Q&A: Derek Kellogg

When the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tips off this month, Bay Staters may finally have a team to root for (that is, besides, ugh, Harvard). UMass hasn’t cracked the bracket since 1998, but head coach Derek Kellogg, who played for John Calipari’s Minutemen during their early-’90s glory days, has finally revived the program. Now his Minutemen are hoping to see just how far they can dance.


Photograph by Matt Kalinowski

After playing for Calipari, you spent eight years as an assistant with him at the University of Memphis—it seems like UMass never really recovered from him leaving in ’96.

I agree. My wife and I are both from this area, and we met at UMass. We used to drive to campus every Christmas when we’d come home, and it did seem quiet and dormant. When we came back to work here, we wanted to be the people who brought back UMass—not back to where Cal had it, that’s a whole different era, but to where we thought it could help the school and the area.

How different is it having guys who are around for four years instead of being one-and-done to the NBA? Has having a lot of experience helped you break through this season?

Yeah, we’re mature now; we have some older guys who have been through both good and rough times. We look for guys who are probably in college for four years and on a path to graduate. And I think the guys like that, who don’t get talked about like [top recruits], play with a chip on their shoulder. They’re trying to prove to the world that we belong and that they can play at the next level.

You’re having a great season, but there’s still not much buzz in Boston for college hoops. How do we make that happen?

I think we have to continue to play a lot of games within the state. Boston has traditionally been a pro-sports town. UMass has probably captured the city’s heart one other time in the history of college basketball. But we have to continue to play well and try to get the Boston media onboard.

I think maybe what we really need is for BC to get its act together so you have a rival. 

Everybody goes through some struggles, and hopefully they’ll get it together a little bit. We played them; it’s good for us when teams that we play do well. So I’m rooting for them.

How often are you in contact with Coach Cal?

Three or four times a week, verbally probably one to two times. A lot of times it’s basketball, and other times it’s just to see how his family is doing, or vice versa. If we have a big win or a tough loss, he is usually one of the first to be checking in.

It does seem that you style your hair similarly to his.

I figured you might say that. Yeah, there are some similarities between us. I think I might have had the gel look first.

Do you think you’ll stick around UMass for a while, or will there be other offers?

We are committed. And when I say we, I mean my family. The great thing is, as you have success, you can do more things for your program. People are more excited to make upgrades and get it to where we can compete at a national level. I think we can help build the UMass brand name—not just the basketball program, but the whole school. The UMass alum and fan base and the community are really starting to get behind us.

Last thing, since I have a billion dollars from Warren Buffett riding on this: How far are you going in the tournament?

You have like a one-in-nine-quintillion chance of getting your bracket perfect.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance! How far can you go?

Right now, I’m just concerned about getting in. But it’s a golden age for nontraditional teams sneaking in. I always tell my team, anything is possible. We won’t be favored to do it, but anything is possible.