Transfer speculation behind him, U's Ahanmisi becomes reliable relief

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 11, 2012 - 5:10 PM

The Gophers point guard's improved defense and shooting has increased Tubby Smith's confidence in him.

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Long hours of extra practice with roommate/teammate Austin Hollins have helped Gophers reserve guard Maverick Ahanmisi (13) become a more complete player. He’s shooting 52 percent from the field — up almost 23 percent from last year — and 43.8 percent from three-point range.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

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Half a year ago, Maverick Ahanmisi's name was surfacing in the media, but not for the reasons he would want.

After two seasons, the reserve point guard hadn't shown much improvement and with forward Trevor Mbakwe contemplating making his sixth-year return, Ahanmisi became the subject of speculation on whether the Gophers would open this season with his name still on the roster.

Would he transfer?

Seven months later, heading into Tuesday's game against North Dakota State -- a team against which he scored his career high with 13 points a year ago -- it's not a question (although if you bring it up, Ahanmisi will adamantly profess his affection for the program).

It's obvious just in watching how much Ahanmisi has improved on defense and in running the offense. He's been the clear alternative when Andre Hollins is in foul trouble or struggling to take care of the ball, and for the most part, Ahanmisi's effectively done that. Ahanmisi's stat line has increased almost all the way around, nearly doubling his production from a year ago. And Gophers coach Tubby Smith sings the California native's praises after nearly every game, clearly impressed with his overall effort this year.

"He has really been very efficient," Smith said. "That gives me confidence to play him. And there may be times you might see both [Ahanmisi and Andre Hollins playing together], especially with the way he's shooting the ball. ...

"He's really off to a good start. He's having a good all-around game. And plus, his attitude. He just has a great demeanor about him. He's done everything we've asked him to do. He doesn't complain. Doesn't make excuses. He just works."

Actually, this year, Ahanmisi has worked more than ever. Although the junior claims he didn't hear much about the spring rumors and questions, he also isn't shy about saying he went into the summer especially focused and driven. Every day during the summer, he would come down to Williams Arena with roommate Austin Hollins and take at least 50 shots from behind the arc.

"I was practicing a lot [before], but I feel like this year I was more focused in fixing my mechanics of my shot and just making my range deeper so that when it comes to the game, I'm ready to shoot," Ahanmisi said.

The biggest change for the junior, he said, was getting more elevation on his jumper -- something he didn't need as much in high school, but imperative for a 6-2 college guard.

The result has been Ahanmisi's points per game jumping from 2.7 a year ago to 4.9 this season. Even more impressively, he's shooting 52 percent from the field (nearly 23 percentage points up from a year ago) and a team-best 43.8 percent (7-for-16) from three-point range.

"I think Mav is just playing with a lot more confidence this year," senior forward Rodney Williams said. "Those two [Ahanmisi and Austin Hollins] after practice, they're always up there shooting after practice by themselves, but I think them two being roommates -- Austin being one of the best shooters --and Mav spending time with him in the gym, that definitely helps."

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