This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Posts about Gophers players

Gophers basketball summer series: Nate Mason

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: July 16, 2014 - 12:09 PM

From the moment when Nate Mason signed his letter of intent to the University of Minnesota, the Gophers coaching staff hoped he'd benefit from the presence of the team's veteran backcourt.

Already, assistant Dan McHale sees that hope taking shape.

Mason, a 5-foot-11 combo guard from Georgia, has plenty of talent in his own right. The three-star recruit proved capable of scoring at the basket and from the perimeter at the high school level. Now, the freshman guard with the potential to root a sixth man role next season is working on honing those skills with the help of Gophers seniors Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu.

"They've really taken Nate under their wing," McHale said. "Learning from two seniors is the biggest advantage for him.

Mason has been grouped with the pair the summer in individual workouts, allowing him to exploit the similarities he shares with them. Like Mathieu, Mason is quick and crafty at finding gaps in the lane. Like Hollins, he can light it up from the outside. With the ability to play either point guard or shooting guard, McHale refers to him as "a younger version of Andre."

"He's got the best of both worlds," McHale said. "I think we could throw him out there at the start of Big Ten lay and put him at [point guard], but we also have the luxury of putting him off the ball."

This summer, the Gophers are looking for Mason to sharpen the overall aspects of his game while building the muscle necessary to stand up to the physicality of the Big Ten.

McHale made it clear that the team will need Mason to play a big role right away come fall. All the while, the coaches hope the year will act as an internship for a potential starting opportunity the following season. That's where looking to Mathieu and Hollins will come in.

"I can already tell," McHale said. "He just tries to emulate what they do."

High school teammates Josh Martin and Zach LaVine reunited in Minnesota

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: July 14, 2014 - 11:44 AM

Two days before the NBA draft, University of Minnesota incoming freshman Josh Martin texted his old high school pal, Zach LaVine, with a prediction:

'I think you're going to go to Minnesota!' he wrote.

LaVine laughed, telling Martin he'd love that coincidence.

But Martin, a 6-8 forward expected to compete for the Gophers' starting power forward spot, proved to be prophetic. A couple of days later, the Timberwolves selected LaVine with their 13th overall pick, reuniting the Washington state natives in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

"I said 'Man, that'd be crazy,'" LaVine said. "I guess you could say he called it."

LaVine -- who played with Martin for one season at Bothell High School, and ran the court with him for three summers on their AAU team -- hasn't hung out with his friend since landing in the Twin Cities, opting to let the freshman settle in first.

But soon, he said with a mischievous grin, the pair will be back to their old games.

Back in Bothell, a small suburb Northeast of Seattle and Lake Washington, LaVine and Martin would hang out at each other's houses or the mall from time to time, and get food together. The best bet to find them, though, would be in the gym, where the two hyper athletes would shoot together, play one-on-one or stage impromptu dunk contests.

Who would win?

"See, he's going to say him, but he's never beat me," LaVine said. "He's going to definitely have to bring something out of his bag of tricks to beat me."

LaVine hopes to keep up the tradition, perhaps rotating the setting. The Wolves guard wants to check out the university campus -- and drag teammates Glenn Robinson III and Shabazz Muhammad over to Williams Arena once games begin -- as well as bring Martin over to Target Center for the pro experience.

"We're going to keep it going," LaVine said. "Don't underestimate him. He'll get me one day, I know that."

LaVine said the only advice he's given Martin about the collegiate experience is to make sure he gets extra work in, and stays focused. Having witnessed his pal's routine for half a decade, LaVine knows those goals won't be a problem.

Martin, he said, is as serious about the game as they come -- his personality, though, is anything but.

"[He's] someone that's really goofy and outgoing and is definitely going to be an energizer bunny on the court," LaVine said, describing Martin. "An exciting player, and someone whose always going to be happy. He always had a smile on his face."


*Media is unable to speak with Minnesota's incoming freshmen over the summer, per team rules.

Minnesota gets first 2015 commitment in Kevin Dorsey

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: July 12, 2014 - 11:11 AM

The 2014-15 season still seems far away, but for Minnesota, the year after is already off to a strong start.

Four-star point guard Kevin Dorsey became the program's first 2015 recruit after committing to the Gophers on Saturday.

Dorsey confirmed the news -- which was first reported by Scout reporter Evan Daniels -- via text.

The Gophers saw Dorsey in Washington D.C. this weekend -- the first of three evaluation periods in July -- where he played in a camp held by Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson. 

The commitment from the talented Virginia guard marks a big early victory for Richard Pitino in his first "normal" recruiting class. The second-year head coach had to pull in a handful of newcomers for last season after being hired in April. The staff then had only about seven months to recruit 2014 prospects before the first signing period last year.

