For the first time in four years, Richard Pitino won’t be moving in the offseason.
Pitino recently had one-year stints with Louisville as an associate head coach and with Florida International as head coach, but now Pitino will get a chance to savor a NIT championship season in his second year with the Gophers men’s basketball team.
“I’m excited about now, this summer, I don’t need to install my offensive or defensive system,” Pitino said Wednesday. “Now we can really just work on their games. So we can approach this so different than we did last season, which is great for everybody.”
Pitino deemed last year as a success season and a necessary step to build a solid foundation for the program.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” he said, “there’s a lot to sell in recruiting now, and there’s a lot for Gophers fans to be excited about over the summer and moving into next year.”
The Gophers have already signed three players for next season — Josh Martin, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris — but Pitino still has three scholarships. He isn’t sure how he’ll use the remaining scholarships, but Pitino doesn’t plan to give those spots away if he can’t find the right players.
“That’s hard to say; we’ve got to find the best fit,” Pitino said. “We found DeAndre Mathieu in April. We found Joey King in April, Malik [Smith] even, I was coaching him last year. But there’s always opportunities to add good pieces to the puzzle, so we’ll keep every option open and we’re still very much actively recruiting for that late signing period.”
Pitino said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to go the junior college route like he did with Morris, who played at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. Pitino believed Morris’ signing was critical with the loss of senior forward Austin Hollins. It would have left freshman Daquein McNeil as the only small forward on the roster.
“Certainly we could play small if we had to, but Squirrel was that necessary right-away guy,” Pitino said. “Other than that I don’t think it’s necessary, because we’ve got two senior centers [Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker].
Dre Hollins update
While junior guard Andre Hollins missed only two games due to an ankle injury, Pitino never thought Hollins was fully healthy the rest of the season.
He hurt his left ankle 16 seconds into the Gophers’ 81-68 victory over Wisconsin on Jan. 22 and returned two weeks later against Purdue. Hollins shot 41.3 percent from the floor before the injury and 34.7 percent after.
Along with the ankle, Pitino said Hollins, who averaged 13.6 points and 3.5 rebounds, has bad hips and will likely get checked out so he can be ready physically next season.
“When he gets right physically then mentally he’s going to feel better,” Pitino said. “I think that was his biggest thing more than anything and maybe we’ll check in this week with the doctors to see if the hip is an issue and go from there. I don’t worry about him moving forward. I think he’s going to have a huge senior year.”