The joke goes that when Drexel coach Bruiser Flint was an assistant at the University of Massachusetts and was recruiting the school's current head coach, Derek Kellogg, as a player, Flint would have done anything to sign him, including going to jail.

The story certainly has been revised the last few days in preparation for Tuesday's NIT quarterfinal between visiting UMass (24-11) and Drexel (29-6) at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Flint and Kellogg share a close bond. When Flint was an assistant to John Calipari at UMass, he did indeed recruit Kellogg, and that's where the jail story comes in.

Kellogg was a three-year starting point guard at UMass, and played there from 1991-92 through 1994-95.

Back then, coaches often would travel and get a parent to sign a national letter of intent in person. And that's where the trip to jail took place.

Kellogg's father, George, or as Flint calls him, "Big G," was and still is a correctional officer at a prison. So Calipari suggested that the two coaches secure the signature at the jail, and that's where Flint picks things up.

"His dad wasn't off, so they actually took us through the jail," Flint said. "There were people in the jail cells hollering, 'Hey coach, I have some eligibility left.' "

Flint bursts out laughing recalling the improbable story, one that Kellogg has told a few times as well.

"The only way they were going to get my dad's signature was to see him in work," Kellogg recalls in a phone interview, laughing as much as Flint at the thought.

Yet what is serious is the long, close relationship between these two opposing coaches, who will be battling for a trip to the bright lights in New York.

The winner of the game between No. 3 seed Drexel and No. 5 UMass earns a berth in the NIT semifinals, March 27 at Madison Square Garden. The championship game is March 29.

"I attribute much of what I was able to accomplish to him," Kellogg said of Flint. "Working with him every day and all he did to help hone my skills was great, and as a fellow coach, I look up to him so much now."

The other story line playing out is Flint coaching against his old school. After serving as an assistant to Calipari, Flint became the head coach of the Minutemen for five seasons beginning in 1996-97.

The team went to the NCAA Tournament in Flint's first two seasons as head coach but went 46-47 in the next three seasons, with one NIT appearance. Flint was let go in 2001 and was hired shortly after as head coach of Drexel.

Now in his 11th season at Drexel and having been named Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year four times, Flint has already defused talk about gaining revenge on his old school. He said it will just be like coaching against Northern Iowa, the team the Dragons beat, 65-63, to advance to Tuesday's quarterfinal.

"I have been gone 11 years," said Flint, who has won 199 games at Drexel. "Derek was a player and now he's a coach and that tells you how long it has been."

The Drexel players aren't totally buying that this is just another game to Flint.

"He really wants this game," said point guard Frantz Massenat, who leads the team in scoring (13.7 ppg.) and assists (4.7). "He wants this as much as a St. Joe game."

Flint, who is a graduate of St. Joseph's, says his focus is to just keep attempting to prolong the season.

"My whole thing is to get to New York City," he said.

Then pausing, he quips, "The only worry is a lot of 'Mass' people calling to get some tickets."

Kellogg and Flint are so close that they not only confer frequently, but during the preseason Drexel traveled to UMass to scrimmage the Minutemen.

And from all involved, this was not just a typical scrimmage.

"I coached it like it was an NCAA tournament game because I thought it was a chance for our team to go up against an NCAA tournament team," Kellogg said.

The players competed like everything was at stake.

"It was really physical and there was a lot of banging," said Drexel forward Samme Givens, who is coming off a 28-point performance against Northern Iowa.

If a scrimmage was so competitive, one could only imagine the intensity in Tuesday's game, when the coaches will put their long friendship on hold for what promises to be 40 frenzied minutes.

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com or @sjnard on Twitter. Find the Drexel blog at www.philly.com/dragonball.