When the Massachusetts men’s basketball team takes the floor against Temple on Wednesday night, three players will see the Mullins Center parquet for possibly the last time in their collegiate careers.
The contest for UMass (15-12, 7-7 Atlantic 10) against the rivaled Owls (22-6, 12-2 A-10) will mark Senior Night, as the trio of Anthony Gurley, Gary Correia and Hashim Bailey will be honored in a pregame ceremony.
For UMass coach Derek Kellogg, all three players have been with the program since he took over the reins from former coach Travis Ford in 2008. Not only have the seniors helped Kellogg rebuild the program in the present, but they have also set it up for success down the road.
“[They] have done a nice job of being guys that have put the program back on solid footing to where we’re starting to get some respect back, not only in the league but [at] a somewhat regional level to eventually a national level,” Kellogg said in practice on Tuesday.
Along with being contributors on the court, Kellogg has relied on his three veterans to be leaders in the locker room and help the younger players adjust to the college level.
That leadership has been valuable, especially for a team which is comprised of 10 underclassmen and has five sophomore players as its foundation.
“It was good to have some older guys in the program who have been through some of the battles and the wars,” Kellogg said. “That’s hard to teach young kids until you’ve had enough old guys who have been through it.”
Both Bailey and Gurley, while being mainstays at UMass, transferred from their previous colleges before joining the Minutemen.
Bailey originally played at Memphis for former Minutemen coach John Calipari in his freshman and sophomore year. The 6-foot, 10-inch big man saw action in 14 games over that span, before heading to UMass in 2008 and sitting out his initial season due to transfer eligibility rules.
Gurley, meanwhile, elected to play for Wake Forest after his high school career. However, after a promising freshman season in which he averaged 6.4 points, the guard decided to transfer to UMass where he sat out his first year before playing three seasons.
Coming from an elite conference in the Atlantic Coast Conference to the A-10, Gurley had high expectations placed upon him. Now in his senior year, Gurley has taken over the role of leading scorer (team-high 18.3 points per game) and has grown in front of Kellogg’s eyes.
“I don’t think that comes naturally or easy for him to be that leader and that guy that takes over, but he’s matured into that role nicely,” Kellogg said.
“I think what he’s been able to do especially this year, to help me to get the team and the program where it is at this point, has been huge,” Kellogg said. “He’s been a rock and a foundation for a UMass program.”
Though Gurley is the driving force of the team, Correia is UMass’ steady hand at the point guard position. Having played all four years as a Minuteman, Correia has seen many memorable moments in his time – both good and bad.
Still, his first game at the Mullins Center – an exhibition contest against American International – is one that sticks out.
“I remember the first thing, all I wanted to do was hit the rim,” Correia said. “I didn’t want to [shoot an] air ball [and] I was so nervous. I think it’s been a long journey. Obviously, it’s had its ups and downs, but I’m happy. It’s sad to see it come to an end.”
This season, more so than his first three years, has been a challenge for Correia. After losing backup point guard Daryl Traynham mid-season, Kellogg has had to rely on Correia as his only true point guard, playing him for 30-plus minutes at times.
While Correia, Gurley and Bailey will enjoy Wednesday night, they are still focused on reaching the postseason and having a chance for the Minutemen to host the first round game of the A-10 tournament.
Jay Asser can be reached at email@example.com.