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.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
Plenty has been said about how different this Minnesota team could look from a year ago.
But based off very early impressions at media day, it could feel a lot different too.
The influx of five newcomers -- which could grow to six in January, if international Gaston Diedhiou is granted admission -- has brought a lot of new skill sets, and a lot of new personalities to these Gophers.
I remember media day pasts in which the players essentially stayed seated for the full hour at their individual chairs, stationed around the raised court at Williams Arena. Tuesday required running a player down, at times, especially near the end, when there were a lot of dunks and three-pointers and laughing happening.
Mali native Bakary Konate might be one of the happiest individuals I've ever met. Fellow freshman Josh Martin was a treat on everything from his summer and the team to his thoughts on Minnesota and how funny he thinks he is.
"They'll be more fun for you guys, I guess," coach Richard Pitino said to the media at Tuesday's press conference. "We always get complaints that they're not fun enough. Josh will be entertaining, certainly. Bakary, every time you speak to him, he tries to prove he can speak English, so he speaks for like five paragraphs."
But between all the laughs, Pitino is looking for another intangible that is still a work in progress, as is the case with a lot of freshmen. While the coach joked that recent grads Austin Hollins and Oto Osenieks -- who is staying on this year as a grad assistant -- were "boring," he also called them true professionals, noting that he knew exactly what to expect of them each day they arrived for a practice or work out.
"All guys are just quirky when they're younger," Pitino said. "Not that they're fighting us, they're not bad kids, but they're just not grasping that yet, and that's going to take some time."
Transfer Zach Lofton, whom Pitino has claimed has "a lot of personality" as well will redshirt this year, per NCAA rules. Martin will have opportunities, but is still a bit raw, and sits behind Joey King in the rotation. Konate is in a similar position, although there is no doubt Pitino will use the Mali freshman.
The two of the five newcomers that will likely get the most immediate playing time are Carlos Morris -- who could replace Austin Hollins at small forward in the starting lineup -- and Nate Mason, who has the chance to play a sixth man role. Those are also the two that Pitino claims are the least outgoing. He jokingly said Morris "doesn't have any personality" and called Mason "pretty quiet."
As for his own personality? Well, Nebraska coach Tim Miles had something to say about that on Big Ten media day, when he jokingly called out Pitino for being a "stiff."
"Richard Pitino -- come on," he said. Let's have some of that personality you've got in there somewhere, buddy."
On Gophers media day, the Minnesota coach responded.
"He's just challenging me and trying to bait me," Pitino said. "I'm not buying his thing But what I love about Tim Miles is that he's the exact same way in a press conference as -- that's just the way he is. We can't all be as funny as Tim Miles and I'm OK with that."
OK, so Pitino has maybe a little more personality than Miles is giving him credit for, although whether the Minnesota head coach is as funny as he seems to think he is in press conferences is still up for debate. But in general, this team has become a lot more interesting to cover in the Pitino era. The coach throws in a few anecdotes -- which are the golden nuggets of journalism -- every once in a while and is certainly quicker to pick at himself and his players than his predecessor, Tubby Smith was. In fact, Pitino can be quite blunt about his guys, but manages to do it in a way that I imagine no feelings would be hurt were the player in question listening in.
Pitino has brought in some characters in short tenure as well. Beyond the newbies this year, DeAndre Mathieu -- of course -- wins the Personality Cup, quickly becoming a media darling last year with his ability to analyze, take the blame, tell stories and make jokes. Malik Smith could be a little like that at times as well.
In the past, Pitino has said he likes recruiting guys that have some fire and some spark to them. He sees that, oftentimes, translate on the court. It won't be every player. And it certainly won't come in lieu of the maturity and intangibles that the current youngsters are still working on. The ideal for Pitino is probably a good blend of all of that -- which probably explains why he is closest with Mathieu of anyone on the team.
In any case, as this season goes on, we might be treated with a little more color. And that's good for everyone.
"They're fun guys to be around," Pitino said of this year's squad. "And I think it will be a little different than last year."
**Minnesota will hold an open scrimmage for fans and media this Sunday at 4 p.m. More information here.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has touted freshman Nate Mason as a player who could step in to take big minutes and immediately contribute to the veteran backcourt, particularly with the mature guard's defensive ability.
Mason, a Georgia native, has a good chance to be first man off the bench as he's capable of backing up either point guard DeAndre Mathieu or shooting guard Andre Hollins.
A quick conversation with the newcomer:
How has it been to come up behind veteran Andre and DeAndre, and have the ability to learn from them.