The 2015 class, however, is the staff's first chance to show what they can do when given a normal recruiting cycle.

The quick, 5-11 Dorsey, who is ranked No. 84 in the nation according to Rivals, seems to be a perfect fit for Pitino's free-moving, pick-and-roll offense and pressure defense. With current floor general DeAndre Mathieu expiring his final year of eligibility this season, the Gophers have been seeking a long-term heir.

Dorsey visited Minnesota's campus in late June. Recently, he had told reporters that his top three included fellow Big Ten teams Nebraska and Maryland, schools he had visited as well.

ESPN: Format for NIT Season Tip-off could be changing

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: July 11, 2014 - 3:21 PM

The non-conference tournament Minnesota is slated to participate in next season could be in flux.

ESPN's Andy Katz reported on Friday that the NIT Season Tip-off, scheduled for November of this year, has aligned only eight teams instead of the expected 16.

If the tournament field does shrink by half, it would mean significant changes in the formatting, Katz reports. The four host teams -- Minnesota, St. John's, Gonzaga and Georgia -- would get only one home game instead of two, and the winner of each matchup would then play three games at Madison Square Garen rather than two.

According to Katz, Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox and Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few are both waiting to see what will happen with the event, while St. John's coach Steve Lavin has reiterated that he is "all in."

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino did not immediately return a phone call for comment on the matter.

If the changes do occur, the Gophers would be stripped of one home game in return for another neutral-site matchup. The bigger concern would be if other host teams such as Gonzaga and Georgia back out, leaving Minnesota with either a significantly weakened tournament or in a last-minute scheduling crunch.

Minnesota target Nate Grimes has quickly ascended after getting involved with basketball in high school

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: July 10, 2014 - 11:54 AM


Nate Grimes has compiled 25 scholarship offers -- Minnesota included -- and a national rating teetering toward the top-100, according to Rivals.

But in the eyes of his AAU coach and mentor, Lamar Bigby, the Las Vegas forward isn't even close to touching his potential.

Bigby has some perspective on the subject. After all, he's watched as many gatekeepers throughout Grimes' basketball past shook their heads no at the prospect. And he looked on last year as the suitors piled up, the 6-foot-7 Grimes flexing his raw basketball ability in just his first full season playing varsity basketball.

"He's a four-year guy that can continue to get better," Bigby said. "You can build your program around a guy like that."

Minnesota, intrigued by Grimes' athleticism and versatility, has made its interest clear. The Gophers offered in May and have stayed close in touch since.

Bigby, meanwhile, sees in the Gophers a near-ideal program for developing a player that is perhaps still underrated. He's listened to coach Richard Pitino talk of the time he sets aside for individual instruction. He's seen the statistical improvements from a handful of the players Pitino inherited after just one year.

"Minnesota is at the top for sure, for sure," Bigby said. "We believe in what coach Pitino is doing and what the staff does as far as the development of kids."

The promise of development is an aspect he considers very important in Grimes' choice.

Bigby met Grimes when the lanky ninth grader first showed up at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas. The varsity team wasn't interested in Grimes, who according to Bigby played "very little" basketball in middle school. Neither was JV.

Bigby was coaching the freshman team at the time and an of his assistants happened to be present for one of Grimes' failed tryouts. He reported back: there was a newcomer Bigby needed to see.

When the head coach did, he saw a skinny, 6-foot-5 project, somewhat unsure of himself or how to use his broad shoulders and long arms.

And he saw something else:

"This kid is going to be good," he thought.

That season, Bigby estimates Grimes averaged 13 points a game. After practices, the coach would train him individually. But the next year -- his sophomore season -- after tryouts, the Cheyenne coaches wanted to promote him only to JV. 

Grimes ultimately didn't play at all, struggling to stay academically eligible throughout the winter, but he made the most of his summer, where he continued to play for Bigby on his Las Vegas Knicks AAU team. The coach had founded the program two years earlier, the summer before discovering Grimes.

Despite missing a full season of high school basketball, Grimes was spectacular.

By the start of classes, he'd collected 10 scholarships.

After his junior year at Desert Pines -- where Grimes transferred after his sophomore season -- the forward picked up his grades and heaped more offers to his growing stack, with schools such as Oregon State, New Mexico, Boston College, Colorado State and Minnesota hopping on board.

The rising senior is capable of playing several different positions -- from shooting guard to power forward -- and has shown a lot of natural skill in rebounding and defense. 

Now, Grimes -- whom Bigby describes as intensely loyal and a "throwback," unfazed by his new popularity -- is close to narrowing his list. Then the pair will consider visits. The coach wouldn't name any favorites except one.

"Minnesota ain't going nowhere," he said. "We really like Minnesota ... they'll be there, they'll be right up there at the very, very top."

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