|Chaz Williams is probably shorter than Gary Parrish. (Goodman's phone)|
By Jeff Goodman
We'll have a column today on Xavier, but UMass certainly worthy of praise as the Minutemen stand one victory shy of a 20-win campaign:
AMHERST, Mass. - Derek Kellogg had never laid eyes on Chaz Williams before. The UMass head coach and his staff did their due diligence, talked to plenty of CAA coaches who spoke glowingly of the Hofstra transfer and his toughness and ability to play far larger than his diminutive stature.
Then the UMass coach and former point guard got his first look at Williams when he came to Amherst on a visit.
"I thought his height was questionable," Kellogg said.
"But he walked with a swagger," Kellogg added. "And I just figured this kid has to be able to play."
Williams is listed at 5-foot-9, but Kellogg was already forewarned that his newest recruiting target wasn't a legit 5-9. Then he walked in the door.
"I think he's probably 5-foot-5," Kellogg said of the Brooklyn native.
"He's killing me," Williams said of Kellogg claiming he's 5-foot-5.
All joking aside on Williams' stature, this kid can play. He's exactly what Kellogg has needed since he replaced Travis Ford at UMass: a legitimate floor leader.
Admittedly, I saw Williams on his most impressive 40 minutes (he actually logged 38) as a Minuteman point guard. He was clearly the best guard on a court that also featured fellow New Yorkers Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, going for 29 points and dishing out nine assists.
"He did everything for us tonight," Kellogg said. "He made shots, made free throws and defended," Kellogg said.
That hasn't always been the case, but when Williams plays this way he changes this UMass team and makes them a viable contender for a Top four spot in the A-10. The Minutemen won their 19th game last night against Xavier and improved to 8-5 in league play, which puts them in a three-way tie with the Musketeers and Saint Joseph's for third place.
"This was as big as any win we've gotten since I've been back," Kellogg admitted after the 80-73 win. "Xavier has been the benchmark of the league -- and for us to do it with what was on the line."
Kellogg hasn't gotten UMass basketball back to what it was in the days when John Calipari was running things, but the fan support has grown as the wins have piled up and as Kellogg has altered his style of play, opting to press and run with added frequency.
Xavier came into last night's game having won the past six in the series, but Williams and his teammates snapped that streak and while the program's point guard hasn't had to endure what most of his teammates have over the past few years, he was primed on the importance of this victory.
"They gave me an understanding of everything," Williams said. "Guys told me how Xavier has left a bad taste in their mouth over the last few years, but this year we're turning things around and making people realize that UMass basketball is back."
Back by Calipari standards? No, but that'll never happen again. That's just plain unrealistic.
However, UMass has become relevant in the A-10 again.