A team is as good as its recruiting.
When the Massachusetts men’s basketball team added five freshman last season, it was only the beginning of what UMass coach Derek Kellogg had in mind for the upcoming seasons.
This year, the Minutemen brought to Amherst another batch of solid prospects to add to the lineup, including Daryl Traynham, Maxie Esho and Jesse Morgan.
“I think we’ve done a good job and zeroed in on the right kids that are here,” Kellogg said. “These are the kids I want to go to battle with. These are the guys I’ve recruited [and] that I’ve been around long [enough] with now. This is a group that I think we can grow with and they’ve put together a pretty good string of practices.”
Some of the players Kellogg has recruited in the past are starting to grow up right in front of the coach’s eyes.
“They’re starting to mature into college basketball players and good young men,” Kellogg said. “I wouldn’t trade the guys I have for … any other team in the country because of the type of kids that they are.”
As the veterans start to grow and prepare to leave their maroon and white jerseys behind, the Minutemen coaching staff began the recruitment process to sign the next batch of Minutemen.
“Recruiting is a lifeline of every program,” Kellogg said. “You have to have kids here to have a team and program. I’m very happy with the recruiting we’ve done since I’ve been here.”
The Minutemen coaching staff must find players straight out of high school, rather than shooting for grabbing an entire lineup full of transfer players.
“I’ve wanted to build a program through high schools kids and a few transfers here and there, because the only way you can sustain it is if you have kids that are in a program for a long period of time,” Kellogg said. “I’m not looking for another job, I want to build this program.”
For Kellogg, recruiting is like a business. It’s selling a name and a brand, and the former Memphis assistant coach emphasizes with his recruits how involved he wants to be. Kellogg said that outside of the game, he wants to be involved in his players’ lives.
“I told them when you come here, I’m going be here for you,” Kellogg said. “I’ve eaten lunch with them, I’m checking their class[es]. This is more than just basketball, this is building a program, this is your academics, this is teaching them life skills, trying to make young kids become men.”
Part of the reason Kellogg wants such in-depth recruiting is because, for him, some of the players need that extra push beyond the game of basketball.
“Quite often, they’ve come from different environments that they need a little bit more teaching, a little more coaching, and a little more push,” Kellogg said. “So it’s more of a challenge.”
The recruitment process for Kellogg is a continuous struggle to contact and sign players.
“Recruiting is 24/7, it never really stops,” Kellogg said. “[You’re] not only dealing with the kids you’re recruiting, [but also] their coaches or high schools coaches or their AAU coaches, but also you’re dealing with the kids you have. If I just see them one time a day from 3:30 to 6:30, then everything I told them in the recruiting process is not true.”
Traynham was one of the top players brought in for the Minutemen, as the guard ranked as the No. 110 prospect overall and the No. 27 prospect point guard according to Rivals.com.
The recruitment process was no big deal for Traynham. In fact, it was a smooth transition, as he already knew UMass assistant coach Antwon Jackson.
“The recruiting process was good,” Traynham said. “I always had a relationship with coach Jackson; he coached me at 12 to 14-under, so, I mean, he really got me involved with UMass. Then I built a relationship with coach Derek Kellogg, I felt comfortable with him. The goals that I want, I feel I can achieve here.”
As Traynham joins the team and continues to get involved with the lineup, he doesn’t regret joining UMass in the slightest.
“I love it, I love it, it’s good, it’s not always easy, but life is not easy, you know what I’m saying?” Traynham said. “Everybody goes through trials and tribulations, but I just try to overcome them, come in and work hard every day.”
Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]