Gophers men's basketball team shows off athleticism, skills

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2011 - 12:49 AM

Fans got their first look at an intriguing collection of basketball players hoping to erase the sour memory of last year, and optimism was rampant at Williams Arena.

Talent and athleticism were on full display at Gopher All-Star Friday Night, and given the opportunity, the crowd played right along with the grinning optimism coming from the court.

Six-foot-11 center Ralph Sampson III crushed the three-point contest, and cheers erupted. Andre Hollins, a freshman who could start at point guard, impressively matched Sampson shot for shot for a while. Rodney Williams leaped over people in chicken and pig mascot suits to score. Freshman Joe Coleman took the dunk title after nailing a 360-degree spin dunk. Maverick Ahanmisi sealed the maroon team's 33-27 scrimmage victory with a three-point shot, something the Gophers greatly missed last season.

"I think we could be a really good team this year," Williams said a day earlier, at Media Day. "We've got a lot of new faces, and I think a lot of teams are going to sleep on us this year. I think we're going to shock a whole lot of people."

While the Gophers enter the new season with fresh faces and upbeat attitudes, they have yet to truly leave behind the sour taste left from a subpar 2010-11 version, which finished on a 1-10 stretch and included no postseason tournament invitation.

But on a night when a collection of alumni from successful seasons past relit winning memories with their presence on the court, the Gophers looked plenty apt themselves.

Through the three main events -- the three-point competition, the dunk contest and the scrimmage -- the Gophers often looked like a band of boys just enjoying playing basketball.

As they piled onto the court for introductions, they laughed and joked. Coach Tubby Smith sauntered out in a boxing outfit and bobbed and weaved across the court. In every event, high-fives were rampant.

A new year brought new excitement for a team ready to separate itself from the past, but for now that's exactly what it is: the energy of a new season granting a suspension of disbelief. The question that lingers, of course -- as every year, at this time -- is whether the Gophers can take the on-paper talent and turn it into on-court victories.

The stars from Friday night have much more to show.

Williams long has been saddled with a reputation for great potential but has yet to show that in the form of a big season. Trevor Mbakwe is supposed to be the anchor of this team, but his past couple of seasons have been interrupted by off-court legal drama. Sampson can put up numbers but was inconsistent last year. Coleman and Hollins still are very raw.

But with a season ahead, and a hope to put last year's collapse to bed, the Gophers found plenty of positives Friday.

"I think it's a great, really tight-knit group of guys that always want to be around each other, that enjoy being around each other," redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason said. "And I think that's going to work to our advantage, even though we are a little young this year."

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