Andre Hollins was a high school freshman and not quite a blue-chip basketball recruit when he played his first game in Minnesota back in 2008.
He was a starting guard for the Memphis White Station team that defeated Cass Lake-Bena 99-68 in the Timberwolves Shootout at Target Center. Hollins didn't exactly get out and explore the city during his visit.
"I didn't step one foot outside," he said. "We stayed at the hotel that's connected to the Target Center."
He couldn't possibly have imagined this eventually would become his new home, at least for the foreseeable future. Hollins will take part in his first official practice with the Gophers basketball team Saturday. Coach Tubby Smith and his staff put the full-court press on Hollins in recruiting after watching him compete in an AAU tournament held -- you guessed it -- here in the Twin Cities the summer before his senior season.
"Kind of weird," Hollins said.
And ironic. However it unfolded, Smith could hardly contain his enthusiasm as he talked about his freshman point guard at his kickoff media gathering on Thursday. Speaking about Hollins and freshman Joe Coleman, Smith said, "I don't think that we've recruited two better people in maybe my coaching career."
His excitement is understandable. Hollins was named Mr. Basketball last season in a state rich in talent and ranked among the top 100 players nationally.
He graduated with a grade-point average above 4.0 and scored a 28 on his ACT. He had offers to attend Stanford and Harvard. He is enrolled in the Carlson School of Business, and his class schedule this semester includes microeconomics, contemporary management and short calculus.
Hollins is an impressive young man who didn't stop smiling during the entire 45-minute interview session. Apparently, that's just his personality.
"He's got the total package," Smith said. "Intellectually, academically, socially and the basketball. He's got everything. He was a great get for us. I'd be really concerned about things if we hadn't recruited him."
Fixing the point guard position was the No. 1 priority for Smith this offseason. The Gophers couldn't afford to go through what they did last season after senior Al Nolen broke his foot and Devoe Joseph transferred.
Left with no attractive options, Smith put the ball in Blake Hoffarber's hands. Hoffarber took one for the team and sacrificed his game, but the offense became a grinding mess. The Gophers won only one of their final 11 games.
Faced with a glaring hole at that position this season, Smith brought in Hollins and junior college transfer Julian Welch to compete with Maverick Ahanmisi for the job.
"That was a big reason for me coming here because there is such a big need for that void to be filled," Welch said.
Smith said the competition is wide open and available to whoever performs best. But listen to enough people around the program and it seems fairly obvious that Hollins is the frontrunner and the guy they hope wins the job.
Smith said he has no qualms about starting a freshman point guard.
"If he's good enough and he wins the job, then he'll start," he said. "We've started freshmen in the past. We don't mind starting them now."
The scouting report on Hollins is that he's a terrific athlete who can play either guard spot. He played shooting guard as a junior, point guard as a senior. He averaged 23.5 points last season, which included a 46-point effort against national power Findlay Prep.
"I consider myself a point guard," he said. "I'm a point guard that can score."
Nobody is expecting smooth sailing. Like any freshman, Hollins faces an adjustment. Players are stronger and faster at this level. The game is quicker, defensive responsibilities are more demanding. Tubby expects a lot of his players, regardless of their age.
Hollins knows all that. He watched the Gophers point guard struggles from afar last season. Now, he hopes to help fix them.
"It just shows how important the point guard is to a system," he said. "Hopefully I can come in and play a big part of the team and contribute as much as I can."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org