Perhaps one of the bigger surprises of last Sunday’s first University of Minnesota men’s basketball exhibition was Gaston Diedhiou.

A year ago, the Senegalese big man who played most recently in Spain was barely seen and often delivered cringe-worthy moments when he was.

Sunday, we saw a different version. While still raw and clearly learning the American game, Diedhiou had some really nice moments as well, using his length to go after rebounds, especially on the offensive end, and scoring around the basket.

There were also a couple of egregious fouls, something Diedhiou will have to improve when the regular season arrives, but the sophomore finished with nine points and eight rebounds, plus a steal – a stat line hard to imagine even in an exhibition games months ago.

Last year as a freshman the 6-9 Diedhiou averaged just 0.6 points and 0.7 rebounds in 5.2 minutes a game.

“I look at him like a freshman, I really do,” coach Richard Pitino said. “I think last year was not real fair to judge him on …He was really playing hard …He had some good takes to the basket. He’s still got to get a little more comfortable finishing, which I think you saw, but he’s progressing.”

Can Diedhiou be serviceable this year? If so, it will be a big boon for the Gophers, who don't have much choice in slotting him in the backup center role.  

Diedhiou will get another chance in the spotlight on Friday, when the Gophers play their final tuneup, vs. Southwest Minnesota (7 p.m.). Expected starting center Bakary Konate will remain on the bench as the stress fracture in his foot finishes healing, Pitino said on Sunday.

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