Everyone expected to see the popular “Jelly” layup, but Isaiah Washington’s first basket was a three-pointer 30 seconds into Sunday’s intrasquad scrimmage in front of a couple thousand fans at Williams Arena.
And for those who question his ability to play defense, the freshman point guard from New York stole the ball from center Reggie Lynch and scored over the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year in transition for his second shot.
Before the crowd could revel in his fast start, senior guard Nate Mason put up five quick points of his own. The senior All-Big Ten guard wasn’t about to let Washington steal the spotlight.
Mason and Washington traded shots all night Sunday, Mason finishing with 22 points and Washington 20 as the Maroon defeated the Gold 62-55 in the public’s first look at the 2017-18 Gophers men’s basketball team.
“He’s a gamer,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said of Washington. “He gets the ball up so quick sometimes, I’m trying to get him to understand that you don’t need to run a play if you get it out that quick. So I’m sure he’s trying to figure out what we’re doing. But he looked good.”
This wasn’t just an opportunity for Washington to showcase how he can be an impact newcomer. Pitino was also impressed with redshirt junior forward Davonte Fitzgerald, who finished with seven points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 32 minutes.
The 6-8 Fitzgerald hasn’t played in an official game in two seasons after sitting out his transfer year and missing last season with his second major knee injury. He had been limited in practice all summer and part of the fall, but Fitzgerald was finally cleared for contact this month.
On one sequence, Fitzgerald twice met Jordan Murphy at the rim and blocked his shot. Fitzgerald’s rebounding and defense will be a welcomed sight with the injury loss of sophomore post Eric Curry.
“He looked great, so that was really good to see,” Pitino said. “For a team standpoint, we’re definitely going to need him. But I think more than anything I want him to have success, because he hasn’t played in two years. He’s been through a lot of adversity. We need that versatility. We need him healthy.”
Murphy finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Lynch had 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks playing for both squads.
Fitzgerald, Lynch (knee) and Dupree McBrayer (leg) were all not participating in full practices a few weeks ago, but the Gophers are at full strength going into two exhibition games this week.
Minnesota plays Thursday against Concordia (St. Paul) and Sunday in a charity game for Puerto Rico hurricane relief against Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“We’re going to treat it like a game,” Pitino said. “We got a veteran group, so it will be good for guys like Isaiah, [freshman] Jamir [Harris] and Davonte to get the jitters out. That’s why I like playing those.”