UMass men’s basketball team makes most of European trip



Last modified: Saturday, August 29, 2015

Partway up was high enough for UMass men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg.

During last week’s eight-day, three-game tour of France and England, the Minutemen visited the Eiffel Tower. While most of the players went to the top of the iconic Parisian monument, Kellogg and most of the coaching staff stayed at the midway plateau.

“That was far enough,” said Kellogg, who was back in Amherst Tuesday, still trying to get his body on eastern time again.

But altitude fears aside, it was a trip filled with high points for the Minutemen, who took advantage of the NCAA’s rule that allows teams to journey overseas every four years to play exhibitions. Kellogg thanked the court club, which raised money for the trip, and thought his team benefitted from a basketball and cultural standpoint.

“It was an unbelievable experience. The kids took it all in and really appreciated the experience. I felt like they really wanted to see it all, especially the major tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and Buckingham Palace to name a few. Those guys had seen that stuff on TV and read about it. I thought they were really interested taking pictures.”

Kellogg was proud of how his players handled themselves.

“It shows we have the right kids in the program. Guys that are interested in things other than just playing basketball. To be able to afford them that opportunity was pretty cool,” he said. “People were coming up asking for autographs, taking pictures and measuring their height against them. It was a good experience for those guys. I thought they did a good job representing the university, our program, their families and also the United States. I think anyone who is a UMass fan or has interest in college basketball would have been proud of the way our guys acted and took in the culture of another place.”

The players, who flooded Twitter and Istagram with pictures from the trip, enjoyed the experience.

“I’ve never been out of the country so to see cities like Paris and London was spectacular to experience, the culture and the food and the people,” redshirt sophomore Seth Berger said. “Everybody got something out of it. I loved it. We had a blast. We went to the Louvre (in Paris). I’m looking at paintings that are 800 years old. Our country isn’t even 800 years old. It was pretty humbling. Seeing paintings or landmarks or structures or whatever was fascinating.”

Senior Trey Davis was wowed by Buckingham Palace.

“Queen Elizabeth’s house, with the lion monument and the guards in front,” he said, “I never had a chance to see something like that.”

Kellogg expected that his players’ height would attract attention as the group visited attractions throughout the two European capitals, but he was surprised how many people he encountered with UMass connections.

“A lot of people who had something to do with UMass at one time or another stopped us and asked us when and where we were playing,” Kellogg said. “I don’t know if they were living there or stopping through. It was a lot more people than you would have imagined.”

NCAA rules allow teams to practice as a group for short stretches in the summer, but teams that are making foreign trips are allowed 10 practices in the two weeks leading up to their departure. Kellogg spent almost all of those 10 practices focused on offense. He said his team was far from ready for the 2015-16 season, but there were reasons for optimism.

“We worked on a lot of shooting in the spring and the summer and a lot of guys are playing pretty confident right now. For the way we want to play you have to be able to shoot the 3 and make some shots. It was nice to see them perform, play well and enjoy doing it. There are some things that went well and some things that need tons of work,” he said. “The young guys and new guys at least have a foundation they can start from that’s further along than if we didn’t go on this trip. I’m looking forward to getting back and really getting to work. We didn’t work on defense that much and that showed, but we did work on some offense and hopefully that showed.”

The games marked the return of Berger, whose December foot injury caused him to miss the second half of the 2014-15 season, and the debuts of freshmen big men Malik Hines and Rashaan Holloway, and senior transfer Antwan Space.

Berger wasn’t back in shape yet, but showed signs of his old self.

“Seth did some good stuff. He got winded at times and didn’t come up with all of the Seth Berger type plays we’ve become accustomed to,” Kellogg said. “But in stretches, he did some good stuff and was really good on the front of the press. He made some good drives to the basket and shot the ball a little bit better.”

Kellogg said the new big men got their feet wet.

“Rashaan has to work his way into better shape obviously. He showed some decent flashes. Once Malik understands how hard you have to play for an extended period of time, he’s got a chance to be a good player,” Kellogg said. “Space brought a little maturity to the team and that position. We needed some maturity up front. He did some really good stuff at the offensive end and defensive rebounded better than I anticipated. He just has to get acclimated to the pace we want to play at.”

While the players went home for a few days after the trip, Davis was eager to get back together.

“On and off the court, we jelled really well. It brought us closer,” he said. “We already were close, but it brought us even closer.”

Berger agreed.

“We’re looking forward to getting back to school and building on the chemistry we built on this trip,” he said. “We’re excited. We have something to prove.”

PIPKINS UNRESOLVED — Kellogg said UMass didn’t have a timetable for when it expected to know the eligibility status of incoming freshman guard Luwane Pipkins, who was enrolled in summer school in Chicago, completing a course to help his chances. Kellogg said Pipkins will be at UMass in September either way.

“He’ll be in school here. We just have to wait to get all the stuff through the clearing house,” he said. “He should be all set, but we’ll see.”

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


 


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