It's been great. They've been really helpful with answering questions and giving advice. That's the best thing I can get from them: leadership.
What has been the biggest transition for you?
Probably being away from home. I wanted to go far away, but I had to think about it. Now, I miss my family, I miss my mom, I miss my dad, so that's the biggest transition I think. I talk to them a lot. They send a care package almost every week. Things from home, sometimes they send me notecards.
What about on the court?
Probably the speed. In high school, it wasn't as fast as it is now. Dealing with a guy like coach Pitino, you've got to adjust very quickly. So that's the thing I think.
How has it been adjusting to Pitino's coaching style?
He's all about winning. There is no doubt about it. He's a young coach, fired up, chip on his shoulder, and that's the best type of coach to have. All he wants to do is win. And that instills that in our mindset.
Do you feel like you fit the new system?
Definitely. I like to play fast, he likes to play fast. I'm just here to get us in the best situation possible.
Do you see more similarities in your game with Big Dre [Andre Hollins] or Little Dre [DeAndre Mathieu]?
I don't know, I've never really thought about it. But if I would have to answer, I'd probably say I'm more of a driver [like Mathieu], but I like to stop and shoot sometimes. It's kind of different.
Who's faster -- you or Mathieu?
DeAndre of course. DeAndre is faster.
Going against him, a guy like that in the press, how beneficial is that for your development?
For sure, going against one of the top guards in the Big Ten, it gives me the opportunity to get better every day. Plus, he's a senior, he's teaching me and stuff while he goes along, so I'm just here for the experience.
What your No. 1 personal goal?
Be the best teammate possible. Do all the little things to help our team be successful
Are you happy with where your weight is now?
I came in 173 and I went up to 185, he wanted me to gain some weight. Now I've been at a steady 185 for about a month now, so I think that's the weight I'm going to be playing at.
Yesterday was Minnesota basketball media day, which presented the opportunity for us scribe types to meet many of the newcomers in person for the first time as well as catch up with the returners, whom we haven't heard much from since April.
In case you missed it, here is my story in today's paper on the four critical seniors trying to seize their new roles.
There will be plenty of other tidbits to come. In the meantime, ten questions, answered:
Q: What comments do you hear most from other players about your game?
DeAndre Mathieu: I get the speed thing a lot, I'm fast. It's mostly my teammates telling me I'm fast. We'll be in a drill or something and they've got to press. I'll beat the whole press and they'll be like man, you're too fast. They'll tell coach P [Richard Pitino] 'He's too fast, I don't know what to do.' I take that as a compliment, but I don't just want to be known for my speed, I want to bring different things to the table.
Q: Among you and your teammates, you gets the crown for video game king?
Mo Walker: It depends on the game. I have to give myself the credit for NBA 2K.
For Madden and FIFA, DeAndre Mathieu probably has those titles.
Q: How has the new team been bonding? How important is that part?
Andre Hollins: I like the culture here -- it's great, the camaraderie. The seniors, the older players, when the younger players come in they kind of take them under their wing and just bond with them. That's been going on every since I stepped foot on campus.
Q: You put on 20 pounds this summer. Has it been hard to keep on that weight?
Carlos Morris: I'm eating like five or six meals a day. You have to weigh in every day. So if I haven't been eating like I'm supposed to, I'm going to get in trouble ... you don't want [strength and conditioning coach] Shaun Brown mad at you. He's just the coolest guy, and when he gets mad at you, it's just like 'Aw, man.'
Q: What do you think about Minnesota Nice?
Josh Martin: I didn't think it was true when I was in Seattle because I heard about it. When I got here I was like 'There ain't no way people are going to be that kind.' But it was true. Aggressively kind is right. You go in a gas station, people want to pay for your gas!
Q: What has been the biggest on-court adjustment for you in coming to Minnesota?
Bakary Konate: I think it's the speed. The game goes too fast and there is a lot more contact compared to Spain experience.
Q: Who do you think fans might be surprised by this year?
Elliott Eliason: Day Day and Carlos might surprise. I don't think [fans] saw Day Day much and Carlos is a new guy, but I think they could do great things.
Q: What kind of advice have you given your new roommate, Josh Martin?
Joey King: When it comes to school, just taking care of business because you know you're not going to want to be doing that homework on a 3 a.m. plane ride on the way back from a win.
Q: How many dunks since you've been here?
