The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team isn't in the NCAA Tournament field, but an ex-Minuteman will make an appearance.
Derek Kellogg, who played for UMass from 1991-1995, will head to the Big Dance as an assistant coach for George Mason University. The trip will be a homecoming for Kellogg, who attended Cathedral High School in Springfield, since the Patriots' first-round game will take place at the FleetCenter in Boston. As a No. 14 seed, they will take on No. 3 seed Cincinnati.
"It feels great to be coming back to Massachusetts," Kellogg said by phone Sunday night. "I still have a lot of family and friends up there and I'll always have a special place in my heart for Western Massachusetts. I thought all along we'd be going there."
Less than an hour after the selection show had announced GMU's destination, Kellogg said he had nine messages on his answering machine, most of which were requests for tickets.
"That's going to be the biggest problem," Kellogg said with a chuckle. "I'll have to see what I can do."
While finding tickets will be an issue for Kellogg, finding a way to stop Cincinnati won't be a cakewalk, either.
"They're a good team," Kellogg said. "I've seen them on TV several times. They're a little bit bigger and stronger and possibly more athletic than we are."
Kellogg said he and the rest of the Patriot staff were headed into a meeting to begin preparations.
"We'll probably be in there all night," he said.
Kellogg won't be the only one with maroon and white connections who has a plane ticket to Boston. Scott McConnell, who was the interim sports information director at UMass last year, is in charge of basketball in the sports information office at Texas. Seventh-seed Texas will face 10th seed Purdue.
And Dan Ahearn, who is Texas' assistant athletic director for basketball operations, is a Northampton graduate. After serving as a manager for Rick Barnes at Providence, Ahearn joined Barnes' staff when he moved to Clemson and stayed on when Barnes moved to Texas.
The other FleetCenter games will be: No. 6 Temple vs. No. 11 Kent State and No. 2 Miami vs. No. 15 Lafayette.
The NCAA Selection Committee named just three Atlantic 10 teams, George Washington, Temple, and the University of Rhode Island. Xavier was excluded from the field.
There appears to be a magnetism between Temple and Cincinnati. If seeds hold, the Owls and Bearcats would play each other in the second round. Since 1995, those two teams have been placed in the same bracket.
The teams played each other in the first round in 1995 and in the second round in 1996. They were in the same bracket in 1997, although they didn't play one another. If Temple hadn't lost to West Virginia in the first round last year, the Owls and Bearcats would have met again.
BOSTON - Derek Kellogg remembers taking one last look around Meadowlands Arena in 1995, the day time ran out on his University of Massachusetts basketball career.
"It was a sad moment because we'd lost to Oklahoma State," said Kellogg, who went from Cathedral High School to UMass and the 1995 Elite Eight, and is now an assistant coach with George Mason's NCAA tournament qualifier. "But I just looked around and realized it was over. Time to move on."
This afternoon at FleetCenter, 14th-seeded George Mason (19-10) takes a 10-game winning streak and unquestioned underdog status into its 12:15 game against third-seeded Cincinnati (26-5) in an East Region first-round game. Kellogg has moved on, but he's back in the NCAA tournament with a team whose head coach, Jim Larranaga, and assistant Mike Gillian also have local ties.
"I lived in Westfield and loved it there," said Larranaga, 49, whose coaching career began at American International College (28-25 from 1977-79). After serving as an assistant at Virginia, he took over the program at Bowling Green, where he coached for 11 years before coming to George Mason in 1997.
Gillian was an AIC assistant for six years under Jim Powell, who had served with Larranaga at AIC. The Powell connection helped Gillian wind up as Larranaga's assistant at Bowling Green in 1996, and when Larranaga went to George Mason a year later, Gillian went with him.
The Patriots went 9-18 in 1997-98, then posted the school's first winning season since 1989-90, locking up the Colonial Athletic Association's automatic NCAA bid. Kellogg joined the George Mason staff upon Larranaga's arrival in 1997, and as he winds up his second season, he's already considered a rising coaching star.
"He can relate to us, and he tells us what to expect," junior guard Ahmad Dorsett said of Kellogg. "We're trying to get where he's already been."
"I'm pretty close to them in age," said Kellogg, 25. "I know what they're going through, and what they're facing in their lives."
