Ever since the cast came off Wally Ellenson’s left (shooting) hand, the media has been expecting to hear news of the freshman officially being redshirted.
It seemed like just a matter of time. After all, the wing had already missed 11 games heading into Tuesday’s eventual 70-57 win over North Dakota State, and at 10-1, this Gophers team had proven plenty deep and effective without him.
So when coach Tubby Smith announced he would make a decision regarding Ellenson’s status before Tuesday’s game – we assumed that the staff would, in fact, hold the freshman back to preserve all four years of his eligibility.
But with 3:44 remaining in the game, in came the 6-4, 200-pound Ellenson.
“He wanted to play, his parents felt comfortable with him wanting to play,” Smith said immediately when asked of the decision.
The coach added quickly: “I think he can be helpful. I think he can be a big help.”
The decision to play the Rice Lake, Wis., native was a curious one, certainly, but I think there are a couple main factors here:
- – Smith is hoping Ellenson could be a shooter/scorer off the bench for the Gophers with Julian Welch and particularly Oto Osenieks struggling to score. Likely the plan will be for Ellenson to pick up minutes from Osenieks, and now that the redshirt is removed, I’m betting Ellenson gets around 10 minutes a game. Shooting is still one area that has been largely inconsistent for the Gophers and will need to be improved heading into the Big Ten schedule.
- -- If Ellenson wanted to play and Ellenson’s parents wanted him to play, the decision could partly (not entirely, but partly) be an attempt to keep happy a family that has two other talented boys (with junior Ellwood and four-star sophomore Henry) right across the river in Wisconsin.
Again, I don’t think the move was a bad one – it was simply unexpected. Then again, the best way to learn and improve for next season (when he could have a bigger role) is to play now and learn on the job, when the pressure and need are minimized.
When Ellenson came in on Tuesday, he looked a bit jittery at first, but after quickly turning over the ball, he scored his first career point with Minnesota on a free throw for the final point of the game.
Ellenson was Rice Lake’s all-time leading scorer, compiling 1,356 points in three years at the school. He averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior.
“I know he was probably a little bit nervous, but everyone really is the first time you’re stepping on the floor,” Austin Hollins said. “That’s kind of what you expect. But he’ll adjust, he’ll be good.”