By Paul Gotham
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — As a player, Derek Kellogg won plenty of basketball games. He helped the Massachusetts Minutemen to more than 100 victories during his four-year career. As a coach he has shown the ability to remain patient through a rebuilding process. That’s why when the fifth-year head man at UMass offers an optimistic view of the upcoming season, it’s worth noting.
“It feels like we have a program finally,” Kellogg said recently during the Atlantic 10 media day at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. “Our structure of how we’re playing is finally in place. There’s not a lot of wavering on what we’re doing.”
After a pair of 12-win seasons followed by 15 victories in 2010-11, Kellogg’s Minutemen notched a 25-12 mark in 2011-12. Four starters return from that team along with four others who averaged double-digit minutes off the bench.
“If we stay healthy, and if the guys continue on the path, we have a chance to be good,” Kellogg continued. “Last year we made some good things happen that maybe don’t happen every year. We want to make sure we give ourselves that opportunity again.”
UMass advanced to the semi-finals of the A-10 tournament before falling to eventual conference champion St. Bonaventure, 84- 80 – a game which the Minutemen rallied from 16 down to pull within one in the closing seconds. From there UMass rattled off three straight wins including triumphs over Mississippi State and Seton Hall before bowing out in the NIT semi-finals.
“There’s an opportunity in front of us,” Kellogg continued. “But it’s not guaranteed.”
The potential of that opportunity will be realized through the play of Chaz Williams. Short in stature at just 5’9″, the Brooklyn, New York native casts a long shadow of influence on his teammates.
“He brings energy to practice everyday,” Kellogg said of his point guard. “He gets the other guys to play. He brings an edge to our team.”
After sitting out a season per the NCAA transfer rules, Williams wasted little time putting points on the board last season. He notched double figures in each of the first four games and scored 10 or more in all but three contests last year leading the Minutemen with 16.9 points per game. But it wasn’t until the latter stages of the season that his play-making showed its potential.
Williams notched back-to-back double-doubles in mid-February when he handed out 10 assists each against St. Joseph’s and La Salle. Williams totaled 20 helpers combined while committing just two turnovers in 69 minutes of play during those two contests.
“He did it at the end of last year,” Kellogg explained. “Now, if he can do it for the whole season, from day one of our real practices, then I’ll know what we have.”
Williams dished out nine dimes and scored 29 as the Minutemen beat Xavier, 80-73. He followed that with 11 assists and 26 points in an overtime loss at Temple.
“In college basketball, the point guard position is the most important on the floor. Probably even more so for us,” Kellogg added. “I ran a lot of stuff through him.”