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Buzz building around UMass men’s basketball team

JERREY ROBERTS
University of Massachusetts Head Coach Derek Kellogg, second from left, applauds after calling his players in from a drill including, from left, Tyler Bergantino, Freddie Riley and Cady Lalane Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.

JERREY ROBERTS University of Massachusetts Head Coach Derek Kellogg, second from left, applauds after calling his players in from a drill including, from left, Tyler Bergantino, Freddie Riley and Cady Lalane Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage. Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — Before his sophomore season, University of Massachusetts guard Freddie Riley was frustrated about everyone’s lack of optimism surrounding the Minutemen. Preview magazines, newspaper articles and even fans had low expectations for the 2010-11 squad and Riley took it to heart.

Two years later, coming off the team’s run to the National Invitation Tournament’s semifinals, there’s a positive vibe surrounding the Minutemen. The preview magazines that are already out and national websites are projecting UMass to finish among the top teams in the Atlantic 10 and perhaps reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. There’s a buzz on campus among students greater than at any previous time.

“We walk around campus and a lot of people are looking forward to the games,” Riley said. “The students have never interacted with us in the past the way they’ve been this semester. It feels good. Coming in, one of our goals as a class was to get UMass basketball back on the map. We’re heading in the right direction. Our coaching staff and everyone has a positive attitude. This is the best I’ve ever felt going into a season. It’s really exciting.”

Riley emphasized that there’s still ground to cover.

“We took a step forward from my freshman year until now,” Riley said. “We made the NIT last year and now we’re trying to win the conference and hopefully get a bid to the NCAA tournament.”

Chaz Williams said he still thinks the Minutemen are being slighted.

“We still don’t get the respect we deserve. That just comes with the territory,” said the junior point guard, who has been picked in several places to be a favorite for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. “We can’t worry about what people think. We know what we’re doing here. We’d rather be the underdog. It makes you work that much harder.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg said the players are working like they’re still chasing respect.

“The biggest thing is, they seem hungry. That’s the one thing I wanted to make sure these guys are hungry and using last year as a building block,” Kellogg said. “They come in, we work and we get out of here. That’s the way a team on a mission is supposed to be.”

MAYBE MADNESS — UMass hasn’t decided whether or not to hold any kind of public event to mark the start of full practice, which begins Oct. 12.

“We’re talking with the marketing department about some options,” Kellogg said. “Whatever we do, I want to make sure it’s successful, first class and that we have a good showing. We’re talking about options and ideas. Something would be good, but I’m not sure what yet.”

STILL NEED A GAME — The Minutemen are still hunting for one more game to complete their nonconference schedule

“I’m still calling around. I haven’t had a lot of luck. I talked to a lot of schools Thursday. I reached out to Lehigh, Drexel and Boise State, but the reality is everybody is looking for home games as we would be. There’s still some teams out there,” Kellogg said. “I don’t want to schedule a road game against a team that’s a long way away. I want a home game, or a team with a good RPI. There’s a lot of things I’m saying would work. Going on the road to a far away place isn’t one of them. We’re already on the road four times and for a tournament. The way we play, staying fresh is important so I’m being a little bit careful for this last game so it fits what we’re doing.”

UMass will have a closed scrimmage against Drexel again. Whether the Minutemen schedule an exhibition game will depend on what happens with that last game.

MISCELLANEOUS — The Puerto Rico Tipoff is moving from San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, to the Coliseo Ruben Rodriquez in the smaller city of Bayamon. Kellogg said the Minutemen aren’t planning to add any walk-ons to the roster.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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