Vin Parise from CollegeBasketballTalk caught up with UMass head coach Derek Kellogg, who sits at 6-0 this season with a win in the Charleston Classic.
CBT: If I would have looked into a crystal ball in October and told you that UMass would be Top 25 before Thanksgiving; would you have believed it?
Kellogg: I knew we had some strong pieces in place and we would be better but I am a little surprised, in a very good way, that we are playing this well so early. I knew Chaz Williams would be our leader, but our other guys have been just as great.
CBT: When did it hit home that you guys could be a really good basketball team?
Kellogg: When we beat #19 New Mexico, I started to look at this group a little different. The way we had our press going and the way we played offensively – I felt we had the ability to play a high level of basketball. I’d love to be able to bottle that up now for the rest of the season.
CBT: Well, let’s talk X’s & O’s. What’s been the key so far between the lines and what will UMass be known for this season?
Kellogg: It will always start with our full court pressure. When we are able to speed the game up and Chazz Williams is pressuring with his on-the-ball defense; we are really good. But our half court defense has been tremendous as well. We beat LSU this year by only pressing half the game because they run so well. I don’t know if last year we would have been able to play at two different speeds like that.
CBT: How about your balance? You have 6 guys that average between 7 and 17 points per game.
Kellogg: I love it. My biggest question at the start of the year was who do I start? We have a solid 7-8 man rotation. Depth wise, I’d love for one more guy to emerge so it becomes a 8-9 rotation. We’re about to play on the road as a ranked team so people will be gunning for us – we need that depth. We’re also going to see some zone in the next few games so it helps when you have some more options.
CBT: How special has this start been as an alum and how often do you talk to John Calipari?
Kellogg: Cal is the best. I’ve been his player and then later his friend – but he will always be a mentor to me. He’s so happy for me and UMass right now. He’s always one of my first 2-3 text messages after I get after a big win. For all the places he’s been, I feel Cal will always consider UMass home. I’m just so lucky to be at a place where I went to school, that I love so much and a place that is so passionate about their hoops. Hopefully we can keep it going.
Vin Parise is the College Basketball Insider for NBC Sports Network and SportsNet New York. He is also a contributor & analyst for ESPN3, MSG Network, Cox Sports New England, Fox Sports 1, The Providence Coaches Show, St. John’s Radio & Iona College Radio. He coached 8 seasons at FDU, Rutgers & Iona. Follow Vin on Twitter: @VinParise