Andre Hollins was a notable recruit out of Memphis for the 2011-12 season. Two months into the schedule, it wasn't working out that well for the Gophers or the 6-1 guard.
There were three Big Ten games in January in which he totaled 26 minutes, went 1-for-9 from the field and had six turnovers compared to two assists. He followed this with 17 minutes against Michigan State, in which he went 0-for-5 from the field.
The Gophers were 3-5 with 10 games left in the Big Ten. Coach Tubby Smith's reaction to Hollins' ineffective stretch was to start giving the freshman more playing time rather than less.
Hollins' skills started to emerge, even as winning conference games remained a remote possibility for the Gophers. They had a six-game losing streak in February and finished 6-12 in the league for the second season in a row.
Tubby wanted a contract extension. Many among the Gophers faithful felt as if dismissal was a better idea.
Then came the Big Ten tournament: The Gophers defeated Northwestern and lost to Michigan in overtime. Andre Hollins played 81 minutes, shot 16-for-35 and averaged 23 points in those two games in Indianapolis.
Then came the NIT: The Gophers won four in a row, all away from home, with Hollins averaging 35 minutes and 17.8 points.
The run to the finals of the consolation tournament took the heat off Tubby and created optimism for the season ahead. And no one had more to do with this change in attitude among Gophers fans than Andre Hollins and the big-time look he brought to his game in March.
The Gophers tossed up a turkey in the NIT final, losing 75-51 to Stanford. Hollins played his part, finishing with more turnovers (five) than points (four). That didn't change the lofty expectations for a player who will turn 20 on Dec. 11.
Tubby's experienced, talented group opened the schedule with three home routes against nobodies. Hollins went 5-for-23 from the field and totaled only 23 points.
Then again, the Gophers didn't really need the big-time Andre until Sunday night, when the Richmond Spiders came to Williams Arena.
The first 12 minutes were a train wreck for the home club. The Gophers had 10 turnovers and trailed 22-13 when the third TV timeout arrived at 7:59.
Tubby went with his A team a few seconds later: Trevor Mbakwe at center and Andre Hollins at the point, surrounded by Rodney Williams, Joe Coleman and Austin Hollins.
It was 30-29 for the Gophers at halftime, and then came another snag, and a 49-42 lead for Richmond with 10 minutes left. That's when Andre used his all-around play to say, "Enough.''
He hit a jumper. He made a steal that led to two free throws for Austin Hollins. He made a steal and a layup. He hit a three to put the Gophers ahead 51-49 and force a Richmond timeout.
Andre finished with a fine boxscore -- 14 points, a college-high seven assists in three steals -- and the Gophers went to 4-0 with a 72-57 victory.
"You're back,'' a visitor said to Hollins in the postgame locker room.
Hollins smiled and said: "The first three games, I was rushing my shots. I wasn't relaxing. New season, you want to get off to a good start ... I was jumping a little bit with my shot."
He was asked if this jumpiness could be traced to a desire to load up the boxscore as he had done down the stretch last season.
"Not really," Hollins said. "I haven't thought about last season. As I said, kind of jumping ... not relaxing. This game was good for us. We had all those turnovers early and got ourselves in a hole. It was a reminder of how important it is to take care of the ball."
That will be more vital than ever on Thursday afternoon, when the Gophers play Duke in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
"Playing Duke is something you dream about," Hollins said. "We get to compete against one of the greatest coaches of all time."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Duke flops, you know?
"Yeah, I saw that,'' Hollins said, smiling again.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org