Every player goes through their own process when a coach is fired, and a new coach goes in.
Andre Hollins, for one, described the coaching search, back in April, as his parents walking out, and a little while later, new parents walking in.
For Oto Osenieks, the change from former coach Tubby Smith to new coach Richard Pitino has meant a new start.
Through four games, Osenieks’ point average has jumped from 2.2 a game to nine points a game. Part of that comes from the 6-8 forward averaging 14-plus more minutes a game, but part of it is Osenieks simply looking the best (by far) that he has looked in maroon and gold.
He’s playing with confidence.
“I feel more free,” Osenieks said. “It’s the system, positive coaching. I just feel better as a player under coach Pitino … He’s just really positive. And coach Smith, they’re both really great coaches. But I can relate more to coach Pitino because, I guess, he’s younger.”
That comfortableness on the court is showing. With five three-pointers, Osenieks has already more than doubled his entire total from a year ago (two) and after just 7.7 percent of his attempts from behind the arc then – a stunning number – Osenieks has made 41.7 percent this season, the best of any Gophers player with at least 10 minutes.
It’s coming as the pressure for him to make threes is effectively gone. Pitino has made it clear that he wants players to shoot when they are open, and doesn’t worry about the outcome. What he is much more worried about is a players’ effort in the other things – rebounding, defense, taking charges, going after loose balls.
Those areas are where Pitino sees the real improvement, seeing aspects in him and fellow power forward Joey King that he wants his team to embody, as a whole.
“Those guys were fighting for every rebound possible, they were trying to defend,” Pitino said. “Regardless of if you come in off the bench, if you start, if we can get 8, 9, 10, 11 guys doing that, then I think we’re kind of where we want to be as a system.”
But tonight in the Gophers’ game vs. Wofford, that challenge only becomes greater.
With Joey King out due to a fractured jaw, Minnesota’s frontcourt is down to two bodies, essentially (Charles Buggs is also available, but he has only played a total of six minutes). Center Mo Walker still has two games remaining in his six-game suspension for violating university policy. Minnesota’s interior defense has been worrisome as it is, with the Gophers struggling to scramble out of their press once teams beat it, and to stop opponents at the rim.
Against Coastal Carolina on Tuesday, the Gophers had their worst defensive game of the season, allowing the Chanticleers to convert an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 (their previous high on the year had been 44.1).
Whether the Gophers are able to rebound from that performance will heavily involve the effectiveness of Osenieks. This year, he has the confidence to believe he can make that difference.