Josh Martin: It's in the double digits, maybe almost in the triples, I don't know. I try to have contests with my teammates but they don't want no work (laughs)
Q: What game are you most excited for this season?
Mo Walker: I'd be lying if I didn't say Louisville. We all want to win for coach. It's a big game for him, it's a big game for us and it starts off our season. So it will be good to compete against one of the top-10 teams in the country.
**The team has a new walk-on on the roster: Darin Haugh. The 5-foot-10 junior guard hails from Prior Lake and went to high school with Joey King at Eastview. He transferred Bethany Lutheran College this year.
**Mathieu had a deep cut over his left eye on Tuesday, complete with seven stitches. "It's my second [injury]," the point guard said. "I got a concussion last week and then I just got this yesterday. Joey and Josh were going for a rebound, Joey went up with one arm and swung the other one I just happened to be there."
Have there been a lot of rough and tumble casualties in practice so far? Mathieu laughed. "It seems like they all keep happening to me," he said. The Knoxville native, of course, has a reputation for throwing his body around the court.
**The new locker room at Williams Arena is nearly complete. Pitino tweeted an updated picture last night.
**Want more media day? If you missed the live stream on BTN2go yesterday, you can watch the replay here.
**I plan on doing a new aMAILiaBAG early next week some time, so start with the questions now and I'll begin compiling them. Email me at email@example.com or tweet me @AmeliaRayno.
Yesterday was Big Ten media day in Chicago (a bit earlier this year than usual), which means across the country, sports minds have finally begun to focus on basketball, at least to some degree. The season's start, now, is only a few weeks away. Minnesota plays its first game in less than a month, against Louisville on Nov. 14 in Puerto Rico.
A few Gophers tidbits with autumn sinking in:
*In case you missed it, our story in today's Star Tribune, written by Jack McCarthy from Big Ten media day: This year, it looks like Wisconsin and everyone else.
*Also, no surprise here either -- women's senior guard Rachel Banham was named Big Ten preseason player of the year by both the media and coaches.
*Minnesota commit Kevin Dorsey will be taking his official visit this weekend per a source. The point guard arrived on campus on Thursday night.
*According to rivals.com's Ryan James, 2016 and 2019 prospects, brothers Michael and Mathew Hurt will attend Gophers practice this afternoon.
*The Gophers got some conference-wide love at yesterday's event. Via an informal and anonymous player poll conducted by BTN.com, Minnesota received the most votes for "Big Ten sleeper team." The Gophers' Richard Pitino also received a vote for "Coach you'd like to play for."
*Andre Hollins, the Big Ten's most underrated player? That's the opinion of at least one league coach, anyway, per CBS' conference preview.
*The Gophers will hold a scrimmage at Iowa State on Nov. 2, per Jeff Goodman at ESPN. Teams are allowed any combination of two scrimmages or exhibition games prior to beginning the season.
*Let the preseason polls begin. The first USA Today college basketball coaches poll is out, and while Minnesota didn't manage to crack the top-25, the Gophers did get 18 votes.
Tomorrow marks the Big Ten's annual media day in Chicago, which means today marks the reveal of the unofficial Big Ten media poll ranking each team.
Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch compiles the rankings each year.
Though the rankings grow to 14 this season with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, the top holds no surprise. According to the Big Ten media, the No. 1 ranked school by is, by unanimous vote, Wisconsin -- the team that was a jumper away from the title game a year ago and returns four of its five starters from that team. What is a little more interesting is the discrepancy that exists in between that lofty No. 1 and the only other unanimous vote: Rutgers, landing dead last. In the middle, every team was placed in at least four different numerical positions by the 27 participating writers.
Minnesota, meanwhile earn the dubious reputation of being the teams writers seem most conflicted about. -- The Gophers received votes at eight different positions, ranging from third in the conference all the way down to eleventh -- two votes at No. 3, one vote at No. 4, three votes at No. 5, six votes at No. 6, seven votes at No. 7, five votes at No. 8, two votes at No. 9 and one vote at No. 11.
Here are the media rankings in full:
*Four teams received votes for second place: Ohio State (10), Michigan State (7), Nebraska (6) and Michigan (4).
*Iowa received votes ranging from No. 4 to No. 11, and at each position in between.
*Here are more writer predictions, including All Big Ten first team, via BTN.com.
Compare with my personal rankings, which I submitted for this poll:
(Writer's note: I unfortunately will not be attending this year's media day due to an annoyingly persistent illness. Please follow @stribsports on Twitter for updates from Thursday's press conferences and check startribune.com for stories.)
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