Kellogg returns to his roots in effort to lift UMass
AMHERST, Mass. -- Derek Kellogg still has a hard time believing that this is his office, overlooking UMass' William D. Mullins Center basketball court through a third-floor glass window.
He was a sophomore on the basketball team when the Minutemen moved from the Cage to Mullins 15 years ago.
Now he's their head coach.
On Monday night, Kellogg will play his former coach and the modern architect of this UMass program, John Calipari, when the Minutemen tip off ESPN's 24-hour hoops marathon by playing at Memphis at midnight Eastern time in the FedExForum.
"I can't fathom how quickly time has come and gone,'' Kellogg said. The first-year coach already is 1-1 after splitting two games last week in the first two rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Southern Illinois. The Minutemen beat Arkansas-Monticello and lost to the host Salukis after blowing a 15-point lead and seeing starting center Luke Bonner go down for a month with a strained left MCL in his knee.
"The whole process of playing here, coaching here, coaching at Memphis, and being back here seems like yesterday,'' said Kellogg, who was an assistant coach under Calipari at Memphis for eight years. "Yet, when I try to remember specific stuff from here, I don't remember anything.''
Kellogg said he has found himself looking up at his office from the Mullins Center Court, waiting for Calipari to yell down for him to come up.
"I'm ecstatic,'' Calipari said about Kellogg's getting the job. "I wish it would have happened sooner.''
As much as Kellogg had wanted to coach before, he said he wasn't ready until now.
Kellogg said he'd had a premonition as a player that he would be the head coach at UMass. He is from Springfield, Mass. His wife, Nicole Flory, is a fellow UMass grad. His parents still live in nearby Belchertown. If ever there were a candidate who fit his alma mater, it is Kellogg at UMass.
But the timing had to be right.
Calipari left to coach the New Jersey Nets after the Minutemen made the Final Four in 1996, a year after Kellogg had finished his playing career here. Assistant coach Bruiser Flint took over for Calipari. Star center Marcus Camby left with Calipari for the NBA, leaving Flint in a tough spot. Still, Flint kept the Minutemen relevant, albeit not as nationally known. Flint, whose 86 wins in five years rank third all time at UMass behind Calipari and the legendary Jack Leaman, led the Minutemen to the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98. But they haven't been back since.
"Bruiser did a lot of good stuff, but the problem was the animal was so big that I couldn't have fed it had I stayed,'' Calipari said.
Flint was bounced in 2001. The administration tried to make a clean break with former Villanova coach Steve Lappas. That lasted five years, too. The next attempt was for a Rick Pitino disciple because Pitino was a former UMass player. Travis Ford provided a new style and improved results, culminating with an NIT final appearance this past March in his third and final season.
They needed someone to bring the group back together, someone who was one of us. They needed to reactivate the powerful segment that we had rolling. Derek lived it. He knows it.
Still, Ford was an outsider. UMass needed someone who knew western Massachusetts and understands how much different this part of the state is from provincial and pro team-oriented Boston on the eastern part of the state.
"They needed someone to bring the group back together, someone who was one of us,'' Calipari said. "They needed to reactivate the powerful segment that we had rolling. Derek lived it. He knows it.''
"[UMass is] one of those areas that needs someone like him," Flint said. "Up there, you have to go to the VFWs and meet people. You have to be someone that people can touch. They have to be able to see you and touch you. You have to be a part of it.
"DK is a local guy. It's funny -- when we recruited him, people thought we were wasting a scholarship. When he stopped playing, he always came back to the area."
Kellogg learned plenty from Calipari during his playing days and ultimately as an assistant at Memphis. Calipari can spin a tall tale with anyone, can sell just about anything and clearly can galvanize the members of a community to care as much about his program as they might about their own professions. The passion in Memphis now rivals that of any other school in the country for daily information thirst and simple sheeplike attendance at any event the Tigers hold at the Forum.
Kellogg won't get those kinds of results at UMass in the near future. But he's savvy to know he's not here just to coach basketball.
"I really believe the people here wanted someone who had played here -- to be a part of the community, to get UMass connected again with the state, with the area, with New England in general,'' Kellogg said.
How much did Kellogg want this gig when it opened up in April?
"I mean, how much can you say? With all my heart and desire,'' he said.
Kellogg's former fellow assistant and teammate Tony Barbee, who finished his UMass playing career two years before Kellogg did, left the Memphis staff two years ago to take over at UTEP. Had he still been on staff, Kellogg might not have landed his dream job -- because Barbee might have been tapped for it.
"Thank God Tony got the UTEP job,'' Kellogg said.
Barbee didn't want to talk about a hypothetical situation, but he did say that the timing was perfect.
"They needed someone to bring the community back,'' Barbee said. "As much as Travis tried, they didn't embrace the success. Maybe Derek, as a former player, a local product out of Springfield, can do it. He's already doing great things in the community outreach, and now hopefully he can do things on the court.''
But the style today couldn't be any more different than it was in the mid-1990s.
When Kellogg played at UMass, the Minutemen were a slugfest team that slogged its way through 40 minutes. The opponents knew "they were getting into a fistfight with us,'' Kellogg said of the players' tough "jam the ball down your throat" style. But Calipari has gone through a transformation at Memphis the past few seasons, adapting a dribble drive motion offense that was formed by Vance Walberg, a current UMass assistant under Kellogg who was the head coach at Pepperdine before he resigned during last season.
"It's totally opposite how we played,'' Kellogg said. "We're trying to speed up the game, giving the guards more freedom.''
The times have changed in the league as well. When Calipari arrived in the Atlantic 10, he wanted to emulate then-conference power Temple. Now, Kellogg said he's trying to catch league power Xavier to see what has worked so well for the Musketeers.
And he's trying to play as much of a national schedule as possible. Don't expect the Minutemen to continue series such as going to Wisconsin-Green Bay or Toledo, which dot the schedule this season. Kellogg wants more games like Monday night's made-for-TV affair at Memphis.
Calipari did the series in part to get the Tigers a spotlight game after "Monday Night Football" to tip off the ESPN hoops marathon. But he also did Kellogg a favor. The series will return to Boston next season to get the Minutemen into the city that it once captivated a dozen years ago. The Minutemen desperately need to get a foot back in Boston after losing relevance there and after not even earning a headliner a year ago when Kentucky bought itself out of a return game in Boston.
Kellogg said he must tap into the hundreds of thousands of UMass alumni within driving distance of the school.
"These are hardworking people here that want someone who wants to be here -- they want to see you out in the community and all year, going to dinner and shaking hands and being able to touch you and be a part of the program,'' Kellogg said. "I love all that stuff. I grew up here. I have family here.''
Calipari is like family to Kellogg, first as a coach, then a mentor and now a close friend to whom he talks daily. Kellogg said he'll look down the sideline Monday night to see how Calipari is coaching and to get him riled up by waving at him once or twice.
Barbee knows what it's like to coach against Calipari in Conference USA.
"It's not fun,'' Barbee said. "Derek and I helped put that program together, recruiting those guys. We know how good a team they are.''
Both UTEP and UMass are striving to be just as good -- someday.
"It's going to take some coddling to get the fans back,'' Kellogg said. "That's my job. It's not only to win basketball games but to get people in this community involved. I remember when UMass was the program."
Kellogg said that when he travels to recruit, he constantly is told by fans in California, Florida and Puerto Rico how much the Minutemen were a fan favorite during the 1990s. UMass was a draw. The Minutemen were a national team that played anyone anywhere as a consistent top-10 team from 1994 to 1996.
"If we can get even a little piece of that back," Kellogg said, "That would be unbelievable for us.''
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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