For some, it might be easy to forget that there are three captains this year.
Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins get the most attention on the team, and understandably so, considering their on-court pursuits and accolades.
But what is the role of the captain who comes off the bench, who doesn’t always play a lot of minutes, who doesn’t even play every game?
It seems Maverick Ahanmisi has been figuring that out, gracefully, this fall.
The senior guard is averaging 10.9 minutes a game this season, so far – just 0.4 minutes more than last year. He didn’t play at all in the Gophers’ first two games in the Bahamas, against Syracuse and against Arkansas. And any talk of the California native taking a bigger role in his final season has evaporated.
With new JUCO guard DeAndre Mathieu excelling at the point, while becoming a key part of coach Richard Pitino’s system, there isn’t as much room for Ahanmisi, who a year ago was the only “true” point guard on the roster. And the Gophers’ plethora of guards on the bench gives Pitino plenty of options for spot situations. Last year, Ahanmisi played the part of energy guy at times, the instant offense off the bench. Now, that space has been partly filled by Malik Smith, Pitino’s top choice for a shooting specialist.
Instead, Ahanmisi has been feeling out his role as spot player – one with the best three-point shooting average on the team, but only seven attempts – and a leader on the bench.
He’s handling his very different captain duties, Pitino has said, with impressive maturity.
“It was tough for him to not play those first two games against Syracuse and Arkansas,” said Pitino, who has said Ahanmisi is perhaps the most vocal of the captains. “He showed an unbelievable attitude and he’s come back and played really well against Chaminade and certainly against Florida State.”
Against Chaminade, Ahanmisi had eight points and two steals in 17 minutes. At home against Florida State, Ahanmisi chipped one of his front teeth after diving after a loose ball and getting his head slammed into the court in the process. In the Dec. 7 game against New Orleans, Ahanmisi tied a career-high with six rebounds to go with his seven points.
Pitino said some players would pout after being benched for the two biggest games of the season to that point. But he said having that conversation with Ahanmisi is different.
“It’s not hard with Mav, and that’s a credit to him as a kid,” Pitino said. “It is difficult. They all want to play, they all believe they should play. And sometimes guys deserve to play and they just don’t for whatever reason. But Mav made it really, really easy on me as a coach and our staff. I told our team, after Maui, I said listen, Mav is going to be successful at whatever it is that he does because he’s got intangibles as a person that can go a long way and he showed that.”
Ahanmisi has done a good job of working on some of the little things even as he hasn’t gotten much playing time. His rebounds have gone up from 0.8 a game to 1.4 a game, although there is plenty of room for improvement there. His turnovers per game have gone down, from 0.8 a game to 0.6 now. Part of that is helped by Andre Hollins taking the role of point guard when the two play together. Still, Ahanmisi needs to concentrate more on finding his shot, which has been efficient when he does, rather than trying to get the team into its offense.
“Mav has been good,” Pitino said. “He’s been playing under control, playing at a really good pace. His defense, last game was really good. I’m happy he’s playing well.”
At the same time, the coach considered another stat after thinking about how well Ahanmisi handled the early benchings.
“We are undefeated when Mav plays, so maybe I wasn’t very smart to not play him,” he said.