In today’s world of sports, you can generally judge how good a coach is within three years. However, if you were to judge Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg by those standards, you would be setting unrealistic expectations based on the situation he inherited when he first came to Amherst.
In his first year, he had to figure out a way to utilize Chris Lowe, who wasn’t nearly as good without Gary Forbes being available to do a lot of the scoring, along with two freshmen (David Gibbs and Tyrell Lynch), who weren’t exactly McDonald’s All-Americans, and needed a lot of polishing. Add in the fact that he had to play a lot of players out of position because of a lack of height on the team, which became a bigger problem when Luke Bonner injured himself against Southern Illinois at the beginning of the season.
The next year, he got an influx of five freshmen to make up for all the losses from that season (Bonner, Tony Gaffney and Chris Lowe to graduation, Doug Wiggins and Lynch to disciplinary issues, Matt Glass transferred) plus the surprise re-addition of Trey Lang along with the eligibility of Hashim Bailey and Sean Carter after sitting out as transfers their first season as Minutemen.
Needless to say, there were a lot of growing pains, as everyone was just trying to figure out their roles.
This is really the first year where Kellogg can actually have a team he calls his own. Redshirt senior Anthony Gurley never played for former coach Travis Ford, while Lang, guard Gary Correia and forward Matt Hill were irrelevant pieces of a disastrous recruiting class from Ford’s last year at UMass and never received much opportunity.
The problem is that Kellogg isn’t building this team for Correia and Gurley. While they are the leaders at the moment, they aren’t the players Kellogg brought in, and he doesn’t have the same relationship with them that he has with Sampson Carter.
At the end of the day, players like Lowe, Harris and Gurley are nice additions and great leaders for the future, but they are not the future of UMass basketball.
This year’s team is built so that one day Terrell Vinson and Freddie Riley can be the faces of the Minutemen and Kellogg’s first real stamp with the team.
However, fans don’t want to be patient. They aren’t interested in watching highly-touted recruits who can play a year from now, or wait for Raphiael Putney’s body to fill out. What they want is Gurley putting up 20 points per game and upset wins over teams like Syracuse and Florida.
While nobody expects Kellogg to make this team the 1995-96 Final Four team overnight, they remember when Ford would consistently put the Minutemen on the bubble of the NCAA tournament and are wondering when those days are coming back.
It’s going to take some time, but this team will get there with Kellogg as its coach.
Although UMass is still a work in progress, the team understands that wins need to start happening now, not later. As Gurley pointed out before the start of the season, not even fans want to respect the Minutemen right now.
They are suffering from weak attendance and are putting themselves in front of students as much as possible to stitch up support, but nothing is going to put fans in the seats more than winning.
So while nobody is going to be excited over a Wednesday night game over American International, it might be encouraging to see UMass put up a winning record to go into the Atlantic 10 schedule (I predicted a 9-4 start to the season).
As a young team, the Minutemen aren’t the type of team that can compete against a top-RPI schedule just yet, but they need to start taking steps forward and just win, no matter who it’s against.
It’s not only good for the fans, but the players, too. If UMass can get off to a good start, then by the time Gurley leaves and players like Javorn Farrell are leading practice, the team will at least be good enough to know it can do better than win 12 games all season.
It’s better for the future leaders of the Minutemen to know that even if they aren’t good enough to play in the A-10 Championship, they are at least improving the quality of the program every season.
Adam Miller is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.