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Murphy, McBrayer named Gophers men's basketball captains

Being named team captain is often an honor bestowed upon seniors.

Still, the Gophers men’s basketball team never had a pair of four-year players as captains under Richard Pitino. Not until Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer were selected team captains Wednesday.

Murphy and McBrayer both started their U career on an eight-win team in 2015-16. They were major contributors to an NCAA tournament team as sophomores, and saw the program rise and fall after injuries and off-court issues last season as juniors. They’ve grown through the highs and lows and can pass down advice to their younger teammates this season.

“We’ve been here the longest and we know what to do,” McBrayer said. “We have to take the responsibility to get everything together. Coaches aren’t really talking as much in practice right now. They’re making us talk to the team.”

McBrayer looks forward to embracing the role graduated senior Nate Mason had the last two seasons as a veteran presence on the perimeter. McBrayer and junior Amir Coffey are surrounded by youth in the backcourt with sophomores Isaiah Washington, Marcus Carr and Payton Willis and freshman Gabe Kalscheur.

“Nate had the most experience and knew what to do when we didn’t,” McBrayer said. “Now we have to teach the young guys.”

Murphy is mentoring freshmen Daniel Oturu and Jarvis Omersa to prepare them for the Big Ten grind. And don’t be surprised to see him leading by example and playing with a chip on his shoulder this season. 

On Thursday, the 6-foot-7 two-time All-Big Ten forward was named to the preseason watch list for the Karl Malone Award, given to the nation’s top power forward. That was one of the few preseason lists (CBSSports.com recently ranked Murphy 39th and Coffey 82nd among top 100 college hoops players) that recognized how well he played last season with averages of 16.8 points and 11.3 rebounds and a NCAA-best 24 double-doubles.

“I think it motivates me,” Murphy said last week. “It definitely adds fuel to my fire. It definitely inspires me to do my best this season. Last season was good for me, but I can’t let any of that affect me going into next season. It’s about winning. It’s about making sure my team is doing good.”

  

Lindsay Whalen likes what she sees from Gophers so far

After two hard weeks of practice, Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen gave her team some time off over the weekend. It was time to heal up some aches and pains.

And, frankly, it was the last time anyone associated with the team will have time off until the season ends. Which, as Whalen said, will be a long time. “Hopefully late March or April,’’ she said Tuesday afternoon.

Much of the practice this week is geared towards the weekend. The team will be a part of the Maroon and Gold showcase on campus this Saturday. The Gophers will have an extended scrimmage against their practice team at Williams Arena.

It will be the first time for fans to see the mark Whalen and her staff are making on the team. Fans will see how the rotations are working themselves out, how the transition to a more tenacious person-to-person defense is going.

It’s part of a big day that involves several Gophers teams on campus.

“We’ll do some autographs afterwards,’’ Whalen said. “It should be a good event. We get to do a trial run on some things we want to do this season. We’ll be preparing for Saturday all week.’’

Here are some other items from Whalen’s weekly media briefing:

-- Whalen sounds enthusiastic about the potential of a backcourt featuring Kenisha Bell and Jasmine Brunson. Neither are very big – Bell is 5-9, Brunson 5-8 – but both are very quick and both are good with the ball in her hands. They are important in Whalen’s plans for a team that, admittedly, should again be heavily backcourt-based.

“One of their biggest strengths is their quickness,’’ Whalen said. “And their tenacity, both defensively on the ball and in passing lanes and with their ability to create on offense. It will be interesting to see, once we start to play against other teams, how much they’re able to dictate on both sides of the ball.’’

-- Brunson is one of a handful of players whose contribution and playing time should soar this season. Brunson started just one game last year as a sophomore and averaged just 2.9 points and 10.8 minutes per game. Whalen said Brunson has worked hard on her mid-range shot, something that needs to improve. But she and Bell’s quickness should be able to stress defenses and open things up for their teammates.

-- Destiny Pitts, last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year, will also see her repertoire grow, according to Whalen. A strong spot-up shooter last year when she hit 37.3 percent of her three-pointers and averaged 13.3 points per game, this year she is being asked to improve her ball-handling so she can take advantage of defenders closing out on her. “Being able to create off the dribble will be really important for her,’’ Whalen said.

-- Also look for more from junior forward Taiye Bello and senior center Annalese Lamke. Bello is an athletic big who will be key to the team’s rebounding and interior defense. Lamke is in great shape and should see a quantum leap in playing time.