Kellogg still figuring out where new players fit

By Adam Miller

Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg knows the talent the seven players he recruited as transfers and freshmen possess. What he doesn’t know is how they will fit in with the 2009-10 Minutemen 10 days before the regular season opener against Central Florida.

UMass had a closed scrimmage against Boston University scheduled for Saturday, but several Terriers came down with the flu, and Kellogg canceled it as a precaution. He is now looking for another team to scrimmage on Thursday before the Minutemen host Dowling at home on Saturday.

There are nine players who never played a minute of Division I basketball, and the remaining six, who played for UMass last season, also leave a bit of a question mark because Kellogg knows there has been improvement. He just doesn’t know how much improvement they’ve had.

“It’s been fun coaching them, but the tough thing for me is I’m not sure where we are right now because we haven’t played anyone besides ourselves. That’s pretty difficult,” Kellogg said.

He knows that guard Ricky Harris is going to lead the team because of his senior leadership skills and what he brings to the court. Redshirt junior Anthony Gurley and sophomore David Gibbs have made substantial improvements under Kellogg’s eyes, and are going to play major roles for the Minutemen this season.

As important as they’ll be to UMass, all three players aren’t necessarily going to start unless Kellogg feels that they give the Minutemen the best chance to win.

“I’m not sure if that combination (Harris, Gibbs and Gurley) is definitely conducive to winning the game,” Kellogg said. “They have played better and are getting better together, but I need to play another team to get a gauge on who’s going to be starting and who’s going to be playing most of the minutes.”

Kellogg expects to go 10 or 11 deep this season and believes that he has a better team than last year, but he’s still unsure about which combination of players works best.

Along with mixing and matching different lineups, Kellogg has to get most of his team accustomed to playing at the speed and intensity level that comes with playing Division I basketball, especially with a schedule as tough as the Minutemen’s.

Later in the season, Kellogg hopes to implement a full-court press, but that can’t happen until the half-court defense is high enough for his standards. Early in the year, he expects that there will be plenty of mistakes and will have to be patient with his young team, but he also believes it can be successful later on in the year and improve on last year’s record.

“I’m not trying to push them too far until we’ve mastered the basics,” Kellogg said. “I think we still have a lot of work to do in mastering the basics.”

Adam Miller can be reached at [email protected]