Juco transfer Welch emerges as go-to guy for Tubby Smith

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2011 - 12:51 AM

Start spreading the news: This Sinatra fan is showing his potential as a big-time scorer at crunch time.

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Julian Welch (00) played defense earlier this season against Bucknell.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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ORLANDO - Julian Welch has given Gophers fans a glimpse of his potential in the past two games, scoring 28 points in a pair of Old Spice Classic victories to help Minnesota reach Sunday's title game.

Now let Welch give you a peek into what he's like off the court.

"I listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra," Welch said. "Probably a lot of people wouldn't think that, but ..."

Have to admit it, Julian: That was a surprise.

"I listen to a lot of old-school stuff like Al Green. I have Sinatra's greatest hits. I usually listen to that before I go to sleep," said Welch, who credits his grandfather, Warren, for his taste in music.

His throwback game, though? That's all Welch. The 6-3 junior is not a true point guard or shooting guard.

"Honestly, I would just say I'm a basketball player. Whatever I need to do to get the job done, I try to do it," said Welch, who wears jersey No. 00. "I don't really define myself as one particular position because that just narrows you down."

Let's just call him a finisher. Sinatra crooned "And now, the end is here" to open the song "My Way," and the ends of games have been when Welch has had his way lately.

Coming off the bench as he has all season, Welch played 17 of his 21 minutes and scored nine of his 11 points in the second half Thursday in a comeback victory over DePaul. He followed the same script Friday against Indiana State, again leading a second-half turnaround with 11 of his game-high 17 points -- and all six of his rebounds -- in 14 minutes after the break.

Coach Tubby Smith teased Welch for missing a couple of close-range shots but also called him "the difference in the game" after Friday's victory. Indiana State coach Greg Lansing thought the same thing about Thursday's game against DePaul.

"I liked Welch a lot scouting that game," Lansing said. "I think he basically saved it for them, making big plays at both ends."

His emergence is vital to the Gophers, who had question marks in the backcourt after Devoe Joseph's midseason transfer a year ago plus the losses of Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber. They landed Welch, a California native and former Big West Freshman of the Year at UC-Davis, after he transferred and spent a year at Yuba (Calif.) Community College.

"They said they needed guard play -- that it was a big X-factor for them. I thought I could come in and showcase my talent," Welch said. "Plus playing on a team with Rodney [Williams], Ralph [Sampson III] and Trevor [Mbakwe] -- three beasts -- I thought I could contribute and get us some wins."

Welch had just 12 points in the Gophers' first four games before coming alive in Orlando. Four guards -- Welch, freshman Andre Hollins and sophomores Austin Hollins and Chip Armelin -- had 53 of the Gophers' 76 points against Indiana State. Welch and Armelin seemed to have particularly good chemistry on the court.

"In practice, we're always on the same team so I just like playing with him," Welch said. He added later with a smile, "He reminds me of myself when I was younger."

Welch, a wise old owl at 21, is about 10 months older than Armelin.

"They know what we need from them," forward Trevor Mbakwe said of the duo, "and if they keep being aggressive a lot of guards [will have] trouble keeping up with them."

Both players came off the bench Friday. Whether that's Welch's permanent role remains to be seen. Regardless, it's not an issue to him.

"I'm really comfortable," Welch said. "We're 6-0. I could be playing zero minutes or all the minutes. As long as we're winning, I'm happy."

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