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.

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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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