Gabe Kalscheur fakes right, takes a dribble left and swings the ball across his body again to free himself just enough from a defender to launch a high-arching three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left.
Swish. Fans and teammates go wild. An expressionless Kalscheur turns and jogs back on defense as the clock runs out. Game over. Gophers basketball teammates swarm him after a 68-66 victory against Washington in Vancouver, and the biggest shot so far in Kalscheur’s young college career.
The freshman guard might as well have been by himself taking jumpers 30 minutes before practice back home in Minneapolis.
“That’s pretty much Gabe’s personality, honestly,” Gophers senior forward Jordan Murphy said. “Gabe usually shows very little emotion. When he does it’s very rare.”
Kalscheur’s demeanor serves him well under pressure, but his early success this season is about what comes before and after those big shots when nobody is watching.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino didn’t expect to start Kalscheur so soon, but the decision has paid off with an undefeated record for the Gophers (5-0), who play in Monday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Boston College (4-1).
“It’s your habit every single day,” Pitino said. “Do you build them enough to where I can trust you from a defensive side of it, from an effort side of it? Gabe has just done that.”
Opposing coaches have game-planned to take away Kalscheur’s deadeye shooting, but he continues to be one of the U’s most reliable players.
Kalscheur, off limits to the media as a freshman, is Minnesota’s third-leading scorer with 13.8 points per game, shoots 58.1 percent from beyond the arc (18-for-31) and ranks second in the Big Ten with 3.6 threes per game. In his first breakout game, he had 19 points on 5-for-6 shooting on three-pointers in a 78-69 win against Utah in the U’s last home game Nov. 12.
He earned a starting role over sophomore Isaiah Washington, though, because Kalscheur understands defensive principles and the importance of ball movement. He takes charges, dives for loose balls and crashes the boards. He developed into an all-around player in high school.
Grinding is the term his high school program at DeLaSalle used to describe the work ethic that helped the Islanders win five straight state titles, including three in a row with Kalscheur.
“People always want the secret [ingredient] to figure it all out,” Pitino said. “Just work hard. Just work really, really hard. Be serious about your job.”
Coaches learned to trust Kalscheur more and more in the first month of practice this fall. He caught fans by surprise as a starter and the Gophers’ top scorer with 15 points during an Oct. 20 private scrimmage win at Creighton.
Since then, Amir Coffey and Murphy, Minnesota’s top two scorers, have been comfortable looking for Kalscheur. Whether he’s spotting up behind the three-point line in the corner or getting himself open off screens and moving without the ball.
“For him to be just a freshman and shoot like that it’s only up from here for him,” Murphy said. “I’m really proud of him.”
When Kalscheur signed with the Gophers last November, he was less heralded than Cretin-Derham Hall’s Daniel Oturu and Orono’s Jarvis Omersa, the other two local prospects in Minnesota’s 2018 recruiting class.
Oturu shows glimpses of his big-time potential and has been a solid starting center to begin the season. Omersa brings highlights and energy, but he plays limited minutes. Kalscheur might be the best freshman in the Big Ten nobody saw coming based on rankings.
He isn’t one to make a big deal about anything, but he was a three-star recruit with only one major scholarship offer.
“He’s a special freshman,” former Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after watching the Gophers play in Vancouver. “I don’t even think he was ranked, but who would you rather have over him as a freshman? Not too many.”