– The Gophers discovered just how valuable the point guard can be when they had to play without one in the final four games last season.

When Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Kevin Dorsey were suspended for violating team rules that left no scholarship point guards to run the team.

Since Dorsey transferred in the offseason, the challenge for Gophers coach Richard Pitino this fall has been to develop another floor leader. Eventually, Pitino’s hope is to have multiple players on the floor at the same time who can handle the ball and put pressure on defenses.

“We don’t necessarily have a backup point guard,” Pitino said. “So I’ve been playing Dupree a lot at the point. But I’ve looked at some lineups with Amir [Coffey], Nate and Dupree. I think we’re really, really hard to guard.”

Mason, a second-year starter as a junior, said Thursday at Big Ten media day that he’s mentoring McBrayer, a sophomore, and Coffey, a freshman, to be point guards at times if needed.

“Dupree is becoming a point guard steadily,” Mason said. “Amir has good qualities to be a point guard. He’s got great vision. He’s tall. He reads the pick-and-roll right. Once he gets more confidence in his game, I think he might be able to do it.”

There have been lineups in practice with McBrayer, Mason and Coffey making up a three-guard tandem. The Gophers used that same look last season with success, only the 5-11 Dorsey was part of the threesome.

Pitino can now play an even bigger three-guard rotation with McBrayer and senior graduate transfer Akeem Springs, both standing 6-4. But Coffey is the biggest mismatch at 6-8 with exceptional passing ability.

“Amir is going to be a part of it, whether or not he has the ball in his hands or not,” Pitino said. “He’s a weapon. He’s really good in pick-and-rolls. I don’t know how you guard certain things with him at the point. Michigan always does that. They have big guards coming off ball screens. They put you in a bind. So we’ve got to find a way to utilize that and expose hopefully the smaller guys.”

Mason led the team in scoring (13.4 ppg) and assists (4.5) last season. But he isn’t stuck on being the only one who can play point guard. With McBrayer, Coffey and talented recruits Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris joining the team next season, the Gophers go from lacking point guard depth to having a plethora of ballhandling options.

“If you look at the years that Coach Pitino has been here, the [point guard[ and [shooting guard] is no different,” Mason said. “It’s really whoever gets the ball can bring it down the court. I think it’s a plus to have two point guards on the court at the same time, because we both can run the show.”