Kendal Shell had to repeat his news three times.

That's what it took for the words to sink in for his mother, who talks to him daily, reminding him that if he continues to work hard, good things will happen.

He had gotten a scholarship for the spring semester after 2.5 years as a walk-on.

"At first she just kind of paused," Shell said. "Then she said 'Are you serious?' Then she made me tell her again, and then she made me repeat it again and then she kind of just started and a couple tears went down." 

Shell could understand the disbelief. He experienced a little of that himself after coach Richard Pitino gave him the news in front of the team on Wednesday, at the end of practice. The Gophers -- who have committed scholarship funds to just one semester for Shell -- wanted to sign another forward for this season, but when they were unable, they decided to give their longest-tenured walk-on the honor.

Shell said he thought he'd misheard Pitino at first, having wondered if the day would ever come.

"I think now it means a lot more than it would have freshman year," he said. "Just kind of being here over these past few years, I've kind of grown more into being a Gopher and learning about the tradition and just how important it is for the fans and the community. It just kind of feels really good to be representing the school and the team. It just feels good to let it happen like this."

Pitino called Shell one of the most "improved" players on the team this season. Shell dropped about 20 pounds coming into the year, and has worked every bit as hard as the scholarship players, Pitino said. 

"When he first got here, he was out of shape and just had a long way to go," Pitino said. "It's a testament to him as a kid -- he has worked extremely hard on his body as well as his game. He deserves this."

Shell said he had a lot of blunt conversations with Pitino after the new Gophers coach arrived, about what he needed to work on and improve. Some of the things the coach mentioned were dropping weight and getting faster, as well as just working hard daily in practice.

"I like it a lot," he said of Pitino's honesty. "Just having a lot of different coaches in the past, you can tell that some sugarcoat things and things like that. You can only do that so much and once you keep sugarcoating things, at the end, the truth just comes out. Since he was completely honest from the beginning, I think it helps a lot, everybody just realizes that."

Not much should change for Shell now, who already does almost everything the other scholarship players do -- although he did joke that he might demand more practice time.   The Missouri native said that today players teasingly asked him every few minutes how he felt.

"Everyone was excited for Kendal," Austin Hollins said. "He works extremely hard. When he isn't in practice, he's trying to get his teammates better. He's like a brother to us. So it was really exciting for us."


Pitino said Andre Hollin has been dealing with a "toe issue" recently, which has bothered him a little bit, especially late in games. "[It's] kind of slowing him down a little bit," Pitino said. "I don't want to say it's a major deal, but I think when he gets tired it hurts him a little bit. So it's hampering, just causing him to get a little more fatigued than he normally does."

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