University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino wanted more depth for his squad one season after injuries, suspensions and a dismissal exposed a porous backcourt.
Now, the Gophers have got it – with three freshmen, a graduate transfer and a pair of newly eligible transfers filling up the lineup heading into the 2016-17 season – so much so that there might be something of a log jam at a couple of spots on the wing.
But idea of depth, versatility – and competition on the roster only intrigues the coach as he looks ahead to his fourth season with the Gophers.
“It’s going to be a juggling act, but that’s exciting,” he said on Wednesday at Minnesota’s last stop in the Gopher Road Trip caravan tour that ended in Rochester. “I like having flexibility with that.”
Between the shooting guard and small forward spots on the wing – essentially identical roles in Pitino’s system – the Gophers will have freshmen Amir Coffey, Michael Hurt, transfers Davonte Fitzgerald and Akeem Springs and sophomores Ahmad Gilbert and Dupree McBrayer to choose from.
All but the latter are mostly unproven commodities – with Gilbert the only other that has played in maroon and gold, but for just 14.1 minutes a game. Further, Coffey, Fitzgerald and Springs could all be capable of starting roles, but most likely only two of them will get the nod.
Coffey, a standout at Hopkins High School, is the most anticipated local player who chose to stay home and play with the Gophers since Royce White, who ultimately never stepped on the Williams Arena raised court. But Pitino had also lauded both Fitzgerald and Spring for their shooting ability, something the Gophers sorely lacked last season as they tumbled to 23 losses, a program worst.
Who rises above the pack will be determined this summer – Pitino said everyone will be on campus by this weekend -- in practices. Pitino said one of the biggest ways players can separate themselves is through defense and on the boards, as well as showing that they can help the team in a variety of ways.
“I think what you’ve always got to figure out with new guys is can they defend, can they rebound, can they absorb a scouting report,” Pitino said. “That’s the great unknown with young guys – you have no idea. You know about their talent a little bit, but how do they handle a long season and so on …I like multi-dimensional players.”
Pitino said on Wednesday the staff has not yet made a decision about whether to reinstate big man Reggie Lynch if there are no charges filed in the coming weeks.
Lynch was arrested last month on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. He was released without being charged 36 hours later but the University of Minnesota police have continued to investigate the case since.
Pitino said the team has not been given any signal of when the investigation will conclude.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “I think we’re going to just wait and see.”