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
Local 2015 recruit Marshawn Wilson is hoping a summer of focused improvement will land him on the priority lists of Minnesota and other high major programs.
For now, the Gophers are certainly recruiting the Hill-Murray shooting guard, but have yet to extend an offer, and appear to be waiting to see Wilson take the next steps on and off the court.
"At the beginning of his junior year last year, he had quite a bit of contact with them -- as of late there hasn't been as much," said Dick Ghizoni, who coached the Pioneers last year before retiring at the end of the season.
Right now, Wilson's only scholarship offers come from Colorado State, Creighton, Northern Iowa, and most recently, La Salle, but a handful of high-major universities, including Minnesota and Michigan State, have stayed in contact.
Wilson has struggled academically in the past, Ghizoni said -- transferring to Hill-Murray from Tartan High School after his sophomore year with his GPA, "a mess" -- but the 6-foot-1 guard has picked up his study habits and improved his grades in the last semester.
"Like a lot of young kids, they don't realize how important is is until they get a little bit older and time gets a little bit smaller to fix it," Ghizoni said. "He's done a really good job of getting help and seeking help and concentrating on becoming a better student."
On the court, the physical, driving guard, has worked to better his outside shooting ability. Ghizoni saw that improvement capped at the end of last season, when Wilson sank nine three-pointers for a school record in a February game against Henry Sibley.
Wilson, who is playing AAU ball with Wisconsin United, has shown a knack for rebounding and running the floor, but is focusing on finding better balance in his offensive game and staying focused on defense, Ghizoni said.
He hopes the effort will lead to a renewed interest from Minnesota, which Wilson visited a couple of times during his junior year.
"He's made some big strides in the last year or so," Ghizoni said.
At least six times a day, Minnesota basketball strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown will hear his cell phone buzz and see, on the screen, a plate of food next to Carlos Morris' smiling face.
Since Morris, the Gophers' junior college addition to the 2014-15 class, arrived on campus in late May, the team has operated with two major goals in mind for the guard:
Find structure. And bulk up.
The 6-4 Florida native has as good a chance as anyone to seize the vacancy in the starting lineup after Austin Hollins expired his eligibility in the spring. But the Gophers know it will take a summer of dedicated routine and building mass for Morris to compete in the competitive and hearty-bodied Big Ten.
That's why six times a day -- the number of meals Morris is consuming, plus protein shakes -- the new guard will send along picture proof to his trainer, of sandwiches, of Papa Johns pizza at 9 p.m.
"We don't reinvent the wheel by any stretch of the imagination but our biggest thing is we just give guys routine and structure and if they're willing to abide by it, the system works," Gophers assistant Dan McHale said. "He's been a very, very pleasant surprise. You recruit kids, you get to know them, but you don't really know how they're going to be on a day-to-day basis, and he's been great."
According to McHale, Morris -- called 'Squirrel' or sometimes 'Los' by his coaches and teammates -- has thrived in the new environment. The kid who had gone the JUCO route at Chipola College (Fla.) in order to mature and pick up his grades received an 'A' in the first class he took in the May term, McHale said. Along the way, he added 16 pounds to his lanky frame. Each day, he sees his academic tutor for a session, then hits the weight room before getting on the floor to shoot.
"He walks around here, he's got structure -- he's really fitting into a real college environment really well," McHale said. "He's the type of kid that just didn't value waking up every day, eating a full breakfast, having a balance to him. And I think that's the biggest [change for him]."
The assistant coach said backcourt duo Andre Hollins -- Morris' roommate -- and DeAndre Mathieu have quickly bonded with the fellow Southerner, and the three work out together often.
The Gophers were attracted to Morris because of his strong ball-handling skills, unselfish play and ability to attack the rim, especially in transition. One of Morris' biggest goals for the summer is to stretch his mid-range game to include a consistent three-point shot.
"He's a playmaker, he looks to find guys," McHale said. "So it's like having another point forward out there ... He's a motor guy. He's got big shoes to fill with Austin and he's a very different player than Austin but he compliments the way we play."
Next season, DeAndre Mathieu faces a host a new challenges.
In his senior year, the 5-foot-9 Mathieu will be one of the Minnesota's leaders, both on the court and off. His steady presence and occasional dominance through last season suggest he has room in his game to grow and improve, but this time around, scouting reports around the Big Ten will have the point guard's name highlighted.
