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Outgoing senior forward Rodney Williams, center, joined the rest of the Gophers at Williams Arena for new coach Richard Pitino’s introductory news conference Friday.

BRIAN PETERSON • brianp@startribune.com ,

Gophers players welcome up-tempo style Pitino brings

  • April 6, 2013 - 12:21 AM

Andre Hollins couldn’t stop smiling Friday.

After leading the Gophers in scoring as a sophomore, he’d been through the heartache of seeing coach Tubby Smith get fired. Then, he and his teammates waited, sifting through rumors, wondering which replacement Athletic Director Norwood Teague would eventually hire.

“It was weird,” Hollins said. “It was kind of like being at home and having your parents leave, and then having a new set of parents come in.”

At age 30, new coach Richard Pitino will be a much younger parental figure than the 61-year-old Smith. But the thing that had Hollins, 20, grinning from ear to ear was Pitino’s promise to bring a high-tempo style of play to Williams Arena. It’s a style Pitino used as head coach at Florida International after working as an assistant at Louisville under his father, Rick, and at Florida under Billy Donovan.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Hollins said. “I think that’s when I play my best basketball, getting up and down, just being aggressive. I really like that.”

Hollins said he was pretty sure all the returning players were on board, with no word of anyone potentially transferring.

“During this whole week, we’ve been kind of in limbo, getting a lot of calls — a lot of people contacting us just trying to see what we were going to do,” Hollins said. “But we just wanted to wait and see what Norwood had in store for us, and I think he made the right choice.”

Pitino held a 15-minute meeting with his new players before everyone took the court at Williams Arena for his introductory news conference. Pitino wore a suit, and his players wore matching white shirts. Junior guard Austin Hollins said Pitino “gave us a very positive vibe” with “a solid plan.”

“Coach Smith laid us a good foundation,” Andre Hollins said. “Now we’ve got to build on top of that with Coach Pitino. I think we’re fortunate. ... I think he’s going to bring those attributes that Coach Donovan and his father have brought, so it’s going to be great opportunity for us.”

Fans hope so, too. The Gophers pep band and a couple hundred supporters attended the 9 a.m. news conference, giving it a pep rally feel. Wally Freier, 64, arrived with an open mind.

“I was neutral, but positively neutral,” said Freier, who graduated from Minnesota in 1972. “I don’t think I learned much today other than I thought the coach was mature and calm and wise beyond his years. It’s just not fair to judge anything until some of the results start coming in.”

And what results can fans expect next season? The Gophers lose four seniors, including Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, from a team that went 21-13.

“Our goals don’t change,” Austin Hollins said. “We want to make the NCAA tournament again. Of course, we want to go further than we did and win the Big Ten tournament. I think Coach Pitino said it best in the news conference, ‘We’re going to take it day by day.’ ”

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