It’s been a while since we fully got to check in with the Gophers, who recently started summer practices with new head coach Richard Pitino. And the passed time is evident – in many respects, it’s hard to recognize this team.
Tuesday, the media was allowed to view about 10 minutes of the Gophers’ hour-long practice (teams are allowed two hours a week under new NCAA rules) as they has their first “scrimmage” of the summer. The laid-back session featured two eight-minute halves with Pitino mostly just watching. The Gophers have had five practices so far this summer and an individual workout – and have focused on getting up and down the court and ton, and getting the players accustomed to making shots when they’re exhausted. Pitino’s experiment on Tuesday was to see how the team communicated without his guidance and sort out any natural leaders on the court.
What resulted was a mostly raw but intriguing scrimmage. Clearly the team is getting used to playing together, talking on the court and figuring out roles. But the squad exhibited tons of intensity, got up a ton of shots and featured some crafty passes, even if they didn’t all work out. It is, of course, entirely too early to make any assumptions about spots and personnel, or to set any expectations for the coming year.
Pitino, himself, couldn’t pick a starting lineup today if he wanted to (but the truth is, he mostly doesn’t want to): “I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
But in the meantime, there is plenty to discuss and dissect. Some of the news and notes I picked up today here:
- Mo Walker looks like a totally different person. And how could he not? The forward has dropped nearly 50 pounds since the end of the season, a change that was a little more than a suggestion, Pitino said. “I just said if you don’t lose the weight you’re not going to play,” the coach said. “It’s just that simple.” Walker said he hasn’t been this small since “probably my eighth grade year or something.” More on Walker to come soon.
- Conversely, redshirt freshman Charles Buggs has been busy bulking up. To date, he’s gained about 23 pounds, he said, with the goal of gaining 7 more. “It’s a ton of lifting, a ton of eating,” he said.
- Andre Hollins had a large, healing gash across the left side of his face. “I fell off my bike,” he said. “I’m so embarrassed. It’s just one of those things.”
- Maverick Ahanmisi seems to be really excelling in Pitino’s system and demonstrated some nice moves to the basket and some good shooting on Tuesday. Pitino said in his first Gophers blog that the senior has the potential to be one of the leaders. “This is the kind of style I play – this is what I played in high school. So this is what I learned throughout four years then and back in the day so this is what I’m accustomed to, and I think it’s just the style of play that suits me.”
- It’s no secret that the frontcourt is one of the weaker aspects of the team, considering it’s thinness. How comfortable is Pitino with his big man personnel? “I would like to [get another player] if there’s anything available,” he said. “Certainly we’re going to keep our options open. We have a scholarship available. Recruiting is the answer to turn this thing around. It’s going to take some time, but that’s what we plan on doing.”
- Andre Hollins has been the Gophers’ starting point guard for the last two seasons, but he’s not necessarily natural at the position. Pitino didn’t rule out starting him at shooting guard, while opening up the floor general spot for competition. Maverick Ahanmisi as well as freshmen Daquein McNeil and Deandre Mathieu could be in that mix as well.
- Besides the system being totally different, Pitino’s demeanor, media presence and team presence could not be much more distinct from that of former coach Tubby Smith. For starters, he seems to be very blunt with his players when it comes to improving. Is that one of the values he consciously coaches by? “Yeah, that’s kind of the way that I was raised, and that’s kind of the way I learned under my father, under Billy Donovan,” Pitino said. “We’re not going to play a whole lot of games. We’re going to keep it pretty simple and just tell them how we feel. And sometimes I’ll be all right, and a lot of times I’ll be wrong, and that’s just the way it is.”