Now, the Knoxville, Tenn. native is adding fatherhood to that mix.
At 12:23 a.m. on July 3, Mathieu reported via Twitter that his girlfriend had birthed their son, Elijah Deion Mathieu.
"Life as I know it has changed," he wrote, attaching the image of young Mathieu, pictured right.
Mathieu was in Maysville, KY -- where his girlfriend lives -- and present at the hospital for the birth.
Later, Gophers coach Richard Pitino tweeted his congratulations to the couple.
"A lot of late nights and early mornings ahead of you!" he wrote.
Former Minnesota basketball player and track star Wally Ellenson will be transferring to Marquette this fall.
Ellenson's mother, Holly, tweeted the news on Wednesday afternoon.
"It is official Wally is part of the Marquette Basketball Family," she wrote, along with a picture of her son signing his National Letter of Intent.
Ellenson will continue his dual-sport campaign with the Golden Eagles, high jumping and joining the roster of first-year basketball coach, Steve Wojciechowski.
"We are excited for him!" Holly Ellenson told the Star Tribune in a text.
Ellenson, who was originally recruited by former Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith, played at Minnesota for two years before opting to leave the team in February. The 6-6 rising junior is a twice consecutive first-team All American in high jumping and last month finished as the national runner-up in the high jump at the NCAA Division I Championships in Eugene, Ore.
The Rice Lake, Wis. native averaged 1.8 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.9 minutes a game for the Gophers last year. The previous season, Ellenson -- who broke his left hand before play began -- averaged two points and 0.8 rebounds in 5.3 minutes a game after Smith pulled his redshirt near the end of the non-conference schedule.
Marquette is also heavily recruiting Ellenson's younger brother, Henry, a five-star athlete in the 2015 class.
July is here and Minnesota summer basketball is well under way.
Four of the six newcomers who will be joining the Gophers in the upcoming season are on campus and beginning the integration -- guards Zach Lofton and Carlos Morris arrived in mid May, and combo guard Nate Mason and forward Josh Martin followed over Father's Day weekend.
Already, the preparation for next year has begun. The NCAA mandates that teams are allowed eight weeks of practices -- for two hours a week -- during the summer months, and programs can decide how they want to lay out their schedule within those constraints.
The Gophers began practicing the week of June 16th -- so they are midway through their third week back now.
"Last year was more hands on, practicing, implementing system, and learning how the guys worked," assistant coach Dan McHale said. "This year is more individual workouts, getting the guys stronger. It's been really good."
The early efforts are already showing. Several of the players have put on significant beneficial weight. DeAndre Mathieu has added in excess of ten pounds to his compact frame. Martin has packed on seven pounds of muscle in the short time he's been in Dinkytown. Joey King has put on more than 20 since this time last season. Morris, however, wins the prize for the summer so far, having tipped the scale by 16 pounds since arriving over Memorial Day weekend.
"A Shaun Brown special," said McHale, referencing the Gophers basketball strength and conditioning coach, who has each player on an individual program based on their needs.
Only the two foreign newcomers have yet to arrive. McHale said he hopes Mali native Bakary Konate, who is still in Kansas, and power forward and Senegal native Gaston Diedhiou, who is still in the Canary Islands, where he played last year, will arrive by mid August. Both are simply dealing with "a little international red tape," McHale said.
As the summer extends, the team's workouts will shift somewhat. The beginning of July brings three consecutive weeks of evaluation periods, meaning that the coaches will be on the road constantly from Wednesday through Sunday during the first, second and third full weeks of July.
In that time -- the first evaluation period begins July 9 -- the team will transition from mostly individual workouts to team practices on Mondays and Tuesday for one hour each. For the rest of the week, the players will work out with Brown individually, on a voluntary basis.
* According to a source, no official visits have been set up yet but several high school prospects are discussing dates. Most official visits are arranged in early August.
* In the meantime, a handful of 2015 targets have visited unofficially. Power forward Alex Illikainen, of Grand Rapids (who recently transferred to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire) and point guard Kevin Dorsey, of Virginia, both visited unofficially earlier this week while guard Jarvis Johnson, of Minneapolis and Dupree McBrayer, of New Jersey, were each in town earlier in June.
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