UMass men's basketball coach Derek Kellogg may be disproving Tom Wolfe, who said 'you can't go home again'
Published: Thursday, December 02, 2010, 5:44 PM Updated: Thursday, December 02, 2010, 6:04 PM
Nothing is sadder than seeing the hometown hero fail.
From Bart Starr to Butch Hobson, sports stars have gone home again, only to hear that old adage that you can't. Randy Shannon was "Mr. Miami," until the university fired its old alum as football coach.
So, when the University of Massachusetts brought Derek Kellogg back in 2008, my feelings were surprisingly mixed.
Sure, I was happy for a Springfield guy I had known since he was 14, a guy who ached for the job. But not every return in sports conjures up visions of Douglas MacArthur.
For one thing, Kellogg was inheriting a basketball team with limited returning talent. For another, he was living history, a reminder of how it used to be at UMass and no longer was.
But Kellogg has succeeded at all he's done, and with Wednesday's 66-64 win at Quinnipiac, UMass is 7-0 with its longest winning streak in 13 years. Beating Boston College Saturday might finally convince the fans to, well, believe it.
Even if the Minutemen don't beat BC, an 11-2 record entering Atlantic 10 play looks very attainable. Six months after UMass' first 20-loss season in 27 years, Kellogg's team is playing in his image, founded on a determination to make the most out of what is there.
It's still hard to tell exactly how good UMass is. The schedule has been OK, but not a Murderer's Row of ranked teams.
The defense is vastly better. The rebounding effort, if not always the results, has also gone up.
With his rotation evolving, Kellogg may let a key player sit for awhile at times. What the third-year coach does not do is make rookie mistakes such as subbing a player by mistake, losing track of timeouts, and so on.
He has an emerging star in sophomore Javorn Farrell, who is precisely the type of under-the-radar recruit Kellogg knew he needed. But the player who may have helped Kellogg most was Doug Wiggins, a Connecticut transfer who could not avoid off-court problems, and never played a game at UMass.
The episode seems to have made Kellogg more resolved than ever to hold players accountable from the time the recruiting process begins.
In this competitive rat race, that's tough enough when you're winning, a true test of belief when you're rebuilding.
UMass gave Kellogg an all-in, six-year deal. The first two years produced 38 losses and, to some, visions of Butch Hobson and other hometown heroes who should have stayed away.
But this is different. The game with Boston College is important, but it is not a make-or-break referendum.
If 7-0 buys anything, it buys that. For those of us who wanted to see Kellogg succeed but worried he would not, it's a good time to treat ourselves to the chance to exhale.