It was Kellogg's ability to relate to the players that made him seem like a natural for Tony Barbee's spot on the UMass staff, when Barbee left for Wyoming last year. Instead, staff assistant Mike Connors was promoted to assistant coach, a move that disappointed Kellogg's local following - but which Kellogg said was logical.
"I have nothing but fond memories," Larranaga said. "I learned a lot there. And AIC gave me my first opportunity."
Gillian, by contrast, left AIC in bitter disappointment after the Vancouver Grizzlies hired Powell as an assistant in 1995. As Powell's assistant during a 117-58 run over six seasons, Gillian applied for the job with confidence.
"All I wanted at that time was to be AIC's head coach," he said. Instead, the school hired Andy Johnston, and Gillian was out of coaching in 1995-96 before joining Larranaga at Bowling Green.
"I wanted to continue what coach Powell had established, and that's been dismantled," said Gillian, aware that AIC went 5-21 this year. "I'm not saying it would have been different with me, but I'm very disappointed at what has happened over there." Gillian, 33, had also sought the vacant North Adams State job in 1995, but says if the jobs he wanted four years ago opened up today, he would stay at George Mason.
But today, the Larranaga-Gillian-Kellogg troika is only concerned about beating Cincinnati, something Kellogg thinks George Mason can do.
"We haven't played anybody with their recognition level," he said. "But we've played Old Dominion, College of Charleston and some other good teams pretty tough. We belong. I think we can play."
The first thing George Mason assistant men's basketball coach Mike Gillian wanted to know from a reporter was how Tom Cinella and his Lee girls' team were doing.
That's because Gillian has numerous ties to Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts, helping make George Mason a team that local hoop fans can root for in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
George Mason is one of eight teams in Boston this weekend, for first-and second-round games at the FleetCenter. The Patriots, 19-10 and the Colonial Athletic Association champions, will take on Cincinnati at noon today.
Gillian and former University of Massachusetts guard Derek Kellogg are assistants to Jim Larranaga, who coached at American International College from 1977-79. Gillian and Kellogg were interviewed in their offices before departing for Boston on Wednesday.
Gillian, a former North Adams State College player, worked at AIC for six years -- and that's how he got to know Tom Cinella.
"When Pete came down to work with us, I got to know the whole family. Pete and I are still good friends," said Gillian, referring to Tom Cinella's son Peter, the current women's coach at AIC.
Gillian played guard at North Adams State, three years for Jim St. Denis and one year for John Quattrochi. While an assistant at AIC under Jim Powell, Gillian applied for the North Adams head coaching job, a post that was given to Matt Capeless.
"I remember having the opportunity to play for John Quattrochi. That was a big, big influence on me," Gillian recalled. "I most likely wouldn't have gotten involved in coaching if it weren't for him."
Gillian, an Ayer native, had a hand in helping mold the Mohawks into a Division 3 power. He helped bring Phil Bledsoe and Bernard Alexander to North Adams.
"Phil and Bernard were at Fort Devens . I knew them when I was in college," Gillian recalled. "We played an exhibition game against the post team, and I took an active part in bringing them to the school. That was the hook that got me into coaching."
Both Gillian and Kellogg say they've had a lot of calls of support and for help in securing tickets.
"After the selection show, I had 10 calls already. Nine were ticket and congratulations calls at the same time," laughed Kellogg.
Boston was one of two sites that had sold all of its tickets months ago. According to Gillian and Kellogg, the George Mason allotment of tickets sold quickly.
"With all the Western Mass. flavor, it did work out well for us," Kellogg said. "It's going to be an unbelievable feeling on the old Boston Garden floor."
Kellogg never played on the parquet, as the Commonwealth Classic game between UMass and Boston College started the year after he graduated.
Kellogg said UMass head coach Bruiser Flint called and left a congratulatory message on his answering machine, while former UMass coach John Calipari called Larranaga to congratulate the team on making the tournament.
Gillian said he's hopeful a lot of fans in the FleetCenter read about the Massachusetts connections at George Mason, to help his club get more fan support.
"I think the fact that we're an underdog, people will root for us," he said. "If they get on our side, it could be a big plus for us.
"If both teams bring their A games, you're going to see a great, great college basketball game," he continued. "It's no fluke we're in the NCAA Tournament, and no fluke we've won 10 in a row."