If you checked out the Twitter and Instagram video of the Gophers basketball team’s first summer practice Tuesday, you’ll notice several new faces.
Five of the six signed newcomers moved onto campus and joined the team this week. Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate transfer Brock Stull is the only newcomer not with the team. The senior guard is finishing up classes this summer to graduate and join the Gophers in the fall.
Tuesday's 35-second practice clip on social media starts off with Pittsburgh transfer Marcus Carr shooting in maroon practice gear. Halfway through, freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur finishes a layup and passes the ball to a teammate. Freshman forward Jarvis Omersa later throws down an emphatic one-hand dunk during a drill. Freshman center Daniel Oturu and Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis can be seen in the background during the short video.
It was a brief glimpse of how different the 2018-19 Minnesota squad looks for Richard Pitino’s sixth season, which includes redshirt sophomore Eric Curry back from a season-ending knee injury and senior Dupree McBrayer (leg) and junior Amir Coffey (shoulder) practicing again after being sidelined to end last season.
Curry running and shooting with the team in the video was probably a welcomed sight for Gophers fans. The versatile 6-foot-9 big man missed all last season recovering from a torn ACL. He was a valuable player off the bench as a freshman on the U’s 2017 NCAA tournament team.
Curry and McBrayer were cleared by doctors this month to return for full contact, but they will both take things slow this summer, Pitino said recently. McBrayer decided on rest instead of surgery to recover the last two months from a stress reaction in his left leg that bothered him most of his junior season.
Meanwhile, Oturu and Coffey are recovering from shoulder surgeries in May and February, respectively. Oturu isn’t practicing until the fall. Coffey, who was already dunking Tuesday, is participating in non-contact drills for at least another month or so.
With key players out or slowly getting back into the flow after injuries, Pitino can’t expect to know how this entire team will compete together until after the summer. But some of the biggest factors to the success for next season can take shape in practice in the next couple months.
All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy’s leadership was evident last season, but it will be even more vital going into his senior season with fellow captain Nate Mason gone. Murphy developing his all-around offensive game in the offseason through individual and team work could make a difference as well. There are hopes he can become an All-American in his final year.
Lastly, the growth of sophomore point guard Isaiah Washington this summer is as important as anything that happens to the Gophers in June and July. Washington made strides to finish his freshman year, but will need to show more leadership and maturity replacing Mason as the team’s floor leader next season. His work ethic has already impressed coaches and teammates.
-- Gophers assistant Ed Conroy watched top 2019 target and Rochester John Marshall standout Matthew Hurt during a 3-0 start for Team USA in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Canada last week. When play resumes Thursday, Pitino is expected to travel to see Hurt, the younger brother of Gophers junior forward Michael Hurt. The 6-9 five-star forward is averaging 11 points and six rebounds in three games.