Sunday November 7, 2010

AMHERST

The University of Massachusetts is picked to finish 11th in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference, if you believe the preseason coaches and media poll.

And if you believe Derek Kellogg and his UMass players, that's not too important.

"We didn't really come in expecting anything," UMass guard Anthony Gurley said. "How can you expect something when you really didn't do anything to deserve it?"

A 12-20 record last season will do that for you.

Twelve different teams had representatives on the preseason All-Atlantic 10 team. None of them were from UMass.

"That kind of puts us in the category of they don't really know much about our team," Kellogg said. "Nobody made the first, second or third team all-conference. Nobody made their all-rookie team and nobody was picked coach of the year.

"I don't think anybody knows what this team is about and how it's going to perform. There are so many question marks."

The Minutemen open the 2010-11 season Friday night at the Mullins Center against Rider. The Broncs were picked to finish fifth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Kellogg is in his third year at his alma mater, and the first two years have been anything but successful. He was a four-year letter winner under former coach John Calipari and played on teams that finished 111-24. He played in the NCAA Elite Eight in 1995, as the Minutemen were beaten by Oklahoma State.

Kellogg is 24-38 in two seasons. UMass did win its first Atlantic 10 tournament game last year, but that record is nothing to write home about.

"I definitely get asked questions back home and around campus," said Gurley, the former Newton North standout. " ‘When is UMass finally going to get back to the tournament?' and those kind of questions. I just tell them it's a process. Coach Kellogg has done a wonderful job of bringing in the pieces and the foundation for building a Top 25 program here. I like the way things are headed. I know I won't be here much longer, but I definitely like the way things are looking at UMass."

Kellogg was asked if he hears about the record, and more importantly, when do the Minutemen turn things around?

"The expectation level varies from person to person, from restaurant to restaurant, from coffee shop to coffee shop," he said. "I have a realistic view of this program, where it's heading and where it needs to go to be sustained for a long time. I think we're getting there.

"After two years and into the third, it's starting to look like a college basketball program, the one I envisioned."

The Minutemen have played two exhibitions. They scrimmaged Tommy Amaker's Harvard team and then beat Brandeis 83-60 on Thursday night at the Mullins Center. Four different Minutemen scored in double figures in the game. Gurley had seven of the team's 24 assists, but the Division III team had only four fewer rebounds than the bigger Minutemen (35-31).

"I thought our shot selection was better," Kellogg said, "and I felt, for the most part, guys tried to be good teammates. They tried to share the basketball. If that can continue when we play real high-level competition, we have a chance to be a decent basketball team."

A decent basketball team is something Minuteman Nation has been asking for ever since Kellogg replaced Travis Ford. It has taken a lot of rebuilding, as befits a team with nine underclassmen -- all Kellogg recruits.

"This is the first year where everything is in place," Kellogg said. "We don't have to re-teach everything from Day One. You'll see that things will start moving in the right direction."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.