Through the Maroon: Amherst’s Dwayne Killings returns with Albany 

From left to right: UMass football coach Don Brown, athletic director Ryan Bamford, chancellor Javier Reyes and his wife Maritza Reyes watch the men’s basketball team’s season opener against Albany on Tuesday night at the Mullins Center.

From left to right: UMass football coach Don Brown, athletic director Ryan Bamford, chancellor Javier Reyes and his wife Maritza Reyes watch the men’s basketball team’s season opener against Albany on Tuesday night at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By GARRETT COTE, TOM JOHNSTON and HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writers

Published: 11-08-2023 4:45 PM

Modified: 11-08-2023 4:45 PM


Garrett Cote

For the second time in as many seasons, Albany men’s basketball head coach Dwayne Killings visited the Mullins Center to match up against a Minutemen team he once suited up for in the early 2000s.

Killings, an Amherst native, grew up going to basketball camps and various sporting events on the campus of UMass and even served as the men’s team’s ball boy under John Calipari before walking on to play for coach Bruiser Flint for two seasons.

He’s a true UMass guy through and through.

A year ago, the Great Danes had a team dinner at his parents’ house in Amherst the night before Albany played the Minutemen.

I asked Killings after Tuesday’s game, which UMass won 92-71, what the difference was between the trip in 2022 and the one in 2023.

His response? Strictly business.

“It’s always great to come back, but I’ll be honest with you, I told our guys it is a business trip this time around,” Killings said. “Obviously it wasn’t the result we wanted. My dad came by during shoot around, my mom stopped by… but that was it.”

And while Killings tried his best to block out the emotional baggage that came with returning home, best believe he was happy to be back.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Athol’s L.S. Starrett to become private company
Phillipston weighs value, savings of making police chief part-time
Athol Royalston Middle School term four honor roll
Athol Town Hall recognized by Gov. Healey ahead of 100th dedication anniversary
Athol, Greenfield open cooling centers in response to heat wave
Bird feeders root cause of bear shooting in Athol, says MassWildlife

As a young buck, Killings played in the famous 3-on-3 Haigis Hoopla tournament at UMass, and he recalls walking around on the parquet floor of what’s now Jack Leaman Court. Having the opportunity to now coach high-level basketball at the same venue is a full-circle moment for him.

“I grew up on this campus,” Killings said. “I can remember playing in the Haigis Hoopla, walking on [the court], and going to camps and all that. It’s a great place, a great town. I’m very fond of it and it’s always fun to take the floor coaching here.”

The main reason Killings treated his homecoming as the “business trip” he alluded to is because several of his players will also return to their hometowns during road games throughout the season.

He wanted to set an example for them and ensure their minds are set on the right thing.

“My message to them – I have to model what I want from them – is that we’ve gotta be focused on the games,” Killings said. “These opportunities are priceless for us, they mean a lot, so we can’t get lost in friends and family. We have a job to do every time we play.”

Hannah Bevis

During the last two seasons under then-head coach Tory Verdi, the UMass women’s basketball team mostly escaped injury en route to two A-10 championship games and a title.

That luck finally seems to have run out this season. 

New head coach Mike Leflar and returners Stefanie Kulesza, Kristin Williams and Lilly Ferguson worked hard to recruit players to the team, bringing their roster up to 13 during the offseason. By the time they tipped off against Saint Peter’s on Monday to open their season, that number was down to eight. 

It’s unfortunate that the injury bug should hit the Minutewomen during Leflar’s first year, but those are the cards that the team has been dealt. New additions to the team Alexsia Rose, Chinenye Odenigbo, Mikenzie Jones, Allie Palmieri and Avery Childers are all out with undisclosed injuries, and it’s unclear how long it will take for those players to return. Leflar did say after the team’s win over the Peacocks that two of the five injured players were doing on-court workouts, though he didn’t say who or what their specific timelines were. 

It’s a tough time to lose players when the team is all new to each other and trying to build up chemistry, and it stings all the more because Leflar has talked about wanting to rotate more than the six or seven-player system that Verdi mainly operated with. These are players who would very likely be getting significant minutes if they were available. 

It’s even necessitated changes in positions to fill in the holes — Kulesza, mainly a guard, shifted to forward in the team’s first game against Saint Peter’s; she thrived in that spot, putting up a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds. 

It’s not the ideal situation for Leflar and his team. Their season is only going to get tougher from here — getting players back sooner rather than later (and keeping them healthy) will be key for this team moving forward. UMass returns to the floor Thursday on the road at Northeastern.

Thomas Johnston

There's a little known rule that requires FBS football teams to average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football contests over a rolling two-year period.

With a capacity of 17,000, McGuirk Stadium would technically need to be just about full to maintain that FBS status. Obviously, if you've watched any of the games either in person or on TV, UMass hasn't come close to reaching that mark recently. 

In 2022 the Minutemen had the third-worst attendance average in the FBS at 10,800. It's high water mark was against Buffalo (13,378) while its low number came against New Mexico State (9,274).

In 2021 UMass had the second-lowest home attendance, averaging 8,994 fans. The high in 2021 was against UConn (12,765) and its low was a dreadful loss to Maine where 5,331 brave souls made their way into McGuirk on a cold, November day the week after Walt Bell was fired. 

It's why UMass getting 14,672 fans into McGuirk on Saturday against Merrimack was such a big deal. Relatively, that number isn't great; it's not even the 15,000 number that UMass is supposed to AVERAGE over two years. Yet Saturday was the most-attended Minutemen game at McGuirk since a 2016 contest against Toledo. 

I've seen firsthand how big the tailgate scene is before home games, where it feels like the entire school heads to the parking lots for a giant party. The issue? Very few of those students make it through the gates and into the stadium for the game. 

It's hard to fault them. Good luck telling a bunch of college kids to stop partying and watch a football team that has struggled to win more than one game for four straight years. It's not the fans fault for not showing up. It's on the school to put out a product that people actually want to see. 

That people are showing up is a good sign that things are finally starting to go in the right direction. It's baby steps. Preseason Bowl talk was always delusional. Winning multiple games, generating interest and putting steps forward to shake the stink that's bogged down the program for years were the realistic expectations. 

I'll be interested to see the attendance numbers when UConn comes to town for the final game of the season the Saturday after Thanksgiving. 

UMass' 2021 and 2019 games against the Huskies — the last two times UConn has been in Amherst — were, unsurprisingly, the two most attended games of the season for the Minutemen. Can UMass, without students on campus, beat the attendance of the Merrimack game and continue building momentum for 2024? With the Huskies sitting at 1-8 and it being a winnable game for the Minutemen, I'll say they do.