Derek Kellogg and his coaching staff created P.A.I.N. as a way to describe the University of Massachusetts' defensive style. UMass is 8-0 and ranked No. 22 in the country.
AMHERST — Sitting at the press conference after his team’s home win over Saint Joseph’s last year, University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg was already talking about the next game, a highly anticipated matchup with Virginia Commonwealth.
“It’ll be Havoc vs. UMass Basketball,” Kellogg said. “It should make for a good college basketball game.”
Havoc is the name VCU coined for its helter-skelter, constant-pressure, attack-and-smother defense. The school puts it everywhere. Havoc is painted on its bleachers, emblazoned on T-shirts and even splashed across the fan bus that drove around New York City during the Atlantic 10 tournament. VCU has become Havoc U.
No stranger to branding, John Calipari used the phrase “UMass Basketball” as synonymous with playing with elite effort and desire. It was more a state of mind than a playing style. Kellogg, who played during that time, resurrected the phrase as a coach. But compared to the edgier Havoc, calling his team’s style simply “UMass Basketball” in that press conference seemed as outdated as the old script-U UMass logo that Calipari also created.
Kellogg realized that while VCU and UMass played similar styles, VCU was getting much more mileage out of the name. Not since Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas teams put opponents through “40 Minutes of Hell” had a slogan gotten so much attention.
Much like VCU and those Arkansas teams, UMass is playing a style reliant on pressure that rattles opponents and takes them out of their game. During the offseason, UMass coaches and staff members got together and brainstormed ideas for catchy, intimidating names or acronyms to capture that style.
In that meeting, P.A.I.N. was born. It’s an acronym for Pressure Agitate Interrupt Neutralize, which are all important concepts of the defensive approach. Kellogg liked the idea but was ready to scrap it if the players didn’t buy in.
“I always wanted to give a name to how we play, but you can’t make something up. It has to evolve. We put P.A.I.N. out there and it stuck with the guys. They were the ones that have picked it up and made it their own,” Kellogg said. “We wanted something that exemplified what we do. Instead of ‘UMass Basketball,’ I wanted something that was easy and quick. If the guys took it on, they took it on, if they didn’t, you move on to something else. They kind of liked it so we’ve gone with it.”
Kellogg initially thought using the high-energy, 1990’s hit “Jump Around” by the appropriately named House of Pain would be a fitting theme song to go with it, until his players’ reaction reminded him just how old the song was.
“We played it one day in practice. The players looked around. They had no clue. They had never heard the song. It was like when my dad used to listen to the Temptations,” said Kellogg, who was in college when it was popular. “We did away with that.”
Other than their coach’s dated musical taste, the players bought in. Alongside the court at every UMass practice are four large white placards, one for each letter of the acronym. At one end of Mullins Center, there’s a banner welcoming fans to the House of P.A.I.N. The team’s pregame scoreboard video is all dedicated to the concept.
Senior point guard Chaz Williams said P.A.I.N. has almost a double meaning as the players try to channel the difficulty of their respective youths into their toughness on the court.
“We all came from tough struggles. We know what pain feels like,” Williams said. “When people come to our building we want them to feel the house of P.A.I.N.”
The players have added slapping the floor on defense as part of P.A.I.N. It was originally a symbol of unity to each other, but at home games, the student fans have taken the floor slaps as the players telling them to get louder in an attempt to intimidate the opponent.
“I might start my floor slap and everyone will follow behind, or Trey will start a floor slap and we’ll all follow behind,” Williams said. “It’s something we do to show each other that we have each other’s back and we’re all paying attention, ready to bring the P.A.I.N.”
Fellow senior Sampson Carter agreed.
“It’s making somebody feel your wrath. We slap the floor and show people we’re all together and we’re one,” Carter said. “I think that intimidates opponents a lot. It gets the crowd on their feet. It motivates us more to bring the P.A.I.N. every game.”
Williams said eventually every opponent has crumbled under the pressure.
“It’s kind of funny when you look into an opponents’ eyes and you see them give you a timid what’s-going-on look,” Williams said. “It’s exciting to see that look and then look behind me and see my guys fired up. It might not happen in the first five minutes or 10 minutes, but over the course of a game, dudes will break down.”