisted on starting fellow freshman Todd Billet, who'd go on to average 12.8 points per game. Flores managed only 3.9.

"He probably didn't deserve to be sitting on the bench," Greer said. "The situation was a tough one for him. He didn't get along with the coach. He'd come off the bench, get in the game and he'd be playing out of control. He'd be all over the place.

"He just couldn't deal with it."

So Flores decided to transfer to Manhattan, against the wishes of Greer.

"I told him, 'Be patient and it's gonna get better,'" Greer said. "But he just wanted to play. For my own sake, I wish he'd stayed, because I think we would have been a better team with him. But I think he made the right decision."

Now, instead of playing for the Big East, Flores is playing against the Big East. Earlier in the year, the Jaspers knocked off St. John's and Seton Hall. Their chance against Syracuse comes today.

To be sure, one player impatiently awaits.