here are only a handful of people left at the University of Massachusetts who were part of the basketball program's bygone glory days. The athletic director, the team secretary and a few other administrators are seemingly all that remain from a time when UMass was regarded as one of the nation's true roundball powers.
But there is actually one other figure within the Maroon and White hoops family who was right in the middle of the team's rise into the Nineties collegiate spotlight. There was no one closer to those spectacular teams, at least no one not wearing a UMass uniform or with the last name Calipari. As amazing at it seems, this mystery insider not only plays for the current team; he is an underclassman and stranger yet, a walk-on.
He is Amherst's own Dwayne Killings.
"I grew up watching this team, so to now be a part of it is really something special," said Killings, who served as a ball boy for the John Calipari-led Minutemen from 1990-92. "It was my dream as a kid to be a part of UMass basketball."
For someone who grew up in the Pioneer Valley, it seems odd that Killings wouldn't want to venture a little further from his own back door when it came to finding a place to attend college. As a senior at Amherst Regional, Killings averaged 14 points and six rebounds per game en route to all-area honors from the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Such success would seemingly open the door to other collegiate hoop options, but it turns out that Killings had more on his mind than basketball when it came time to choose a college.
"The biggest reason I came to UMass was actually my major," said Killings, who joined a sport management program widely regarded as the second-best in the nation behind Penn State's. "Most of the other schools I looked at didn't even offer [sports studies]."
One big question that is often asked of walk-ons is why they wouldn't choose a smaller school, where they would undoubtedly play more. But again, Killings had good reason to shoot for a Div. I program in which to continue his b-ball progression.
"The places that offered me the best chances to play immediately were in places like New Hampshire and Maine - smaller Division II and III schools in more remote areas," Killings said. "To tell you the truth, I just wasn't real excited to go somewhere like that."
Having gotten to know then-assistant coach James "Bruiser" Flint during his ball boy days, Killings was able to earn a spot on the Flint-led Minutemen last year when fellow walk-on Dale Menendez opted to transfer. Killings saw limited playing time on a team that struggled during much of the season - he grabbed two rebounds at Rhode Island and canned a three-pointer against Fordham - but was then dealt a blow of sorts when the man who had given him the classic "college try" resigned at the end of the season.
Despite his close relationship with Flint, Killings feels that the coach's departure and the subsequent hiring of Steve Lappas will actually prove positive for the Maroon and White in the long run.
"I think the change will be good for everyone," Killings said. "There were too many expectations before, people saying what the team should be doing or how good we should be."
Killings' role on the team now is one of providing an example, both on the court and off. Lappas has praised the 6-foot sophomore as someone who "works hard in practice, and is such a positive for [the team] because of his attitude." In the classroom, Killings has shown off skills of a different sort by earning a spot on the UMass Athletic Council Honor Roll.
"It's not like I'm going to concentrate on playing basketball after I graduate," Killings said. "I'm here to get an education, and if I can play basketball - something I've always loved doing - at the same time, it's the perfect situation for me."
Perhaps the most valuable thing that Killings brings to the UMass lineup is experience, and not just in running the hardwood or lighting up the Mullins Center scoreboard. On a team aching for redemption after a disappointing season, Dwayne Killings understands maybe better than anyone what it will take to return UMass to the top of the collegiate hoops mountain.
"One of the biggest things I think about is the tradition here," Killings said. "It works in cycles - it builds up over time, then goes down while the team rebuilds. I was here for that buildup before, as a ball boy, and now we're back on the way up again. Knowing that I can play a part in that kind of turnaround is really special."