Kellogg sees signs of maturity from freshmen
When it comes to putting together a basketball team, inexperience cuts two ways. On one hand, a coach knows that there is plenty of time to get the new players accustomed to the system and there is usually plenty of promise.
On the other hand, there are plenty of frustrating moments the coach has to go through before that promise turns into productivity.
Such is the case with the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg brought in five freshmen through recruiting, all of whom are versatile and capable of playing multiple positions. He feels that all of his new players are capable of accomplishing a lot, but they have much progress to make before getting there.
“These guys have been recruited and are good players, but it’s going to take a little bit of time for them to realize how hard you have to play,” Kellogg said following the Minutemen’s exhibition win over Dowling.
One of Kellogg’s projects is Raphiael Putney, a 6-foot-8 inch forward listed at 180 pounds, although he said he is actually 20 pounds lighter. In fact, Putney hopes that he can push 175 by the end of the season after going through his current diet and weight program.
Kellogg believes that Putney could be great for his team’s offense once he puts on the weight, which he sees as something that will happen naturally as he moves through his college career.
“Sometimes the maturation of coming to college for those kids is that they put on some weight,” Kellogg said.
Putney has yet to see a minute of action during the regular season and may end up redshirting while he takes a year to mature.
The four other newcomers are having a chance to perform often during the season. Since the start of the preseason, Kellogg emphasized that although he’s going to have to deal with mistakes early on, the expectations aren’t going to be any lower.
“I need a lot of these young [players] to step up and maybe be better than they’re supposed to be early on,” Kellogg said.
To some respect, he’s gotten flashes of how good his freshmen can be in UMass’ first three games of the season.
After struggling in his first game against Central Florida, forward Terrell Vinson put up double figures in the Minutemen’s two-game stretch against Cornell and Arkansas-Fort Smith.
He has started all three games this season and recently showed Kellogg that he can play away from the basket as well as inside.
Javorn Farrell is a player who Kellogg knows isn’t the most talented out of his freshmen, but is still a leader in practice and has a work ethic that he hopes will catch onto the rest of them. He’s been praised for his maturity because he doesn’t get nervous over games and his comfort on the court.
However, Farrell feels the problem with the newcomers as a whole is that while they all play hard at certain times, it’s not at a level of consistency that it takes to win games, and that includes himself.
“I feel that we all play at a certain amount of intensity at certain times but I feel like we all need to play with a high level of intensity at all times, which is a lot of intensity,” Farrell said.
Guard Freddie Riley ran into this problem earlier in the season. Kellogg often criticized Riley’s lack of shot selection and his intensity on defense.
In the first game of the season against UCF, Riley scored 12 points, but went 4-for-11 on plenty of tough shots.
He has since shown flashes of the type of player Kellogg hopes he can become with his ability to drive to the basket. During UMass’ current home stretch, Riley has done a better job of making the extra pass and taking fewer shots.
Now Riley feels that he needs to make strives defensively before he becomes the type of college basketball player he hopes to be.
“At first it was tough getting adjusted to all the strength and the speed and everything but now I think I’m fitting in well,” Riley said prior to the game against the Big Red.
The Minutemen are just days away from heading to Atlantic City, N.J., where they are guaranteed to play Rutgers and either Florida or Michigan State in perhaps their toughest game of the season.
Kellogg knows his young team is going to be tested there and for the rest of the season, but he feels that as long as the younger players continue to work hard, his patience will pay off.
“When you have a great attitude and have some God-given ability, and you’ve worked at it, you’re going to be a good player at some point,” Kellogg said.
Adam Miller can be reached at email@example.com.