This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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Austin Hollins looks back, ahead

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: June 27, 2014 - 12:32 PM

The NBA draft came and went yesterday, and as expected, Austin Hollins' name wasn't called. It has now been ten years since a single Gopher has been drafted. But that doesn't mean Hollins doesn't have opportunities ahead. The four-year Minnesota player received invites to three pre-draft workouts, and hopes to catch on with a summer league team soon.

After the Timberwolves brought Hollins in for his first pro workout, in late May, the Memphis native crammed in two more this week. Hollins was preparing to head to Indiana for a session with the Pacers, when his agent, Teddy Archer, called to inform him that Sacramento wanted to bring him in as well. Hollins flew into Sacramento to work out on Monday, then caught a late flight back to the Midwest, arriving in Indiana around 2 a.m. before working out with the team later that morning, on about four hours of sleep.

"Once you get in there and warmed up, it's fine," Hollins said. "There are some nights during the year, being a college student where you've got homework to do so you're up at night trying to finish something and then you've got to practice the next day, go to class and you're only getting four or five hours of sleep. So it's not the first time I've gotten a little amount of sleep and had to go work out."

With his future still ahead of him, bright but uncertain, I caught up with Hollins to talk a little about the past four years, the team without him and his next moves.

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You ended up getting invited to three professional workouts. How was that experience for you?
The overall experience has been fun. I'm just taking it all in. I didn't have a ton of workouts, but I just tried to make the most out of the ones I did have. It's a blessing to be in this position to have an opportunity to work out for these teams. So I've had a lot of fun and I've enjoyed the process.

How did those workouts differ from each other?
As far as the workouts themselves, I think most of them were pretty similar. With all the teams, you do some shooting, you do some dribbling, then they want to see you compete. They want to see how competitive you are, they want to see what you can do. You can't always control your shots going in, but you can control your effort. So they kind of look for that as well.

You mentioned that you're working with a couple of different trainers in Minneapolis right now. How does what you're doing with them differ from what you did at the university?
The only difference would probably just be more reps and more time put into it. With Minnesota, you've got the time limits. When you're doing the individual workout, you can only go for so long in the summer time and during the year, you only get so much time to do that kind of stuff. So now there's really no limit to what we can do ... all of these NBA workouts are anywhere from an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and 45 or two hours. So you've got to be in pretty good shape. A lot of them like to do full-court stuff and it's minimal guys, you've got 4-6 guys out there and you're doing full-court stuff so you've got to be able to catch your breath and get up and down the floor. So we try to get a good amount of time in so I'm kind of ready for that when it comes along.

You ended the year around 190 pounds. Are you trying to put on any more bulk at all or are you happy with where you are?
I would like to put on some more weight but right now, I'm just trying to maintain the weight that I have and try to sustain that. It's tough during the season to put on weight because we're going every day and sweating. Especially for me.

How does the amount of down time you have now compare with the last four years?
I definitely have more free time. I'm not in school anymore. That's huge. I don't have homework. So really, it's just working out, sometimes a couple times a day. But in between, I have plenty of time to do whatever.

What are you filling up all your extra free time with?
Sleeping ... (laughs)
There's not a whole lot I do, I usually try and rest for the most part. I've been here for four years, there isn't a whole lot that I haven't done that I want to do. If something comes up, I just play it by ear.

I've seen you talk about your poetry on social media. Is that something you've done for a long time?
For about five years I want to say, I've been doing that. I have a number of them written up. Occasionally, I'll post them just to get some feedback just to see. But it is something that I enjoy doing in my free time.

There was a point I used to hate writing. I used to hate English. In seventh grade I had a teacher, she used to just criticize my work really hard. My dad just found that hilarious and he doesn't let me live it down because she had red marks all over my papers. From that day forward, I still didn't enjoy English as much but I think I just learned to improve and appreciate it and then just found a passion for expressing my thoughts through writing.

I know you're planning to mostly be in Minneapolis, other than wherever you for any summer camps Are you going to be hanging around the Gophers at all this summer?
I play open gym with them usually. They have their own workouts that they're doing and I've got my own schedule. But when they have open gym I try to get in there with those guys.

Where do you think the team has the ability to improve the most?
I think experience is going to be huge for him. I think this year was a great year for some of the new guys coming in, especially DeAndre and a lot of guys who didn't get a ton of minutes [the year before]. Mo got a lot more minutes than he had in the past, and I think he really improved. Now that he's got his weight down, just keeping that and getting stronger and quicker is going to help him out. They've got a lot of good pieces coming in, and they've got most of the guys coming back, along with six new guys coming in. Four starters coming back. So I think that experience really helped them. And I think ending the season on a win like that, really has them confident, they know what they can accomplish. I know coach [Richard] Pitino has them working extremely hard and I know the guys are eager to work hard and they're eager for next season to get into the NCAA tournament because we missed it by an inch. Another win here or there and we might have been in there. So I think the guys are looking at that, and they're working extremely hard to try and get in there next season.

