ROSEMONT, ILL. – Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino has yet to pick his starting point guard, but that decision is not bothering him as much as you would think less than a month before the season opener.
Four players are running the point in practice, and there’s a chance at least three could share the job this season if need be.
Isaiah Washington, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer are competing for the position. Marcus Carr might be the best suited for the role, but he’s still waiting for the NCAA to rule on a waiver for him to play right away after transferring from Pittsburgh.
“Anytime you lose Nate Mason, who has kind of been that guy, you need everybody,” Pitino said Thursday at Big Ten media day in suburban Chicago. “There’s not one guy. You can’t replace Nate Mason. He was a terrific player. Everybody has got to rise to the level of that occasion.”
Washington was supposed to be the heir apparent to replace Mason, who led the team in assists the past three seasons. The New York City native averaged 14 points, three assists and 27 minutes in his last nine games as a freshman. Washington is currently nursing a right ankle sprain, but Pitino said it wasn’t a serious setback.
“He’s grown a lot on the court,” Pitino said. “With all freshmen, it’s habits. For him, as difficult as all the injuries [last year to teammates] were, it thrusted him into meaningful minutes. Now it’s just a matter of terminology, understanding offensively, defensively, never taking a play off, just understanding the difference between high school and college, AAU and college. I think he’s had a terrific summer, terrific fall, and he’s got a great opportunity in front of him.”
Coffey has been getting significantly more reps in practice at point guard than small forward, the position he played his first two seasons with the Gophers. The 6-8 junior was an All-Big Ten preseason pick with Mason at media day a year ago, but he missed 15 games because of a shoulder injury.
How dangerous could a now-healthy Coffey be as a facilitator and primary ballhandler coming off pick-and-rolls this year? The Gophers were 10-0 last season when he recorded three or more assists in a game.
“We’ve got packages with certain guys, but you can’t always be thinking about positions,” Pitino said. “Amir has gotten more of the [point guard reps], because you just don’t know about Marcus. If Marcus is cleared, then that’s another guy.”
McBrayer has the most experience playing backup point guard, including on an NCAA tournament team in 2017. Still, the 6-5 senior doesn’t really care who starts the Nov. 6 opener against Nebraska Omaha, because he knows all of them competing for the job will contribute.
“I think the best thing for us is grabbing the ball off the rebound and just going,” McBrayer said. “If Amir has to start or I have to start at the point, and whoever has to play the two, we’re just going to make sure we can be comfortable enough to run the offense the best way we can.”