Former ball boy for John Calipari now coaches Kentucky’s next opponent

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Albany announced the hiring of Dwayne Killings as its head men’s basketball coach on March 17, 2021.
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For Albany Coach Dwayne Killings, Monday night’s game at Kentucky will serve as a new chapter in a long-running story.

“I was a ball boy for Coach Calipari back in his ‘Refuse to Lose’ days,” Killings said after Albany lost 77-64 at Eastern Kentucky on Saturday night.

Killings grew up in Amherst, Mass., where John Calipari debuted as a head coach by putting UMass on the college basketball map. The Minutemen rode the motto of “Refuse to Lose” to the 1996 Final Four. Killings turned 15 five days after Kentucky defeated UMass in the national semifinals.

Four years earlier, UMass extended Kentucky in a Sweet 16 game that came two days prior to Christian Laettner’s famous game-winning shot for Duke.

The game at Kentucky on Monday night can serve as part of what Killings hopes is a reenactment of the formula Calipari used to transform UMass basketball from obscurity to prominence.

“He would play anybody,” Killings said, “and that started from Day One.”

As a first-year coach, Killings will lead Albany in games at Kansas State (Dec. 1) and Boston College (Dec. 13) as well as at Kentucky this season.

When asked if the “Refuse to Lose” days could be considered a model he’s trying to use at Albany, Killings said, “In some respects. That’s where I fell in love with the game of basketball as a boy watching what Coach Calipari did. Time stopped in Amherst, Mass., when UMass basketball was playing.

“Our goal with our entire approach to scheduling was to find some of the best teams out there for us to be able to grow our program mentally and physically.”

The tie to Calipari is not the only way Albany came to be on Kentucky’s schedule. UK staffer James “Bruiser” Flint, whose job is associate to the head coach, “is like a family member to me,” Killings said. ‘I’ve known him since I was 7 or 8 years old.

“So, we were looking for some of our ‘buy games.’ One of the things we want to do is create experience for our program and our players (and) also for our administration, our donors. Bringing them to a place like this is a pretty cool thing.”

The Albany players literally wear Killings’ ambitions for the program on their clothing. The word “mentality” is on the front of T-shirts worn during pregame warmups.

Killings explained the message he’s trying to convey by saying, “What I’m trying to do is change the mentality of our program. … How we’re perceived and how we’re thought about in our community (and) on our campus. Our goal is to think bigger.

“For players, it’s just a mindset. We need to be consumed in winning. And that’s winning on and off the floor.”

Transformations can take time. UMass had a losing record in Calipari’s first season. Albany will take a 0-4 record into Rupp Arena.

In the loss at Eastern Kentucky, the Great Danes never led and trailed for all but 94 seconds.

EKU’s style of full-court pressure throughout games figured to test an Albany team that came into the game having committed twice as many turnovers (52) as getting credit for assists (26) in its first three games.

The 14 turnovers against Eastern Kentucky were less than Albany’s average of 17.3 going into the game.

“But we made a bunch of wrong reads (and) wrong plays,” he added. “I just wasn’t happy with how we played.”

Killings called it a “disappointing performance by our team.”

Attention Oscar Tshiebwe: EKU outrebounded Albany 40-31. Through four games, opponents have outrebounded the Great Danes by an average of 37.2-30.5.

In earlier games, Albany lost to Towson (77-56), La Salle (67-64) and Harvard (60-53). Those games included some unsightly statistics: getting outrebounded by Towson 45-28, committing 26 turnovers against La Salle, making three of 15 three-point shots against Harvard.

Now, Albany’s next opponent is Kentucky.

“It’s a massive challenge,” Killings said.

Guard Matt Cerruti, whose 17 points at EKU made him Albany’s leading scorer (12.3 per game), spoke of keeping the game at Kentucky in perspective.

“For me, personally, I think once I get onto the court, it’s just basketball,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of hype around the (UK) team. I’m coming from D-II (Lock Haven University) to D-I this year, so I was making a jump anyway.

“Once I’m on the court, it’s just as simple as what I learned when I was 3 years old. Just putting the ball in the hoop. So, I try to simplify things.”

Monday

Albany at No. 13 Kentucky

When: 7 p.m.

TV/online: Available only via internet streaming on SEC Plus and ESPN Plus

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Albany 0-4; UK 3-1

Series: UK leads 1-0

Last meeting: UK won 78-65 in Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Rupp Arena on Nov. 13, 2015

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