Kellogg Featured By Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy
June 21, 2008
New UMass men's basketball coach Derek Kellogg has been featured as the lead story on the Sporting News' college basketball page this weekend. Veteran writer Mike DeCourcy takes a look at how the new Minuteman bench boss will hit the recruiting trail July. Kellogg, who turned 35 this week, is anxious to begin bringing top talent to Amherst.
New UMass coach hits the recruiting trail
By Mike DeCourcy
Derek Kellogg officially was hired to coach the basketball team at Massachusetts, his alma mater, on April 23. You know how many days that gave him before he had to hit the road for the start of the summer recruiting period?
That's right: not enough.
There is so much work for a head coach to handle in a new job -- especially when he's never been a head coach before. Kellogg, who turns 35 (Friday), finished his career as a UMass guard in 1995. He went on to become an assistant coach at George Mason, Youngstown State and, for the past eight seasons, Memphis. This is his first shot at running his own program and his first July as boss is rushing at him like Shawne Merriman.
"The toughest thing for me right now is to really understand what our needs are for that next class," Kellogg said. "Quite honestly, I've really only seen these guys play on television, plus worked them out a few times while we were still in school.
"I think we have to get the best players possible, figure out the positions a little bit later."
Determining which players to pursue is only a part of organizing the July operation, though. It is a massive undertaking that is going on at pretty much every one of the 330-plus Division I schools in advance of the NCAA-approved evaluation period that begins July 6.
There are close to 200 certified events during the month. The next Marcus Camby might be at any one of them, although he's more likely to turn up at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron than the All Canada Prospect Camp in Toronto.
The first step in the process for Kellogg and his staff is to identify a group of prospects who can make UMass better and are interested in accepting that challenge. Then, the coaches have to figure out where those guys will be playing in July and work out a schedule that allows them to be as visible as possible with those prospects.
In most programs the assistants handle the bulk of this planning because head coaches have so many public responsibilities: speaking to booster groups, dealing with the media. The head coach usually is handed a schedule that tells him where to be and which players to watch.
Last summer, Kellogg was doing that work for Memphis' John Calipari. So he feels compelled to do it for himself now.
"Being an assistant for so long, being so involved in recruiting, you almost have more of a hand in it at this stage," Kellogg said. "The other coaches are like, 'No, we plan your schedule.' At some point, I'll probably have to take a little bit more of a backseat and let them take more control of it."
In planning for July, Kellogg is reminded of UMass' excellent location as a basketball school. D.C. is close, Philadelphia is closer, New York closer still. The New England prep schools, usually flush with talent, are in the neighborhood.
"It's a huge benefit on the recruiting trail," Kellogg said.
He does not have a private plane at his disposal, as Calipari generally does at Memphis, but he can hop in a car and be in NYC in about three hours.
The best part of Kellogg's preparations is he's not taking over a program in desperate need. Although the Minutemen did not make the NCAA Tournament, they did well enough that Travis Ford was able to convert his success at UMass into a big-money job at Oklahoma State. He left behind the terrific backcourt of point guard Chris Lowe and shooting guard Ricky Harris, with Wake Forest transfer Anthony Gurley ready to climb into the lineup after a year in waiting.
He wants some frontcourt players with size. He'd like to land one or two versatile forwards, in the 6-7 or 6-8 range, who can play multiple positions, similar to what Robert Dozier or Rodney Carney did for Memphis. He is planning to install the Dribble Drive Motion offense developed by his assistant, Vance Walberg, and popularized by Calipari's Tigers, so he needs some forward who can handle the ball.
"If I were fortunate enough to get a couple guys like that in this recruiting class," Kellogg said, "I'd feel like we have a complete team."
Kellogg wants to use as a template the success other non-BCS programs have enjoyed in recruiting. Gonzaga, Memphis and fellow Atlantic 10 member Xavier are signing top-100 prospects without having all that big football money to help elevate their profiles.
"Why not?" Kellogg said. "After working for what I feel is the best coach in the country, I feel like I have a blueprint for how to do things."
Mike DeCourcy is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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