With the Minutemen struggling on the court this season, many pundits and fans (including some here at the UMBR) have begun to question the abilities of Coach Kellogg. While nobody expected UMass to land in the Top 25 like last season, expectations of a top finish in the Atlantic 10 and a return to the NCAA Tournament were not out of the question. What we have seen instead is a season of uninspired basketball, with the Minutemen showing no sign of their full potential. Inevitably, when a team struggles the coach is the one who takes most of the blame. This season may be a lost cause in terms of a March Madness appearance, but that does not mean that Derek Kellogg is suddenly not a top tier coach worth his big contract.
Coach Kellogg’s New Contract
Let’s not forget that a big story coming out of this off season was that DK’s contract was renewed until at least the 2018-2019 season. That means that the athletic department has faith in DK, but it also means that there was fear that a bigger school would steal Coach Kellogg away from UMass. According to Dan Malone, schools like BC and South Florida expressed interest in DK to fill their recent coaching vacancies (source). Kellogg’s talent as a coach is being recognized outside of Amherst by schools with strong basketball traditions.
Coach Kellogg’s strength is in recruiting. He has proved time and again that he has the recruiting power to attract the best talent for his system. The obvious poster child of DK’s recruiting is Chaz Williams, who fit in perfectly with his up-tempo offense. When Chaz was on the floor it was like Coach Kellogg was out there with the team as well.
But outside of Chaz, Kellogg has also continually restocked in an Atlantic 10 conference that doesn’t have the draw of the power conferences. While this season hasn’t turned out as expected, DK’s past few recruiting classes have outperformed most expectations. Both Seth Berger (pre-injury) and Demetrius Dyson have had good sophomore campaigns (despite all the grief I gave Dyson early in the season). Zach Coleman, Donte Clark and CJ Anderson have also had success as freshman. And don’t forget about Holloway and Hines, two talented front court players committed for next season.
One of DK’s greatest strengths is developing his young players. Guys like Raphiael Putney, Sampson Carter and Maxie Esho all grew from timid role players into stars of the team by their senior years. Credit coach Kellogg for developing the skills that are necessary to thrive in the Atlantic 10.
Recruiting is half the battle in college basketball. The other half is putting together a schedule and getting results. During UMass’ rebuilding phase, DK scheduled weaker opponents in order to get early season wins and drum up support for the downtrodden program. Now, with an NCAA Tournament appearance under his belt he put together a schedule that gave the Minutemen the best chance at a post-season berth. According to RealTimeRPI.com, UMass has the 15th toughest strength of schedule this season (source). Unfortunately, UMass didn’t win some of the games they needed to. The loss to Florida Gulf Coast and the close losses against BYU and Harvard were RPI killers.
Let’s not forget what Coach Kellogg has done for this program since 2008. He brought UMass to a post-season tournament three years in a row, including an NIT Final Four and a NCAA Tournament appearance. He has put UMass basketball back on the map and made them contenders in the Atlantic 10. The people coming down hard on Coach Kellogg seem to have a short memory. Obviously, his team doesn’t have the same talent as it did in the past three seasons. Losing three of your starting red-shirt seniors is going to be difficult to overcome for any coach. However, DK has shown that he is willing to use his freshman (something he rarely did in the past) in order to reload the squad for future years.
Pundits have noticed Coach Kellogg’s coaching skill. ESPN named DK to their list of the top 75 coaches in college basketball. Last season, he was recognized for doing one of the best early-season coaching jobs in the NCAA (source). These things don’t happen by accident. Coach Kellogg is the right man to lead this program and we are lucky that he didn’t bolt for South Florida, BC or any other power conference school. In Coach Kellogg we trust!