A ‘Refuse to Lose’ reunion: UMass stars gather to talk about Final Four run for new documentary

Massachusetts’ Marcus Camby reacts with the bench during second half of NCAA Final Four action in 1996.

Massachusetts’ Marcus Camby reacts with the bench during second half of NCAA Final Four action in 1996. AP

University of Massachusetts star Marcus Camby raises his arms to the crowd in victory after UMass defeated Stanford University 79-74 in their second round game of the east region 1996 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.

University of Massachusetts star Marcus Camby raises his arms to the crowd in victory after UMass defeated Stanford University 79-74 in their second round game of the east region 1996 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. AP

Former UMass basketball player Derek Kellogg, left, and coach John Calipari  returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run of basketball success  in the early- to mid-1990s that resulted in a Final Four appearance in 1996.

Former UMass basketball player Derek Kellogg, left, and coach John Calipari returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run of basketball success in the early- to mid-1990s that resulted in a Final Four appearance in 1996. WHITE LION BREWERY FACEBOOK

Former UMass basketball coach John Calipari, left, and star  player Marcus Camby returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery to be used in the film,  “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.”

Former UMass basketball coach John Calipari, left, and star player Marcus Camby returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery to be used in the film, “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.” WHITE LION BREWERY FACEBOOK

Former members of the UMass basketball program returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery and outside Antonio’s pictured here  to be used in the film,  “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.”

Former members of the UMass basketball program returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery and outside Antonio’s pictured here to be used in the film, “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.” WHITE LION BREWERY FACEBOOK

Former members of the UMass basketball program returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery to be used in the film,  “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.”

Former members of the UMass basketball program returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery to be used in the film, “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.” WHITE LION BREWERY FACEBOOK

Former members of the UMass basketball program returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery to be used in the film,  “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.”

Former members of the UMass basketball program returned to Amherst on Monday to take part in the filming of a new documentary about the Minutemen’s run to the Final Four in 1996. Film crews spent Monday shooting scenes from the White Lion Brewery to be used in the film, “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball.” WHITE LION BREWERY FACEBOOK

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2024 6:10 PM

AMHERST — A Final Four run for the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team and its “Refuse to Lose” mantra that defined the program’s most successful era continues to provide fond memories for the players and coaches involved nearly 30 years later.

On Monday evening, many of those who are still identified on campus, in Amherst and even throughout the Pioneer Valley by their single names — from Lou (Roe) to Derek (Kellogg), and Cal (Coach John Calipari) to Bruiser (Flint), and others who led the team to previously unknown heights, like Harper Williams and Carmelo Travieso — made their way to a private party at White Lion Brewing in downtown Amherst, giving each other handshakes and hugs before sitting around the large bar to reminisce while enjoying drinks and food.

“It’s almost like a big-time family reunion,” said Marcus Camby, the greatest UMass player of that time who also earned the Naismith College Player of the Year award, and then followed his Minutemen years with a 17-year NBA career. “There’s so much nostalgia to come back and be around the guys.”

Camby, who remains a regular presence in the area and is a partner in White Lion, said he wouldn’t miss the opportunity to reflect.

“UMass and Amherst is where it started for me,” he said.

As those involved gathered at the bar, film cameras were rolling and a large boom microphone hovered above, capturing elements of the scene to be incorporated into a 90-minute documentary “Lightning in a Bottle: the Electrifying Run of UMass Basketball,” being written and directed by Bradley Davidson and longtime friend Mike Corey, UMass undergraduates and student broadcasters for campus radio station WMUA during the team’s heyday.

Almost all of the notable players and coaches accepted invitations to participate in making the film, appearing to enjoy themselves, with Camby, wearing a smile, chatting and joking with Calipari, the Hall of Famer who is beginning a stint as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Davidson, who runs 28-3 Productions, said that the UMass basketball team offers a compelling narrative of underdogs who turned a moribund program into an elite title contender. “I thought one day this needs to be made into a movie,” Davidson said.

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In fact, Davidson said he wrote an article for the Daily Collegian back in the day suggesting that the story should be put on celluloid, because it resonates with more than just UMass fans.

“For guys like Mike and me, lower middle class guys, we identified with ‘Refuse to Lose,’ it was what separates the men from the boys,” Davidson said. “We adopted a Refuse to Lose in our lives.”

It also translated into how they approached academics as well, getting them through their classes. “We had Refuse to Lose mentality as students,” he said.

Because what he calls a Cinderella story also extends beyond just a single tournament, game and season, to being a magical ride that lasted for a decade or more, Davidson said he began brainstorming for the documentary with Corey during COVID.

“This is a longtime passion project,” Davidson said. “Inch by inch it grew financially and we also got backing from the UMass community.”

“They love the idea of the story,” Davidson said of those who have long supported the program.

The title is taken from a quote Calipari gave during an interview several years ago. But Davidson said he wanted to expand the focus beyond 1996, inviting those he describe as pillars from 1988 on to participate.

Already, his company has produced a brief promotional video that takes people back in time to the mid-1990s when “Friends” was a top-rated TV program and President Bill Clinton was in the White House, with snippets of some interviews previously recorded, including with Camby, Calipari and the best player in program history, Hall of Famer Julius Erving — Dr. J — who represents an earlier era.

Camby said he, like others, couldn’t miss the get-together and being part of the extended interviews.

“Seeing Lou and Derek, that brings back a lot of great memories,” Camby said. “We’re here to talk, break bread and share stories about the good times.”

Camby said it was obviously important to his teammates and coaching staff as well, giving recognition to others, such as the backcourt of Travieso and Edgar Padilla and Tyrone Weeks, who he credits with giving him the foundation to go to the NBA and earn Defensive Player of the Year in the 2006-2007 season and various other awards for his defensive prowess.

And he also thanks those players like Jim McCoy and Harper Williams, and other teammates like Donta Bright and Dana Dingle, Jason Germain and Ric Townes, and even longtime secretary Bonnie Otto, for offering their recollections and versions of what happened to make the story complete.

In addition to filming at White Lion, other prominent locations that define the community will be shown, such as Antonio’s Pizza and parts of the campus, and interviews will be conducted at both the Mullins Center and the Champions Center.

Davidson brings experience as director’s assistant on the David Duchovny-directed 2023 film “Reverse the Curse” and should all go according to plan, the production will be completed later this summer and be sold for distribution by March 2025, approaching Netflix and other major streaming services, with the release possibly timed to March Madness.

As participants settled in, Raymond Berry, who runs White Lion, said he offered to host the private party, a place that makes sense with some of Camby’s exploits captured on photographs lining the walls.

Camby said he is confident in the filmmakers. “‘Lightning in a Bottle’ is going to be great,” Camby said.

And he agrees the film will have an uplifting message because of what the team’s attitude was.

“ ‘Refuse to Lose’ was about putting in the hard work, never getting too down and striving to be the best,” Camby said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.