Keeping Score: UMass hoops hopes for better days

Friday, March 17, 2017

Good morning!

At first glance, the $75,000 lawsuit that was filed against Lou Roe and three others involved with UMass basketball appeared to be a newsworthy event, but now I’m not so sure.

The case dates back to the first several weeks of the 2013-14 season, which were heady times for coach Derek Kellogg. His team started 11-0 and cracked the Top 20 by beating worthy opponents like LSU, Nebraska and Clemson.

Kellogg had hired former teammate Lou Roe to be his administrative assistant, a title that was subsequently changed to assistant director of basketball operations. The part-time position paid $24,258 his first year and trended up to $56,320 in 2016. (source: massopenbooks.org)

“I serve as a mentor and ambassador of the team right now,” Roe told his hometown newspaper the Press of Atlantic City in 2013. “I’m just here around the guys, giving them advice. To be next to them, I’m one of five guys that has their jersey retired, so they kind of respect that I’m there and around.”

Roe played during the UMass glory years from 1991-95 under coach John Calipari. He was a second-team All-American his senior year and was taken with the first pick of the second round by the Detroit Pistons. He played two seasons in the NBA, left for the CBA but returned for a brief stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1999-2000. According to basketball-reference.com his career NBA earnings were $544,912.

He subsequently played in Mexico, South America and Europe, and returned to UMass and received a degree in sports broadscasting in 2012.

In Amherst, Roe was in a relationship with AyAnna Hickman. When it started to sour she threatened to go public with his remarks about the basketball team’s off-court antics.

These days social media makes it easy to tell the world anything, be it true or not. Therein lies the crux of what indeed became public knowledge on Sunday when MassLive reporter Mark Chiarelli wrote that Hickman was suing Roe, Kellogg, assistant coach Shyrone Chatman and former strength and conditioning coach Richard Hogans for $75,000.

The next day, MassLive reporter Michelle Williams did a follow-up piece about the couple’s rocky relationship. When I called her and asked who tipped her off she replied, “Somebody emailed us and recommended we look at some court papers. … We had people contact us.”

The alleged incident that triggered the civil suit happened on Dec. 7, 2013 — Pearl Harbor Day — but wasn’t filed until three-and-a-half months ago, on Dec. 6, 2016. She made it just under the wire. “Typically, the statute of limitations is three years,” said attorney David Lanoie of Greenfield.

UMass had won its ninth straight game on Dec. 7, beating BYU before a sold-out crowd at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

According to the court papers obtained by MassLive, Hickman met Roe in an office, where he and Chatman tried to dissuade her from talking about team secrets. Hogans happened upon the meeting and was asked to stand outside the door.

She claims the three men had “deprived her of her civil rights, intimidated and falsely imprisoned her.” Kellogg wasn’t present, but he allegedly “encouraged and participated in a cover-up.”

Williams also reported in her article that in March, 2014, Hickman filed for a restraining order on Roe for incidents that had happened months ago. She also demanded $7 million for “rent, storage, utilities, legal fees, loss of work/employment, harm to my person, harm to unborn child, harm caused to minor children.”

Roe’s written response to the court was simple, compelling and desperate: “She has tried to destroy my life, my job and my personal relationships.”

A seven-day temporary order was issued and expired, followed by an abuse prevention order that was issued and expired. During this time, none of Hickman’s allegations were substantiated.

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford denied in a statement this week that he was thinking beyond the realm of wins and losses when he fired Kellogg on March 10. “There is absolutely no connection between the decision to relieve men’s basketball head coach Derek Kellogg of his duties and the lawsuit or the allegations it contains.”

Kellogg had gone from a 24-9 record in 2013-14 to three games under .500 this season.

Hickman’s attorney Harry Miles didn’t respond to a phone message on Tuesday. The next day his secretary put me on hold for a moment, then returned and said, “He’s unavailable.”

I interviewed Miles when he worked in the county DA’s office under Tom Simons. This was the mid-1970s and I was writing about a bookie in Chicopee. When I asked Miles about the state’s gambling laws he stared at me and asked, “Who’s the bookie?”

That was the end of our conversation.

“Harry taught us young cops a lot about testifying,” emailed Ray Zukowski, the retired Montague police chief and current TRIAD Supervisor for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. “I always respected him.”

“Never had a case with him, only know of him by reputation,” emailed Greenfield attorney Frank McDonald. “He is a heavy hitter who has taken many high-profile cases in state and federal courts.”

