UMass will refuse to lose, be ignored in NCAA tournament

Derrick Gordon UMass 2014 NCAA tournament
Derrick Gordon and the UMass Minutemen are a No. 6 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Credit: Getty Images

The Celtics were in full-fledged rebuilding mode as the building formerly known as the FleetCenter opened its doors in 1995, and Boston was in desperate need for an entertaining and successful brand of basketball.

John Calipari’s UMass Minutemen played their home games an hour and 45 minutes away from the Hub in Amherst, Mass., but there was great buzz in the city that year regarding the newly branded “Commonwealth Classic,” pitting the budding Minutemen against Big East stalwart Boston College. UMass, fresh off an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament months prior, defeated the Eagles, 65-57, in front of a sell-out crowd at the “new Garden” and, somewhat surprisingly, Boston’s collective sports attention slowly but surely turned to the “Refuse to Lose” Minutemen as March 1996 approached.

UMass made it all the way to the Final Four in the Meadowlands that season, due to the efforts of revered players like Marcus Camby, Edgar Padilla, Carmelo Travieso and Donta Bright. But the Massachusetts program soon-after fell on hard times when Calipari fled to the NBA and the NCAA came down hard on the program due to the “illegal acceptance of gifts” by Camby.

Consider the penance served.

UMass (24-8) will play its first NCAA tournament game in a mere 5,852 days this Friday (2:45 p.m., CBS) against either Iowa or Tennessee. Head coach Derek Kellogg, who was a star point guard under Calipari in the early ’90s, has steadily built the program back up since taking the reigns in 2008. In Kellogg’s first three seasons on the UMass bench, the Minutemen went 39-53. In the past three seasons, UMass has gone an impressive 70-32.

“That was an emotional, great feeling to see UMass pop up on the screen,” Kellogg told reporters on Selection Sunday. “It’s just a lot of hard work and dedication from our staff and families. We got some indication today. It’s been an emotional time, and we’re excited to be where we are.”

UMass is led by senior guard Chaz Williams, who is averaging 15.8 points and 7.0 assists per game. Big man Cady Lalanne (11.4 ppg) and forward Sampson Carter (10.5 ppg) are the two other double-digit scorers for the boys from the province of the Mass Pike.

Now, it’s highly unlikely that the Minutemen will regain anything close to the popularity they had in Massachusetts in the mid-1990s anytime soon, due mainly to Boston’s four major pro sports teams having enjoyed so much success in the past 10-plus years and that UMass’ ultimate ceiling as a No. 6-seed in this year’s tourney seems to be a Sweet Sixteen berth.

Still, as March Madness tips off this week, UMass alums and fans in and around the Hub will not only refuse to lose, but will also refuse to be ignored. The basketball buzz emanating from Amherst is back.

Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS


MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…


NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…


Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…


Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…


Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.


Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.


Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.


Review: Desert-walking movie 'Tracks' would be better as…

Mia Wasikowska walks 1700 miles across Australia's deserts in "Tracks," in a story that defies triumph-of-the-spirit cliches but gets some of them anyway.


J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.


Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.


Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.


NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)


A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.


3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.


Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…


Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…