For the first time since the preseason (and I was out of town for the spontaneous decision), Gophers coach Richard Pitino invited the media to hang out for about 40 minutes of practice after our usual day-before-games interviews.
It’s also the first time he’s allowed such access during the regular season, much less the meaty Big Ten schedule. I don’t know what brought the change of pace – Pitino joked that he just wanted us to work later; shows what he knows! – but I like it. It was a fun, different environment to see the guys in.
Of course, we got kicked out before the real preparation for Purdue (Wednesday at Williams Arena, 8 p.m., BTN) but we still got a chance to catch a handful of drills and see some guys in action that we normally don’t get to (ahem, transfer Reggie Lynch).
A couple notes:
*Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to watch Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald. The 6-8 forward had class at the time and thus missed practice, which was at an abnormally late time on Tuesday. Pitino did mention casually that he thinks Fitzgerald could be the teams best shooter next year.
*After the intial stretches, the team split into guards and bigs. The guards did catch-and-shoot drills and practiced pulling up for jumpers. The bigs mostly did post drills and worked on setting picks.
*Next up, the Gophers broke into spirited three-on-three scrimmages, rotating different players in on every possession for a high-intensity, 8-minute non-stop game.
*Pitino used transfer center Reggie Lynch to simulate Purdue big man, senior A.J. Hammons in a defensive and rebounding drill. The Gophers focused on boxing out on one end of the court with a bubble on the rim, then scoring on the other end. When Lynch’s Gold team had the ball, getting the ball inside to him was often the focus, with Maroon instructed to collapse in on him once he got a pass. Lynch still managed to score a few times. “We didn’t shrink that enough!” Pitino yelled once. “That’s AJ Hammons out there.”
*There wasn't a lot of talking amongst the players -- although sophomore Nate Mason got on teammates a couple of times -- but the drills had plenty of intensity to them, with lots of banging, floor diving, and at least one shove.
*Pitino conducted practice with a whistle around his neck – calling travels, fouls, stopping play whenever one of his players made a miscue.
*The Gophers definitely have a different look than we’re used to seeing when Lynch is on the floor. In the small bits we got to watch, the 6-10 intimidation factor displayed a couple moves in getting to the basket, some bounce on the boards and a couple times, the blocking skills he was so known for coming in. He made it look easy a couple times. He’ll be fun to watch and change the game for Minnesota’s frontcourt. Pitino is clearly very excited about Lynch's potential.