Roe was put on paid administrative leave when Hickman sued, but Kellogg and Chatman continued coaching.

“UMass officials took prompt action when they learned of (these) allegations,” said Bamford. “(We hired) an outside investigator to review the matter (and) found no evidence to support any of the allegations regarding the conduct of student-athletes or coaching staff.”

Bamford has better things to do, like pulling the program off its merry-go-round of mediocrity.

A judge will hear the case or the two sides will settle out of court, but either way Bamford’s statement came three months too late. If he had been forthright from the start, this sad spectacle might not have devolved into a saga suitable for Dr. Phil.

Mark Twain was in England the day a reporter informed him a U.S. newspaper had published his obituary. Twain reportedly didn’t know whether to be angry or amused, but ultimately chose the latter. “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” he wrote.

Thankfully Vic Colo responded similarly after I eulogized him in this space three weeks ago.

A 1947 graduate of Orange High School, Colo is alive and well and was in his usual good humor when I called to apologize.

“No problem,” he laughed. “I’m glad to be talking to you. I’m 87 and feeling pretty good this morning.”

Twain outlived his obituary by 13 years. It’s hopeful Colo will do likewise by living to 100 (or longer).

NMH wrestler Yaroslau Slavikouski isn’t a big kid but casts a large shadow nonetheless. The 195-pound sophomore hails from Belarus, a country of 9.5 million that separates Poland from Russia.

Slavikouski wants to play college football, but for now he’s content to loom over his wrestling opponents. At Lehigh University in Pennsylvania on Feb. 25, Slavikouski reached the finals of the National Prep Championships.

He met his match in the guise of defending national champion Michael Beard of Malvern (Pa.) Prep. Beard has committed to Northwestern, but Slavikouski has time to find the right college for his gridiron prowess.

Colombia could easily have gone undefeated in the opening round of the World Baseball Classic. A passed ball on strike three beat them in one game, and the winning run was thrown out at the plate in the other.

One of the unknowns on its roster is a Marlins minor leaguer named Tayron Guerrero. A 6-foot-8 beanpole, the 26-year-old Guerrero hails from Isla Tierra Bomba, a tiny island of 9,000 off the Colombian coast. He learned to pitch when he was 10 years old by taking a boat to the mainland to practice. Guerrero made one appearance in the WBC and gave up a hit and a walk and struck out two batters with a 97 mph fastball in extra innings against the Dominican Republic .

Greenfield’s Tony Worden files his spring training report from JetBlue Park: “Jim Elwell has spring training season tickets and we watched the Red Sox play Team USA a few rows up from the visitor’s dugout. Behind us were racks of $50 spring training T-shirts and $35 baseball hats, and a loud an obnoxious element of fans who preferred drinking overpriced beer to enjoying the game.

“I can’t get over how much has changed since our first spring training trip 11 years ago,” Worden added. “Going to a game was still somewhat of a “sleepy” endeavor and tickets weren’t expensive. It’s lost that laid-back feeling that separated it from the regular season.”

Squibbers: Former big leaguer Ross Grimley claims Doug Stanhouse was such a clubhouse eccentric that his teammates referred to him as “Stan the Man Unusual.” … Former Fordham coach Tom Pecora on NESN, after UMass guard Luwane Pipkins pulled down a rebound, took a shot and missed against St. Bonaventure: “Some of the worst shots in basketball are taken after an offensive rebound. The guy thinks it’s his right to shoot it.” … Ninth-ranked Cornell is in the ECAC semifinals thanks in part to 12 goals and 10 assists from Deerfield Academy grad Trevor Yates. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound junior had 104 points in three seasons skating for the Big Green. … Clay Buchholz has given up four home runs in 13 innings for the Phillies, and Tim Tebow is 3-for-14 (.214) with four strikeouts for the Mets. … Rico Petrocelli on SXM Radio: “So many young players you see now, they’re boastful, pounding their chest. They don’t mention, Geeze ‘I had a bad a day.’ … Congrats to West County’s Dave Wissman, who was named the UMass defensive line coach on March 7. Wissman wanted to play at UMass but never got the offer, so he went to UNH. When the day came that the Wildcats played the Minutemen, Wissman returned a punt for a touchdown. He ran down the UMass sideline and held the ball out for everyone to see on his way into the end zone.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.