Not quite like Mike, but close enough

By Adam Miller

Courtesy Facebook

Editor’s note: Sports Editor Adam Miller has worked for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian for the entirety of his time at UMass, and is graduating at the end of the current semester.

Ever since I became interested in sports, I had two childhood heroes while growing up in the suburbs of Chicago: Michael Jordan and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, Michael Wilbon.

As soon as I realized my jump shot would never get me a full ride at North Carolina, my attention focused to being more like the other Mike. I wrote for my high school newspaper and figured out that while I might never obtain a 48-inch vertical, I can write pretty well on deadline.

I hoped that one day, my hard work would lead me to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, because aside from Medill being the top journalism school in the country, it is also Wilbon’s alma mater.

Unfortunately, my grades weren’t up to par and I knew while I might write for the school newspaper, I didn’t necessarily want to be a sports reporter when I graduated.

So I gave up my dream of going to NU and looked elsewhere. By February, I ended up having to decide between Indiana and Massachusetts.

IU was the sexier choice of the two. It has a great sports program, it’s close to home, it has a very competitive journalism school, the campus is beautiful and every single writer that writes for the Indiana Daily Student (IU’s student newspaper) gets paid, yet it is still independent from the school.

However, I ultimately decided against it because I didn’t like the size of the school, Amherst, Mass. is a much better place to live than Bloomington, Ind. and I was afraid of being the small fish in the big pond. When I visited the Massachusetts Daily Collegian at UMass, the Editor-in-Chief at the time told me that I will move up pretty fast if I stick with the paper – even in the sports section. The Indiana Daily Student couldn’t make that promise.

Now here I am, three and a half years later, putting my byline in this newspaper for the last time. Looking back, I’m happy about my decision to come here and work my way up to the Sports Editor position.

My experience at this paper would not be anywhere near as meaningful as it was if I didn’t have access to an athletic program like the one I covered at UMass. While the Mullins Center doesn’t have the history of Assembly Hall and the UMass logo isn’t as much of a universal symbol as Indiana’s, there’s something special that goes along with covering a school that isn’t known throughout the nation.

I started covering the men’s basketball team my sophomore year – Derek Kellogg’s first season as coach of the Minutemen. Kellogg had a tough road ahead of him with a depleted roster following a successful run to the National Invitation Tournament championship under former coach Travis Ford.

Just over 930 miles away, Tom Crean became the latest coach to represent the Cream and Crimson after Kelvin Sampson led the Hoosiers to the NCAA tournament with Eric Gordon at the helm. Similar to Kellogg, Crean also had to deal with a roster that wasn’t going to make the NCAA tournament for awhile.

As both coaches are in their third season of trying to put their respective teams back to their glory days, there’s a sense of real sincerity that I get whenever I talk to Kellogg that I don’t think I would get with Crean.

One example of this off the top of my head is when I went home for Thanksgiving break to make a three-hour trek to Wisconsin-Green Bay just to cover the Minutemen. Before the game, Kellogg spotted me in the press box and asked what I was doing there.

I responded that aside from covering a game located driving distance from my house, I was stringing for the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

After the press conference, Kellogg shook my hand, wished me a good holiday and thanked me for making the trip to Green Bay to watch his team. Had I gone where the grass is greener, I don’t know if I would even be covering basketball right now and even if I was, Crean wouldn’t treat me the same way Kellogg does.

I don’t think that Crean is a bad guy, but I don’t think he has the same enthusiasm about students at IU as Kellogg does with UMass students. It’s because Crean has nothing to worry about.

The reputation that comes with Indiana basketball on its own merit can attract national attention and a full house at every home game. After all, there aren’t many schools that could pull off a 16-46 record in a coach’s first two seasons and still recruit the best high school players in the country.

Kellogg doesn’t have the brand name behind him, but he has the experience of winning at this school when UMass was just as well-known as Indiana. He knows getting fans to games is an uphill battle, but that challenge is what makes him the kind of coach he is around students.

I can’t think of many other Division I coaches that would stop me on campus to say hi and ask about my classes, or be willing to play basketball at the Recreation Center with students.

One of the most popular complaints students at UMass have about this school is that it’s not enough of a sports school. But if being a sports school means trading my experiences to be just another body at a press conference, then count me as someone who isn’t going to lose sleep over Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale not making regular visits here.

Adam Miller was the Collegian sports editor. He can be reached all the way back home in the Windy City, but will always have a place in the Pioneer Valley.