Rayno: Strength coach lauds Gophers basketball newcomers

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  • August 7, 2014 - 10:17 AM

Freshman, mid-major transfers and JUCOs are far from sure things, University of Minnesota strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown knows.

So for Brown, the quick transitions of this year's newcomers are enough to foster some ribbing.

"For how pieced together this class was, I say [to the assistant coaches], 'Coach, I'm not worried about anything," Brown said with a chuckle. "You got these guys here -- and now you've got time to recruit. [The] 2015 [class] will be a piece of cake."

Of course, finding and signing good players, especially at a place like Minnesota which hasn't consistently competed in the Big Ten or made the NCAA tournament in recent years, always takes plenty of traveling, time and a strong vision. But considering head coach Richard Pitino and his staff managed to secure this six-player class for the fall -- having begun the recruiting process only seven months before the early signing period -- Brown has ample confidence in the future.

International recruits Bakary Konate and Gaston Diediou both won't be on campus until the Gophers resume practice in the fall. But JUCO Carlos Morris, transfer Zach Lofton and true freshmen Nate Mason and Josh Martin have all quickly accelerated, Brown said.

"They're home runs," he said of the newcomers, who have exceeded his expectations in terms of immediate integration to a high-major program.

Brown said the biggest challenge for newcomers at this level is getting them adjusted to high-major Division I life and the coaches' expectations. While Lofton, whom Pitino has complimented for his "NBA-ready body," has the luxury of a redshirt year to get prepared for the Big Ten, in Brown's mind that only means more time to work. When the strength and conditioning coach informed the transfer the two of them would be working out together daily, regardless of what the team is doing, Lofton's mouth gaped momentarily. In general, Brown said, it's important for the newcomers to learn early on that the culture at Minnesota is probably very different from the one they left. There is a strict schedule of tutoring, practices, workouts and classes necessary to being a successful student athlete. If a workout or practice is at 2 p.m., Brown wants players should be taped and with their shoes tied by 1:45.

"It's just getting them to become almost robots with that stuff," Brown said. "You can't function as a team until they learn those habits."

So far, Brown is pleased with what he's seen. Lofton is steadily progressing, Martin and Morris have each put on needed bulk, with the latter tipping the scales at 20 added pounds since he arrived in May. Mason has caught on quickly with the veteran guards already on the roster.

"They're different kids," Brown said. "They're what we needed in a lot of ways."

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