How did you feel like the adjustment to Pitino was for the team? What was the hardest part?
I thought the adjustment was great. Coach Pitino came in with a plan, he really executed it and he told us exactly what his expectations were and guys really bought in right away. I don't think there was ever a problem with the coaching change to adjust to how he coaches or the new coaching staff. I think the biggest adjustment was the style of play and the conditioning factor. Because although we thought we were a well-conditioned team in the past, we were much more conditioned this year. A lot of guys will tell you themselves that they're probably in the best shape they've been in since they've been here. So that's a tribute to Shaun Brown, who put us through a lot of drills, a lot of conditioning things. It was kind of gradual, we started in the summer and we did some things that we didn't quite understand at the time, but as you go on, those things contribute to being in shape. Gradually it's getting harder and and harder but your body is getting used to it as you go on. I think by the time the season started, and we're doing two-a-days on individuals and lifting and then going to practice, we were pretty ready for that when the time came. And it made the game that much easier.

What was one of those things that you guys maybe didn't understand at first?
We did some running on the treadmill that we weren't used to. There's a setting where you have to make the treadmill go on your own will. You have to use your feet to make the treadmill move and it's on an incline so you have to sprint as fast as you can. And once the treadmill gets going, it's just going to keep moving faster and faster. You have to run for like 30 seconds and guys were not used to that -- especially the guys that might have been out of shape or trying to lose weight. To do that, for 30 seconds, then five or six of those, it's really tough. It doesn't sound that tough but once you get on there and you get running, it's tough.

Pitino kind of shifted the work outs to Bierman and made some improvements there. Was that a big deal for you guys?
Definitely. It was much more convenient in that Bierman is much closer to where all the guys live. It's more central to all of the classes, and then you have the weight room in there. So now we're coming in and doing individual workouts, you don't have to cross the street to Mariucci to lift, you just go right next door. And then you can come back and practice, and everything was right there. So it was definitely more convenient and I think it did make a difference ... we got basically a brand new weight room upstairs, it's really nice.

Do you feel like a practice facility is still a necessity for the program?

I've never really felt like the practice facility was a necessitty. Yeah, it was something that we wanted, but I don't think it's really a necessity. Bierman has a court that we have access to and the weight room is right next door. They made renovations in there with the weight room and everything, so you really have everything you need right there. Yeah, a practice facility would be an ideal situation, but what we have, Bierman and that facility works.

What about Williams Arena? Obviously there are those that love and cherish it and those that want to tear it down. How did you like playing there for four years?
I loved playing at Williams. I mean, yeah, the building is a little old, but I think it's really unique. There are a lot of people that have been around for a long time with season tickets that come and support us. When the Big Ten starts and the Barn fills up, it gets really loud in there. I just think it was a unique experience to be able to play there. The raised floor, that's just different, and I think it's a tough environment to play in as well.

Favorite moment of last year?
The NIT championship, of course. 

What about from your career? 
I'd have to say the same thing -- the NIT championship. Beating No. 1 Indiana [in 2013] was up there, but I think going out with a win was probably the best thing that happened over my career.

Toughest moment?
That's tough to say. Every time you lose a game you think you're supposed to win, it's tough. Probably that Northwestern game at home. We had a chance to win it at the very end and the layup just came off a little long. Or the triple overtime game at Purdue that we lost ... all the losses, they're all the same, whether it was close or whether it was a blowout. Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament -- we win that game, we're possibly in the tournament so just little things like that are tough to deal with.

Andre sprained his ankle severely in January and never quite looked the same after that. Do you think his ankle and his hip was bothering him more than he was letting on?
No, I think Andre is a tough guy. I mean, I know his ankle was bothering him, and it's tough to come back from those ankle injuries. Especially when he came back, as competitive as he is, he just wanted to be out on the floor. I don't think he was hurting more than what he was saying and it was, I don't think that was affecting him because he has such a competitive spirit, he's going to go out there and do the best that he can. So if his ankle was bothering him, he's going to go out there and give the best of his ability with whatever percentage his ankle is at. Once that adrenaline gets going and you get loose, it's tough to say. But everyone has those nicks and bruises, especially toward the end of the season, that you're trying to deal with, and you're just trying to fight through it as best as you can.

Who would you say was the most improved last year?
I'd have to give it to one of the big men, either Elliott or Mo. Those guys made complete transformations of their bodies, came in this year and really did some damage. So if I had to say most improved, it would have to go to those two and the work they put in.

What about the biggest surprise?
I'd have to give that to DeAndre. Because we knew how talented he was coming in, and we knew what he was capable of. But it's tough to come in and do what he did and be as consistent as he was in his first Big Ten season. Not being used to playing in the Big Ten, and coming in and doing what he did, that was huge. I know he didn't have perfect games every game, but he was probably the most consistent player on the team, by far, when it came to Big Ten play.

Daquein McNeil got some tastes of Big Ten action in his freshman year -- do you think he'll be ready for a bigger role this year?
Oh definitely. I have no doubt in my mind that Daquein will be ready next year. He's got a bright future in front of him. He works extremely hard and I think he was just taking it all in and taking advantage of those opportunities he got. I think next year, he'll definitely be ready to compete with the guys that are coming in and try to take that starting spot.

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