Kellogg, UMass on point
|Coach Derek Kellogg is hoping to produce smiles on the faces of Minutemen fans -- no matter their size -- everywhere. (File/Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe)|
AMHERST -- Two years ago the basketball-loving leader was swept into office, promising hope and change. He talked about a return to the prosperity of the mid-1990s. But now in November 2010, looking ahead to Year 3, there is a new reality staring him in the face.
For University of Massachusetts basketball coach Derek Kellogg, it is a time of reckoning.
Kellogg, the one-time UMass point guard on four straight NCAA Tournament teams coached by John Calipari from 1992-95, returned in 2008 to coach his alma mater, which hadn't been to the big dance in a decade.
Kellogg's first two seasons didn't exactly seem like a primer on how to reach the prom either. Year 1 was a wash, in part because he was hired late in the game after former coach Travis Ford headed to Oklahoma State. Kellogg came in too late to attract a solid recruiting class, and the Minutemen took their lumps in a 12-18 season.
Last year Kellogg brought in a slew of newcomers. The four freshmen -- Terrell Vinson, Javorn Farrell, Freddie Riley, and Sampson Carter -- started at least seven games (Vinson started all 32); all averaged more than 15 minutes. UMass managed just a 12-20 record, the school's first 20-loss campaign since 1983.
Were the Minutemen heading in the wrong direction, or were these just the growing pains before the growth?
Kellogg is confident it's the latter, and that UMass is about to climb the ladder.
"We have some definite pieces -- guys who are in the program and going to be in the program who will make a big difference,'' said Kellogg, who in 2008 was one of Calipari's assistants on the Memphis team that made it to the NCAA championship game (losing in overtime to Kansas). "Can we do something this year? I'm not sure yet. We're going to need two guys this year to step up and be better than anybody anticipates. Or we're going to need to have one of the greatest 8-10 man rotations in the country.
"But I'm envisioning having a great year this year and really moving forward next year, having it on solid footing so that every year from that point on it's the way it should be.''
Hopes for a hoops resurrection begin with the foursome of returning sophomores. Vinson is the most polished of the bunch, a 6-foot-7-inch force in the post with good shooting range. He averaged 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds a year ago. Farrell is arguably the team's leader in just his second year ("Our hardest worker, the guy who will push practice the best,'' said Kellogg). The 6-5 swingman brings the kind of defensive intensity Kellogg loves.
Riley is UMass's Vinnie Johnson (aka "The Microwave.'') He showed his ability to heat up fast a year ago, hitting 11 3-pointers over a two-game stretch.
Carter is the prototype of the long, lean (6-8, 200 pounds) players Kellogg prefers in his system. Look for Kellogg to send in the clones with newcomers Maxie Esho (6-8, 200) and Raphiael Putney (6-8, 180).
UMass's post presence will be provided by Vinson and by Sean Carter and Hashim Bailey. Carter, a one-time Oregon State Beaver, was brilliant at times last year, notably scoring 11 points and hauling down 19 rebounds in an overtime win at Duquesne. Bailey, a transfer from Memphis, will hope to show that his "Big City'' nickname applies more to bulk than mobility as he tries to build off last year's 2.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Scoring might be UMass's biggest challenge. The Minutemen will have to pick up the slack for the graduation of Ricky Harris, who left as the school's third all-time leading scorer, pouring in 19.8 points per game a year ago.
Kellogg believes this team will have better balance. The top returning scorer is senior Anthony Gurley, who grew up in Boston and began his collegiate career at Wake Forest. Gurley averaged 13.2 points per game a year ago, but sometimes barreled into the lane in offense-killing ways, forcing up bad shots.
"I think we're going to win a lot more this year,'' said Gurley. "We put in the work, and it's all starting to come together.''
Another offensive threat is Jesse Morgan, a transfer from Seton Hall, who was a big-time scorer in high school in Philadelphia. Morgan becomes eligible in the second semester.
The team's most interesting personnel situation resides at point guard, the post Kellogg once occupied. There UMass will have a platoon of senior Gary Correia and freshman Daryl Traynham.
Correia is the longest-tenured Minuteman, the only one to have played for Travis Ford. By his own definition, Correia has "underachieved since I've been here,'' but he is determined to change that in his last go-round. According to Kellogg, Correia has returned in the best shape of his collegiate career and with his best attitude, ready to embrace the leadership role. A big part of that, Correia knows, is paving the way for the 5-9 Traynham, who is being looked upon to lead the team back to the promised land.
"He's the future,'' says Correia. "I'm not playing any more after this, so I'll make sure he's ready. Me and Little Daryl bring something different to the table. I'm a little more under control. I want to be a coach, so I understand the game a little better than he does. But he brings something I don't have. He brings speed. He creates havoc on both ends of the court. I think we complement each other very, very well.''
As for Little Daryl, he says that he is in an ideal spot, with a former UMass point guard as a coach and a steady senior ready to mentor him. He knows he is not experienced enough to make any realistic pronouncement about this team's success, but he feels confident better days are ahead.
"It's there," said Traynham, bursting with enthusiasm. "I can see the light.''