When Reggie Lynch crosses paths with Gophers basketball fans on the street, there’s one particular thing he’s always asked that sounds now like a broken record.
“I’ll just be in Trader Joe’s getting some food, and somebody will just be like, ‘Don’t foul this year,’ ” the Gophers senior center said Saturday at media day.
Tell Lynch something he doesn’t know.
Ever since he stepped foot on campus at Minnesota two seasons ago, the 6-10 Illinois State transfer carried the tag of that big man who gets a lot done in limited minutes. His playing time never has been higher than 23 minutes a game in three years.
Lynch is known as much for racking up blocked shots as he is for drawing a referee’s whistle.
More than last season, the Gophers can’t afford for Lynch to sit during key moments because their depth at center took a hit when talented sophomore Eric Curry was lost for the season because of a knee injury.
“I’m going to try to be [Big Ten] Defensive Player of the Year again,” Lynch said. “But I’m more just trying to improve on my rebounding and fouling — being a better player in general.”
Lynch was the first Gophers player to earn the Big Ten’s top defensive honor since Travarus Bennett in 2002. The Edina native broke legend Randy Breuer’s single-season school record with 114 blocks (11 in one game), which was second in the nation.
You would think Gophers coach Richard Pitino would be constantly screaming at Lynch to stop trying to block every shot. But Pitino was more critical of his record-setting rim protector in other areas.
“His pick-and-roll defense is important and his running the floor,” Pitino said. “If he can focus on other things besides blocking shots, I think he can play in the NBA. I really do. If he can continue to run the court at the speed those NBA guys run. If he can defend ball screens, defensive rebound and offensive rebound, he’s got the size to do it.”
Lynch entered his name to the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee after the season to see what personnel from the pros thought of his game, his draft prospects and what he needed to get to that level.
Defending pick-and-rolls, rebounding and developing his offense are areas Lynch has focused on improving. He suffered a small setback in September and was sidelined for a month after minor knee surgery. But Lynch was cleared for contact before last week’s victory against Creighton in a secret scrimmage.
Lynch finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in 29 minutes. Pitino was pleased his starting center didn’t foul out like he did eight times last season, but his four fouls were still too many.
“Those stats are misleading because he would have been on the bench in a normal game,” Pitino said.
That’s something Lynch didn’t need to be reminded of again.
“I need to be able to work on watching my fouls and stay on the court as much as possible,” he said. “Me being out of the game really hurts our team.”