Richard Pitino, players both adjusting in early practices

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2013 - 6:54 AM

Coach Richard Pitino is giving his players a taste of the high-tempo style that he wants to play.


There’s a hint of a twinkle in coach Richard Pitino’s eyes when he insinuates the 2013-14 Gophers team hasn’t seen the “real” him yet.

It’s summer, after all, and Pitino doesn’t want to go overboard in the intensity department — there’s a full season for that.

But while there still is much to learn and tweak as the months ramp up to November, Pitino knows that what happens in the summer — when mistakes can be made, reviewed and fixed — will be a base for what happens in the winter when mistakes could cost Minnesota games.

“This time of year, it’s probably good when they screw up because you can show them on film,” Pitino said. “They’re going to mess up — it’s fine, it’s July, we understand that … If I come in here going nuts in July and June, they’re going to hate me in December. So I’ve tried to take it somewhat easy on them but also kind of instill the culture.”

That culture clearly has changed from a year ago, when former coach Tubby Smith was at the helm. Now, the players must integrate four new faces — Malik Smith, Daquein McNeil, Joey King and Deandre Mathieu — while adjusting to a new coach with a different system and coaching style. Conditioning has moved to the forefront as the team appears to be getting into better shape all around — with some gaining muscle, some losing weight.

Some key holdovers root a squad in transition, but the overriding sentiment seems to be that of a squad beginning anew.

“I think we’ve handled it well,” rising junior Andre Hollins said. “Like I said before, it was just weird, a little bit, in the beginning. But it’s a new start, it’s a fresh start, we’re starting over and we’re all excited, excited to see what the new players can do and for all of us to contribute. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday marked the Gophers’ fifth practice of the summer, in which coaches are allowed to meet with players for two hours a week, according to new NCAA rules.

To prepare his players for his fast-paced, high-possession style, Pitino has started to get the Gophers operating at that new tempo so they get used to executing when exhausted.

“A lot of our practice has just been going up and down as much as possible, not blowing the whistle that much, getting them to play through mistakes,” he said. “What normally I would do is break down more stuff. We’ve been playing a lot of 5-on-5 because I want to get them comfortable with playing that fast, playing through fatigue.”

Through the transition, there is plenty going on:

• Mo Walker has dropped more than 45 pounds, and he looks like a different person, even as he hopes to lose 15 more. How long has it been since he’s been so small?

“I can’t remember,” the forward said with a smile. “Probably my eighth-grade year or something.’’

Andre Hollins saw Walker after he lost the initial 15 before the point guard headed to Italy. When he returned, he could hardly believe his eyes.

“I was like ‘Oh my God,’ ” Hollins said. “I was like ‘What have you been doing?’ And he had lost like 50 pounds. That’s unbelievable, that’s a testament to just how hard he’s been working.”

• Redshirt freshman Charles Buggs, meanwhile, has gained 23 pounds, putting him up to 213, even as the constant conditioning has made such weight gain a challenge.

“It’s a ton of lifting, a ton of eating,” he said. “I eat like four, five times a day.”

• Last year’s starting point guard, Andre Hollins, almost certainly will be one to lead the team, but his old position is not set in stone — instead, the Gophers could have an interesting competition for floor general on their hands.

“It’s open for competition,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘I would be shocked if he doesn’t start. But it could be at the point or it could be at the 2. I’m not sure yet.”

Maverick Ahanmisi and freshmen Mathieu and McNeil all could be in the mix.”

• Andre Hollins came to practice with a large, healing gash across the left side of his face.

“I fell off my bike. I’m so embarrassed,’’ he said. “It’s just one of those things.”

• The Gophers are in the process of submitting waivers for Joey King and Malik Smith to be eligible to play immediately — but Minnesota hasn’t yet heard back from the NCAA.

• Most of the team was drenched in sweat after Tuesday’s scrimmage, due partly to the lack of air conditioning in the Bierman practice court (it was out entirely in Williams Arena), but mostly to the constant up-and-down tempo.


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