Gophers' Austin Hollins answers Pitino's call to step up his game

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2014 - 10:40 AM

Answering Richard Pitino’s call to improve his game, Austin Hollins has emerged from Andre’s shadow.

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Minnesota guard Austin Hollins (20) drives against Nebraska-Omaha guard Marcus Tyus during the first half of a game in Minneapolis, Dec. 20, 2013.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press

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At the start of the 2013-14 season, new Gophers coach Richard Pitino took a good, hard look at his frontcourt and tried to picture where his rebounding would come from after Elliott Eliason, his starting center.

His gaze drifted past Mo Walker, his backup rim protector, and Joey King and Oto Osenieks, his only power forwards, and landed squarely on guard Austin Hollins.

“You,” the young coach said to his 6-4 senior, “are going to have to get us seven or eight rebounds a game.”

At the time, the request might have seemed unreasonable for outsiders, who watched Hollins, a reliable but hardly dynamic mainstay, average 3.2 boards a game last season.

What a change a new year, a new coach and a new system — seemingly tailored for Hollins’ skills and strengths — has made.

In the two months leading up to the Big Ten opener — the Gophers play Michigan at home on Thursday night — Hollins has hit a new stride. The guard is averaging 13.5 points and 7.1 rebounds while playing the team’s best all-around defense (he has 19 steals, second only to DeAndre Mathieu’s 25) and igniting the team with his dynamic highlight-reel dunks and alley-oops — a phenomenon that has emerged with a force this season.

Off the court, the senior has stayed humble and understated as ever, never the type to toot his own horn, ever working to get better.

Hollins, son of Lionel Hollins, the former head coach of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, is the player who perhaps most embodies the philosophy that Pitino is trying to instill at Minnesota. The guard is so easy to coach, it’s “almost disturbing,” Pitino has said, noting that Hollins almost reads his mind.

In drills, he’s the first player to saturate his jersey, and it usually happens on the first drill, Pitino said. At the end of practice, Hollins is the one coaxing teammates to keep up the intensity.

“If he makes a mistake, you just turn and as you’re about to [correct him], he’ll look at you like ‘I know.’ He’s that type of guy,” Pitino said. “Austin has been the most consistent guy, every drill, every film session, every practice, he is the most professional kid with everything that he does that I’ve ever been around. And now he’s reaping the rewards of it.”

Pitino calls Hollins “the consummate pro,” and the coach said the Gophers would be a “much better team” if every player had Hollins’ work ethic.

“We might not be the most talented team on the court, but we’re going to be the team that’s working the hardest,” Hollins said. “We want to be the team out there being the most aggressive and just controlling the tempo.”

The coming-out party

On Dec. 10, Austin Hollins walked into Williams Arena anticipating a night that was set up to be junior Andre Hollins’ birthday celebration.

The pair of Memphis natives — who have become so close over the past two years that they’ve stopped correcting misguided observers who assume they are brothers — were going through pregame warmups when the elder Hollins pulled his teammate aside with a joking plea.

Andre, a day away from his 21st birthday, was averaging 16.6 points at the time and was just 13 away from 1,000 career points. Austin, not quite the same consistent threat for a huge offensive game, was 17 away.

“Dre, you’ve got to wait on me,” he said, according to Andre. “You’ve got to wait on me if I don’t get it.”

Instead, the night became Austin’s coming-out party. He finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds in a performance that made him Big Ten player of the week for the first time, and highlighted all of the ways his game had dramatically improved since a year ago.

That night, the “Hollinsanity” banners in the stands seemed meant just for him, even if the term began only after Andre showed up. The latter has wowed for more than two years with his ability to explode for big games, including a 41-point performance last season against a ranked Memphis team in the Bahamas. Now, with teams game-planning for Andre more than ever, Austin has filled all the holes, taking advantage of opponents who foolishly might not be expecting as much from him.

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Detroit 34
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New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
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Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
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Nashville 1
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
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Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
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Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
Western Ky 62 FINAL
Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
UCLA 56 FINAL
North Carolina 78
Long Beach State 73 FINAL
Western Mich 55
Marquette 72 FINAL
Georgia Tech 70
Stephen F Austin 73 FINAL
Prairie View 61
UAB 47 FINAL
Florida 56
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Washington 78
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Texas A&M 17
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pm

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