Kellogg enjoying second chance

If ever one phrase could summarize a country as diverse and eclectic as ours, it might just be: America, home of the second chance.

Antonio Kellogg would certainly embrace that sentiment.

Kellogg, a sophomore guard at USF, is back playing Division I men’s basketball again, more than a year after being dismissed from Big East Conference power Connecticut for running afoul of the law twice within a month — once for marijuana possession, the second for criminal trespassing at a dorm from which he had been banned.

“I just want to praise USF for giving me another chance,” said Kellogg, who starred for McClymonds High School of Oakland. “They went out on a limb for me and I really appreciate that. Everyone has been real supportive here.”

Kellogg’s impact on the Dons has been evident immediately, as the 6-foot-3 guard has led USF to a 2-0 start entering today’s home game against Fresno State. Kellogg leads the team in scoring at 19 points per game. He also dished out 13 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds in wins over Sonoma State and Sacramento State. In 29 games at UConn, he averaged

3.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 14.4 minutes per game.

He has been doing all of this in front of his friends and family, a far cry from his days at UConn, where he would perform more than 3,000 miles from home.

“I think it’s real important to be back in the Bay Area, playing in front of my home crowd,” said Kellogg, who also leads the Dons with nine steals. “I couldn’t ask for anything more, except maybe to be playing for the Warriors right now.”

The move back to the West Coast has also been beneficial for Kellogg off the court.

“I think it makes a big difference for him to be surrounded by his support group,” Dons coach Jessie Evans said. “Being around his family, who have seen him grow up with success, helps tremendously.”

The rangy, athletic Kellogg could not find a coach more suitable to his style of play than Evans. The coach actively recruits guards with versatile skills, a trait he first noticed as an assistant at Arizona in the 1990s, where he helped groom talented backcourt figures such as Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby and Jason Terry.

“I like players like Antonio, who aren’t consummate point guards or shooting guards,” Evans said. “I want my guards to shoot when they’re open and pass it when their teammates are open. Antonio can create for himself and for others, plus, he has an exceptionally long wingspan, which makes him very dangerous on defense.”

Kellogg’s arrival on campus gives the Dons a unique and explosive backcourt, as he teams up with fellow Big East transfers Armondo Surratt from Miami (Fla.) and Manny Quezada from Rutgers.

All three players can assume either point or shooting guard responsibilities with equal aplomb and their adaptability makes each of them equally dangerous.

Kellogg credits the 2005-06 season, when he and Quezada sat out under NCAA transfer rules and Surratt was in his first year playing on the Hilltop, as an important factor in developing the cohesiveness between the three guards.

“I wouldn’t wish a redshirt year on anybody, just because I missed playing basketball so much,” Kellogg said. “But it definitely helped me get a different perspective on basketball and it was real important to practice and play against Armondo and Manny everyday.”

The trio gives the Dons a realistic shot at knocking Gonzaga off their near-decade-long perch atop the West Coast Conference and getting USF back into the NCAA Tournament, something that has not happened since 1998.

With conference play still more than a month away (and with nonconference games still left against major programs Ohio State and Louisville), Kellogg and Co. are focusing on the present and taking things as they come.

“I know I still have a lot of work to do,” Kellogg said. “I want to improve my assist-to-turnover ratio and play better defense. Really, I don’t care about any individual goals other than that, as long as we win. That’s the main concern for all of us right now — we just want to win. I think we can make history again with this team.”

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