The Gophers basketball season is just kicking off, with today marking the fifth fall practice of the year. Right now, there are many more questions than answers, and it will probably be that way for some time.
But new coach Richard Pitino gave the first hint today of what the 2013-14 starting lineup could look like.
That Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins root it is no surprise, but Pitino said senior Maverick Ahanmisi could also be a candidate for a starting role.
The three were named co-captains by a teammate vote heading into the season, and Pitino has made it clear he likes Ahanmisi as an important cog on the team, and as a leader. Asked whether he could start a lineup that features all three, the coach said:
"Yeah, absolutely. I would say there's a good chance of that."
Last season, Ahanmisi's minutes actually dipped -- going from 13.3 minutes a game the year before to 10.5. While he has proven capable of hot shooting in spot appearances, he has struggled defensively and with turnovers, maintaining one of the worst turnover rates on the team at 27.7.
This year, both of those things are being looked at, and will need to improve for Ahanmisi to take the next step. Ahanmisi said that he's been working a lot with JUCO transfer Deandre Mathieu, who has a reputation of playing intense defense -- and his regular bouts with Andre Hollins in practice don't hurt. And Pitino said he is addressing the subject of turnovers as a whole, with the team emphasizing ballhandling in practice on Tuesday.
"Coming into the University of Minnesota, I really didn't play defense that well, "Ahanmisi said. "Just playing against Andre Hollins, guarding one of the top guards in the country is going to help me."
Other notes from today's media access:
- The team conducted walk-on tryouts tonight from 6-7 p.m. Past Minnesota coaches have done so, but this year marks the first time since before the Tubby Smith era. Pitino said he's looking for "a little bit of everything," then joked "Certainly, if you can find a 6-9 big guy that walks on, it would be great. I see them walking around campus and I want to go up and say hello, but they're usually football players."
- The Gophers are still waiting on word from the NCAA about whether Joey King will be eligible this season. "We're optimistic but cautiously optimistic," Pitino said. "It's in the NCAA's hands now."
- Freshman Daquein McNeil is about 80 percent right now with an ankle injury sustained about a week and a half ago.
- On the schedule: "I think it’s challenging, certainly, tough to open up with Syracuse in the Maui [Invitational] – that’s going to be a great test for our players early in the year. I think another game that people probably look at and don’t realize how difficult it will be is at Richmond. That’s going to be an extremely challenging game from a well-coached team, a team that’s probably picked at the top of their conference. And then Florida State at home. They’re good year-in and year-out. And then you look at, we open up with Lehigh, their coach is phenomenal, so I think it’s a very challenging schedule."
- On the players adapting to the up-tempo system: "The adjustment has not been as big as I thought it would be – guys have been extremely willing to pick up on it and embrace it. I think they’re right on schedule physically. We can’t go much longer than an hour and 45. They get too tired. Especially with the way that we play. But they are giving great effort – I’m extremely pleased by their effort and their attitude every single day."
- Andre Hollins said he's been practicing at both the 1 and the 2 spots. Pitino said he is not sure yet what he prefers for Hollins, but knows "I like him on the court, I can tell you that."