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.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Gophers basketball summer series: Daquein McNeil 'could take the biggest jump' next year.

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: July 29, 2014 - 12:10 PM

Ever since he was signed, JUCO transfer Carlos Morris has been the favorite to replace former senior Austin Hollins in the Minnesota starting lineup.

But not so fast, assistant coach Dan McHale said.

Yes, Morris has by all accounts been very impressive in the Gophers' summer workouts.

But so has another guard: Daquein McNeil.

The sophomore, who made headlines with his strong defensive play last year, originally asked Richard Pitino to redshirt his first year. The head coach told him no, believing he could help the team right away. 

That instinct turned out to be right on point, with McNeil becoming one of the pleasant surprise in the heart of the Big Ten schedule -- during which the Gophers, as a team, struggled.

McNeil averaged 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds in 9.7 minutes a game but became somewhat of a defensive specialist while playing multiple positions.

"We just threw him out there," McHale said. "We said 'Play the point guard, play the backup [shooting guard], play the [small forward]. He's such a utility guard ... and he didn't care, he knew all the plays from three different spots. For a freshman, that's pretty good."

McNeil's offensive ability was far behind that of his defense -- he might be the best current defender on the team now that Austin Hollins has left -- but the Gophers staff sees that changing. The Baltimore native has gained muscle and lost weight, McHale said, a combination that should help McNeil use his athleticism more effectively. Gophers fans already saw a playmaker capable getting in the lane and finding guys in transition and in the halfcourt. Now, he's dunking in practice; he's absorbing contact when he goes to the rim. He's gotten stronger and sturdier, aspects that many young prospects underrate until their first season in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, McHale noted. And McNeil has been working steadily on improving his jumpshot. A year ago, the guard connected on 29.4 percent of his attempts from three-point range and 37.5 percent from the field.

"That always was his knock was that he's not a great outside shooter," McHale said. "He's really worked hard on it."

The improvement to this point is great enough to signal that Morris' starting spot is far from locked down. Regardless of what results from the battle of the lineup opening, the Gophers believe this could be a breakout season for McNeil.

"He's worked hard to where it's definitely going to be a challenge [for Morris]," McHale said. "He showed flashes last year ... He's the type of guy that could take the biggest jump."

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia - WP: A. Harang 5 FINAL
Washington - LP: J. Zimmermann 3
Atlanta - LP: S. Marimon 5 FINAL
Toronto - WP: B. Cecil 6
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 12 FINAL
Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez 3
Cleveland - WP: D. Salazar 4 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 2
Cincinnati - LP: H. Bailey 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: C. Martinez 5
San Diego - LP: C. Kimbrel 6 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: Z. Rosscup 7
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 4 FINAL
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 1
Milwaukee - LP: K. Lohse 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 6
Miami - LP: M. Latos 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 5
LA Angels - LP: C. Wilson 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 4
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 9 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi 0
Oakland - WP: J. Hahn 5 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: Y. Ventura 0
Arizona - LP: R. De La Rosa 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: C. Heston 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 3 FINAL
Los Angeles - WP: Z. Greinke 6
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 1 FINAL
Seattle - WP: F. Hernandez 3
Washington 93 FINAL
Toronto 86
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Golden State 106
Milwaukee 91 FINAL
Chicago 103
Dallas 108 FINAL
Houston 118
Minnesota 1 FINAL
St. Louis 4
Detroit 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 5
Pittsburgh 4 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Winnipeg 1 FINAL
Anaheim 2
Houston 1 FINAL
D.C. 1
Orlando City 0 FINAL
Columbus 3
Toronto FC 2 FINAL
FC Dallas 3
Seattle 3 FINAL
Colorado 1
Vancouver FC 1 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 0
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Does it bother you that Tyus Jones chose Duke over Minnesota?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT