Richard Pitino decided to stack one of his squads with freshmen in Friday’s scrimmage at the end of practice, but they weren’t backing down against the starters.
Tre’ Williams saw a defender in front of him on the baseline early but that didn’t stop him from taking off.
Instead of getting his shot blocked, the bouncy 6-5 guard from Dallas just hung in the air and tossed the ball in off the glass.
Williams let out a scream to ignite his younger teammates on the Gold squad. Freshmen competing with upperclassmen has become a common sight from Richard Pitino’s under-the-radar incoming recruiting class, which includes 6-9 forward Isaiah Ihnen, 6-10 center Sam Freeman and point guard Bryan Greenlee.
“All of us are tough, all of us can do different things on the court,” Williams said. “I think we’re one of the best classes in the Big Ten, if I’m being honest. I feel like this year will show that.”
When college basketball’s early signing period came last November, the Gophers had a one-man 2019 class and not four. Williams was it. There was no hype surrounding him then, but Williams quickly turned heads early in his senior year at a prep school in Utah.
Pitino said he wasn’t surprised by that or how his recruiting class turned out.
“All of a sudden all the scouts saw Tre’ Williams and all of a sudden he’s a top-100 kid,” Pitino said at Gophers media day Friday. “I wasn’t surprised because he was really, really under the radar. I wasn’t surprised when Isaiah Ihnen was a four-star kid because if you look at him and you watch him play, he’s really, really talented, and he’s got big-time potential. And Sam and [Greenlee] may be a bit more under the radar, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be effective players.”
Freeman was the second member to join but not until the late signing period in April. After growing 2 inches and gaining nearly 40 pounds in less than two years, Freeman went from a slender big man with no Power Five offers to matching blows with 6-10, 245-pound Gophers starting center Daniel Oturu.
“It’s very intense every practice when we go at each other,” Freeman said. “He’s a high-level player, and I’m happy he’s teaching me. Iron is sharpening iron.”
Ihnen, a German native with a 7-4 wingspan, often hovers around the three-point line. But he will be asked to play some inside with the loss of junior big man Eric Curry to a season-ending knee injury last week. Ihnen has added 10 pounds from lifting and a heftier diet.
Ihnen missed summer practices because he was playing with the German junior national team, but he stood out on the Gophers’ foreign tour to Italy. The trip gave the entire freshmen class a chance to get more comfortable.
“It definitely helped with our confidence,” Ihnen said. “Just to prove to the older guys we can play with them and just compete on the same level with them.”
Greenlee was the last freshman to sign in June just before summer school. His college-ready frame and basketball IQ have helped him transition into the backup point guard behind sophomore Marcus Carr.
How this freshmen class came together wasn’t traditional, but the Gophers need them ready to contribute.
“We have to get ready quicker and grow up quicker,” Greenlee said. “There are one-and-dones that come in and lead their teams to national championships, so that’s not really an excuse. We just have to be ready and prepare ourselves.”