FEATURE: UMass Basketball's "Fine Five" Freshmen
Oct. 11, 2009
By Ron Chimelis, The Republican
AMHERST - When Michael Jordan was a college freshman at North Carolina, Dean Smith would not allow Sports Illustrated to put him on its cover.
John Thompson was famous for shielding his freshmen from the media at Georgetown.
At the University of Massachusetts, Derek Kellogg has no such qualms.
"I like that they're being grouped together, because one common quality they share is that they are great kids," the UMass men's basketball coach said of his five freshmen. "They get along well together, they are competing in practice, and they feel we can be better than a lot of people might think. "When your players feel that way, it's better than when the coaches do. The environment they have created here is unbelievable."
As much as Kellogg calls senior guard Ricky Harris the face of the program, he calls his freshmen its future.
Asking one or two recruits to help end an 11-year NCAA tournament drought would be asking a lot. But with five, Kellogg sees the start of a new chapter of UMass history.
They may not have the national reputation of Michigan's Chris Webber-led Fab Five of 1991-92, but at least one publication, Lindy's, says UMass has the No. 1 recruiting class in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
If not the Fab Five, how about the Fine Five?
"It's very exciting," said Carter, a 6-foot-8 forward from Baton Rouge, La. "We want to come together mentally and physically. All our minds are set on wins, and on not making excuses or taking no for an answer."
This class is a carryover from contacts Kellogg made at Memphis as John Calipari's assistant until 2008.
That association was useful with Vinson, a 6-7 guard/forward from Baltimore who was being pursued by Maryland, Louisville, Cincinnati and Georgetown.
"I have known Terrell and his family a long time, and he never got caught up in power conferences or big names. He wanted what was best for Terrell Vinson," Kellogg said.
"It was all about the right fit. I also think the Atlantic 10 is a high-powered conference," Vinson said.
Vinson and Riley come with the highest prep profiles. Both were initially headed elsewhere - Vinson to Loyola Marymount, and Riley to Florida Atlantic - but changed their minds when those schools changed coaches.
A 6-5 guard from Ocala, Fla., Riley spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Like the other recruits, he chose UMass largely because of his rapport with the coaches. Derek Kellogg's strong recruiting class sparks UMass basketball
"Freddie can score. He's like Ricky Harris, he can fill it up," Kellogg said.
In Farrell, a 6-5 guard/forward, Kellogg sees what he calls a "UMass guy."
It is a high form of praise.
="I know one when I see one. Javorn is old school, he competes every day, he can give us rebounding and defense," Kellogg said. "He's a glue guy, like a lot of players we used to have at UMass (in Calipari's heyday). It's great to have a freshman like that."
The most intriguing of the freshmen might be Putney, a 6-8 forward from Woodbridge, Va. Generously listed at 180 pounds, Putney is considered a late bloomer but needs only weight and strength, Kellogg said. "He wants to be a great player, and he's done some nice things," the coach said. "And anybody who sees him on campus will tell you he has a charismatic, infectious personality."
"My No. 1 thing is to get in great shape," Putney said. "I never liked lifting weights. I always said, I'll just eat a lot. But in college, you have to lift, and I'm learning to enjoy it."
The Minutemen's schedule is its own form of heavy lifting. Sprinkled with early road games against large schools, it is not an ideal way to break in so many new players.
"We will be up to the challenge. Pressure is just an eight-letter word," said Farrell, whose is originally from Putney's hometown of Woodbridge, Va., but played high school ball at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Md.
One binding aspect of the "Fine Five" is the versatility Kellogg's style demands. All have the potential to play more than one position.
"I'm not out there recruiting 100 guys, but when I see a `UMass guy,' as we call them, I go after him," he said. "I said, let's lock in on three or four. Thank the Lord, we got all five."
One was Carter, who is of no relation to Sean Carter, a UMass forward who transferred from Oregon State.
"I see myself as a flexible guy," said Sampson Carter, who played high school ball in Memphis, Tenn., and then at The Winchendon School last year. "Rebounding, shooting the trey-ball, penetrating and kicking, whatever they need."
What about defense? The success of the freshmen, and of the Minutemen as a whole, could be defined by their ability to embrace Kellogg's aggressive defensive style.
"I used to not like defense, but when (Kellogg) recruited me, he said he wanted us to press and play D," Riley said. "I need to play defense to get on the floor. I've been working on that, and also my passing."
"I've a defense guy. I like to block shots," Putney said.
"Hustle and defense, it's just in me," Farrell said. "It comes naturally, and defense is what the coaches want."
What seems noteworthy so far is that the five freshmen have developed a close bond but have not morphed into a clique that could create two teams in one - the returning players in one group, the highly touted newcomers in another.
Veterans such as Harris and Anthony Gurley have welcomed the freshmen. The rookies say they do not expect to take over the team, they just want to contribute to it, sooner rather than later.
"It's not just the five of us, it will be a team effort, working together to get it done," Putney said.
The Fine Five? Time will tell, but hopes are high.
"We have to get into conference play, and get some wins," Vinson said. "We might not really know the full impact we have had until we finish and graduate, four years from now."
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