Sunday night, just like every other game night this season, Reggie Lynch and Davonte Fitzgerald sat on the sideline, eligible only for the unofficial bench cheer squad.
But if the pair of Univerisy of Minnesota transfer big men have their wish, they’ll still be a part of the on-court product.
The frontcourt players that are eligible are mostly young and raw in the cases of sophomore centers Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhou and freshman forward Jordan Murphy, or limited in size and rebounding ability in the case of Joey King.
Lynch and Fitzgerald could greatly benefit that corps by joining it, but for now, they’re focusing on helping to improve it from the outside.
“We’re experienced,” said the 6-9 Lynch, who transferred from Illinois State. “We’re from really good conferences and we know how to play – so us bringing that to practices and making Bakary and Gaston and Joey King better at those positions, that will really help.
“That’s the only role I have. I can’t play, so I’ve got to make the team better. The grand goal is just winning games and individual improvement as well.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that every moment of the pair’s redshirt seasons will be joyful. Lynch pointed out that this year will be his first year not playing a game since he started playing basketball as a tot. The 6-8 Fitzgerald, who transferred from Texas A&M after his role diminished in his sophomore season, will see that playing time shrink from little to none.
“I think I’m going to be very anxious,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just to try and get stronger and staying healthy so when it’s time to get back out there, I have all the confidence I need to perform the way I need to perform.
“I’m anxious, I’m ready to just get back out there, but I know this year is going to be huge in the way I attack it. It’s going to really help me the next two years.”
Fitzgerald was seen limping on the court in last weekend’s team scrimmage, a development coach Richard Pitino said he’d look into.
“We don’t need any more injuries,” he said then.
Although the pair won’t be able to compete, it’s clear Pitino values their contributions. Lynch brings the big post presence that the Gophers will face throughout the league this season and who will change the look of their frontcourt a year from now. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, could be the best player on the team, Pitino has said. He calls Fitzgerald the “adult” of the team, comparing him to recent graduate Austin Hollins.
“When you have two really good ones, you want to throw them into practice, but then you know ‘OK they’re not playing this year’” Pitino said of his transfers. “You get excited about playing certain lineups, sometimes, you think ‘Oh, this might be really good next year.’ That’s a little bit of a challenge. But we’re getting really close down to some games. We’ve got to lock in on those guys that are eligible this year and certainly individual instruction with the transfers and so on.
“I think there is a lot to be excited about in the future but I’m really excited about this team right now as well.”
In the meantime, Lynch – a shot-blocking specialist and solid post scorer – will be working on his lateral quickness on the perimeter to become more versatile and thrive in a stronger Big Ten conference. Fitzgerald is focusing on a lot of the same, as well as getting better at driving into the lane and passing out to teammates.
“I know the Big Ten has a lot more skilled players, so it’s going to be a challenge, defending a lot of guys that are more skilled,” Fitzgerald said. “I know I’m going to have to work on that because I’ve got the strength and the length to defend a lot of players.”
As they get better, they hope, so will the team they’ll watch from the sidelines. And perhaps most importantly, they’ll do it together, working out as a pair and hanging in Minneapolis when the team travels for road trips.
“If it was just me being the only transfer I would have probably been kind of lonely,” Lynch said. “But it’s good to have another player who is the same year and in the same position as me. We’re good friends and we’re relatable friends. We don’t room together, but we’re a staircase away.”