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Junior wing Anthony Gurley (11.2) is UMass' second-leading returning scorer.

Junior wing Anthony Gurley (11.2) is UMass' second-leading returning scorer.

Oct. 15, 2009

AMHERST, Mass. - It's going to take some time at UMass, but trust me: The future is bright.

A year ago, native son Derek Kellogg took the reigns of the program and the team struggled to a 12-win season.

There were certainly ups and downs, though - such as the victories against Kansas and Dayton and also yet another first-round setback in the A-10 tournament.

This season could be much of the same with just two players on the roster with extensive college experience - senior shooting guard Ricky Harris (18.2 ppg) and junior wing Anthony Gurley (11.2).

That's not to say that the Minutemen can't finish in the top half of the A-10. That just depends on how quickly the seven new faces - and five freshmen - grow up.

The 6-foot-1 Harris is clearly the go-to guy. He was an unheralded, undersized scoring guard coming out of high school and then at Winchendon (Mass.), but he has proven himself as one of the elite players in the A-10.

Gurley struggled at times last season in his first year of eligibility after transferring back home from Wake Forest - and Kellogg said he'll either start at small forward or potentially come off the bench as the sixth-man.

Kellogg's attitude and coaching style is already dramatically different than it was last season.

``He's a lot tougher," Harris said. ``Last year he was trying to get to know the guys and be friends with us."

``This year, as soon as he steps between the lines, he turns into the Incredible Hulk," he added. ``And when you see that, you want to go through a wall for him."

``I think it's what we needed last year," Gurley said ``But it was tough for him because he didn't have any of his players here last year. We had seniors who had played for (Travis) Ford for four years and no matter what he told them to do, they were 22, 23 and even 24 years old and were going to do there own thing."

 

 

Point guard Chris Lowe is gone. So is Luke Bonner, but the biggest loss will be that of Tony Gaffney, who averaged a double-double (11.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and still has a shot to make the Lakers roster.

Oregon State transfer Sean Carter (6-9, 225) will have to fill some of the void left by the long and athletic Gaffney. UMass will also have Hashim "Big City" Bailey to spell Carter in the middle.

But the key, along with the adjustment of sophomore David Gibbs to starting point guard, will be the five-man freshman class that was inked by Kellogg and was recruited to play in the now-infamous dribble drive system that was the brainchild of UMass assistant Vance Walberg.

``These guys are so athletic and long," Harris said. ``This is the system they came for."

Terrell Vinson, a Top 100 kid out of Baltimore, looks to be ready to contribute immediately after putting on 20 pounds this past summer. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Vinson could start at power forward.

``He's established himself as the furthest along," Kellogg said. ``He's a little more physically ready to go into battle."

Freddie Riley is a long 6-foot-5 wing who could challenge Gurley for a starting spot due to his length, athleticism and ability to make shots from deep.

Fellow freshmen Sampson Carter (6-8, 200) and Javorn Farrell (6-5, 180) will play this season as well.

But the best of the bench - at least down the road - could be 6-foot-8 ½, 170-pound string-bean Raphael Putney, who appears to be a poor man's version of Kevin Durant at first glance.

``I see big things from him down the road," Gurley said. ``Especially when he gets stronger. He's just so long, skilled and athletic."

``He's shown unbelievable flashes and has the potential to be a special player," Kellogg added.

But the guy that Kellogg needs to be special this season is Gibbs, who was a non-factor in 17.5 minutes per game last season as Lowe's backup.

Gibbs is more confident, more vocal and gives UMass a floor leader who certainly fits the style of play with his athleticism and speed.

``Last year the system and everything was overwhelming," Gibbs added. ``But now I think I'm ready. My game is different than Chris', but we're both pass-first guards. I'm more athletic, I'm going to look to score a little more and I'm going to push it on both ends."

Harris said Gibbs will need to learn how to play at more than just one speed: Fast.

``When he puts it all together, he can be an all-league player," Kellogg said. ``And that's my personal mission."

Kelloggs's long-term mission, though, is to re-establish his alma mater as a national player.

``People always go back to 1995," Kellogg said. ``But people have to realize that it took five or six years to get to 1995. This young group is going to help put this program in solid footing."

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