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Kellogg leading UMass in right direction

When Derek Kellogg played for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, the team was much different than it is today.

Games were nationally televised, the Mullins Center was packed and the state was in love with the team.

Today, the attendance at a game could easily be counted in a matter of minutes, the team is not a powerhouse in the world of college basketball and there is very little national recognition for the team. But with a little more than a year under his belt, Kellogg has taken numerous steps in the right direction.

Kellogg wants to see things return to the way they used to be, and he has made that clear since the day he was named the head coach of the Minutemen. He also shows this desire in what he has done in just over a year of being at the helm.

“People at UMass want a national program, they want a team that’s going to play against the best,” Kellogg said. “I want to recruit the best players and we want to get national exposure and the only way you do that is by playing a national schedule.”

First Kellogg has set up a schedule that gets UMass the national coverage it needs to become the team Kellogg wants. Last year, there was the opening game to ESPN’s Midnight Madness against Memphis and an upset by the Minutemen on ESPN2 against the 2007-08 national champions, Kansas. UMass even played a game in Springfield, Mass., against Dayton to help encourage different parts of the state to follow the team.

This year, the schedule is no easier as Kellogg has given his young team an even tougher challenge. The Minutemen will face off with either Florida or Michigan State at the end of November in the Legends Classic tournament, Memphis on ESPN2 in Boston at the TD Garden, Davidson, Central Florida and Baylor. UMass plays again in Springfield, Mass., against La Salle in January as well to help spread the team’s brand.

But Kellogg doesn’t stop there in his pursuit to return the Minutemen to prominence. He is not just trying to get national recognition and hope for a few upset wins to help put UMass on the map; he’s using the schedule as a recruiting tool, something he did very effectively this past year.

“The schedule is very difficult this year,” Kellogg said. “I’m trying to recruit the kids who want to play at that level and the only way you do that is scheduling those types of games.”

Kellogg brought in one of the top groups of freshman in the conference, if not in the country, proving his ability to recruit. He is also recruiting the players he wants that fit his system.

“I think we’re a little more versatile because I have more guys who can play the way that I want to play,” Kellogg said. “I think there’s some merit that these guys are guys that I recruited and spent a lot of time with.”

But Kellogg knows this is a process and UMass fans need to understand this too. You do not become a national powerhouse overnight or with one recruiting class. This is why many of UMass’ big games this year are on the road. Next year those teams will travel to Amherst, and the freshman that are still learning Kellogg’s system will be a year older with experience under their belts, and Kellogg will be hoping for more of the upsets like the team had against Kansas last year.

“It’s a schedule that I want to continue to have so that when we get older and more mature, we can compete with those guys on the road, in a hostile environment and on television,” Kellogg said.

Even more so, Kellogg knows this year may be tough especially at the beginning. The Minutemen are full of players who have yet to see time in a college basketball game, so there will be mistakes as the players get comfortable with the system. Kellogg just wants to see the players working hard.

“I’m going to have to put up with some turnovers in this offense early on because the guys are all new and we’re trying to have them play faster than they’ve ever played before,” Kellogg said. “But if they play hard, if they defend, if they go to the boards and if they have great attitudes, I’ll live with that. I’ll live with the consequences and the wins and losses.”

The fact that Kellogg is willing to put up with mistakes and losses proves another thing: Kellogg has faith in this team and the players he assembled. He knows that if his players are putting in the time and effort, as well as always playing their hardest, the wins will come. He wouldn’t put up with the mistakes and the losses if he thought otherwise.

There is a recipe that Kellogg is following, and right now he is gathering all of the ingredients. For UMass fans, they need to trust in what Kellogg is doing, and put up with the early losses just as Kellogg is doing, until all of the ingredients are mixed together and UMass has a basketball team that resembles those of Kellogg’s playing days.

It may not come this year, or even the next, but under Kellogg, UMass will be a team the school, as well as the state, will fall in love with again.

Jeffrey R. Larnard is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at jlarnard@student.umass.edu.

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