This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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Pitino has a new comfort level in second year: some thoughts from Redwood Falls

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: June 5, 2014 - 11:40 AM

It's possible Richard Pitino has never been uncomfortable behind a podium.

Growing up the kid of a legend -- current Louisville coach Rick Pitino -- the 31-year-old coach has been around the bright lights of college basketball since he was an infant.

But Tuesday, at a Gopher Road Trip stop in Redwood Falls, the Minnesota coach, now in his second year, displayed a new level of ease in talking to the 300-some locals that showed up to hear him and other coaches from the university speak.

This year he's no longer a newbie; he has a system in place; he knows the returning players well, the others he's taken time to recruit; he has a grasp on the program.

"It was a lot more fun for me to speak this year than it was last year because I was just making everything up last year," he joked at the end of his ten-minute talk in the Redwood Area Community Center meeting room, jammed Gophers fans decked in maroon and gold.

Pitino's topics ranged from past to future, lauding the team's NIT championship run and then looking ahead to next year's new additions and aspects he hopes to change. Afterward, we caught up on a few more items.

"I'm excited that this is not another first year," he said. "Year two is always, not easier, but certainly your head stops spinning as much ... The expectations will certainly be higher next year and we're looking forward to that. Because that's a great challenge that we feel we can live up to."

Some notes and thoughts from Pitino:

*Andre Hollins will likely avoid hip surgery this offseason. The combo guard had considered a procedure after tweaking a hip late in the season while rehabbing from a sprained left ankle. "I don't think it's necessary," Pitino said. "He feels better. The biggest thing is him getting healthy. He has bad hips. When he hurt his ankle, it made it even worse because he was favoring it." The coach said Hollins has been working with strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown on a slightly different offseason program to strengthen his joints and hips.

*When he took the job, Pitino sold an uptempo brand of basketball, much like the version he conducted at Florida International in his first season as a head coach. Ultimately, Minnesota ranked ninth in the Big Ten in adjusted tempo (64.8) and 257th nationally. "I don't really think we really played the way I wanted to play this year," Pitino said. "Hopefully we can get faster, more athletic, more aggressive. My first year at FIU, we had a really athletic team, we were eighth in the country in steals, and that's something I want to get back to, top ten in steals ... I think with this years's class, we are certainly moving toward that."

*Pitino mentioned the team's academic achievements, specifically noting the squad-wide 981 (out of 1,000) Academic Progress Rate (APR) score and Joey King's 4.0 grade point average last season. "They're the type of guys I would let babysit my daughter," the coach said. "I don't know about my six-week-old, but maybe my daughter ... They made me a better coach. They pushed me and allowed me to grow. Because I'm still young and I've still got a long way to go as basketball coach."

*The only other new non-conference scheduling piece is the addition of UNC-Wilmington, which will travel to Minnesota on Dec. 27. The matchup will bring a pair of familiar faces. New head coach Kevin Keatts worked alongside the younger Pitino as an assistant on Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville. New assistant, Casey Stanley, worked as a video coordinator on Minnesota's staff last season. Other announced non-conference items include the season opener vs. Louisville in Puerto Rico, the NIT Season Tip-Off (the field includes St. John's, Georgia and Gonzaga) at Madison Square Garden, and a trip to Wake Forest for the Big Ten - ACC Challenge.

*Incoming recruits Carlos "Squirrel" Morris and Zach Lofton are already on campus. The other four new additions -- all freshmen -- will arrive later this month. Teams are allowed to start summer practices on June 16 and can work out for two hours per week after that.

Pitino on the recruits:

Gaston Diediou -- "Physical, physical kid, great athlete, will play as if every possession he plays is his last possession of basketball. We need guys like him: tough, athletic, above-the-rim type guy. He fits what we're trying to do."

Bakary Konate -- "I think his basketball is far ahead of him. Every time I ask him how he's doing, he says 'Always great coach.' It's my favorite response ever."

Carlos Morris -- "I don't know why his nickname is Squirrel and I don't care. I never want to know why. He's probably the one guy we need to come in and make an impact right away like DeAndre Mathieu did for us this year because we lose Austin Hollins. I thought he was one of the better players in all of junior college last year. Junior College All-American and he has the opportunity to really be handed the ball at that spot and score a lot of points for us. He's got that type of ability."

Josh Martin -- "The Twitter sensation, all he ever does is tweet 50 times a day. You guys will love him. Not only on the court but off the court. He's got an unbelievable personality. He plays with great enthusiasm on the court and he's much like DeAndre Mathieu was this year -- not the same type of player -- but he'll be that type of high energy player on the court. He tries to dunk everything. He tries to break every backboard that he tries to dunk on. It's just the way he is. And he was another guy that we beat out some really good programs for. And he fits our style of play."

Nate Mason -- "Beat out some really really good schools for him ... he decided to come up here because he liked our style of play, he liked our brand of basketball that we play with our guards. He's a little bit like Andre Hollins, he can play a couple of different positions."

Zach Lofton -- "I'm not saying he will be our best player, but he's got the most talent of anybody in our basketball program. We worked him out when he came to visit and it wasn't even close. He's got size, he's got the skill, he's got the ability ... if he puts it all together he could be really, really special for us."


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