After the Gophers polished off their final tune-up on Monday, Andre Hollins walked in front of his team as they circled the raised court’s edges, high-fiving with fans, and then led them into the locker room.
It seemed only fitting.
Make no mistake -- a lot has changed with the Gophers, who have a new coach, four new players and an entirely different look from a year ago.
But this is still Andre Hollins’ team.
The Gophers, just the same, will live and die with their successes and shortcomings of their star.
Andre Hollins had 16 points and three rebounds and a steal in a 101-67 exhibition win over Concordia-St. Paul on Monday night, pulling the Gophers out of a lackadaisical stretch in Minnesota’s final tune-up before the regular season begins on Friday.
Doing that “pulling” in a more vocal way, now – rather than just through his actions on the court – is something that Hollins has placed a lot of emphasis on as the Gophers head into a new year.
Monday, Hollins got the team together in small huddles, calling for a better effort when Minnesota’s play dropped off at the start of the second half.
“We’ve got to play harder,” Hollins said. “’We’ve got to pick it up.’ That’s what I kept saying.”
A season ago, Hollins was a clear leader because of his strong play, but he was less relied on because of other pieces on a team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Now, with forwards Trevor
Mbakwe and Rodney Williams exhausting their eligibility last year, Hollins is more than ever the heart and soul of the team.
Being loud on the court isn’t always natural for Hollins, but it’s something he thinks he’s improving with, at the beckoning of his coach.
“I think in order to be a good team, it’s got to be much more coming from them than it is from me,” coach Richard Pitino said. “If I’m talking 99 percent on the time, we’re probably not a very good team. The more and more I see guys like Andre, Austin [Hollins] , Mav [Ahanmisi] speaking in huddles, understanding what we’re tryng to do, that’s when we know that we’ve reached, from a leadership standpoint, where we want to be. That takes time, that takes a lot of confidence.”
On a team in transition – with four new players and many more inexperienced players – that leadership is already being felt.
“Coach really expects that out of him,” center Mo Walker said of Hollins. “He’s been taking a lot of time to really talk to us and tell us what we need to improve and when we’re slacking he holds us accountable.
Even on the court, he’s pretty vocal, calling plays and whatnot and just picking us up, if we’re down, if we miss a shot, make a bad play, he picks us up and keeps us playing hard.”