The Gophers men’s basketball team’s young season has been headlined by turmoil and attrition, with the roster shrinking by four players before the third week of December.
Thursday, however, was a day to build back up. The Gophers announced two new additions in international freshman big man Gaston Diedhiou — who was denied admission this summer — as well as 6-3 walk-on guard Mike Lukashewich.
Neither is expected to be a game-changer for Minnesota, which has kept its core intact, but the pair will provide extra depth and insurance in games, as well as two more bodies in practice.
Both will be available to play and practice right away, including in Friday night’s game against Seattle University.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino wasn’t available for comment following the announcement.
Earlier this week, Diedhiou, a 6-9 power forward who most recently played in Spain, retook the English proficiency test that originally prohibited his admission to the university. This time, the school’s Office of Admissions approved the new score.
Diedhiou, originally from Dakar, Senegal, has been living on campus, using the Gophers’ facilities and participating in English-intensive courses, but hasn’t been allowed to work out or practice with the team.
Earlier in the day Thursday, Pitino said the team was waiting to hear about Diedhiou’s eligibility. “Any day now,” the coach said then.
The Gophers were down to only nine scholarship players before Thursday, after freshman forward Josh Martin announced he would transfer a week and a half ago. After Diedhiou’s denial, Minnesota dismissed Illinois State transfer Zach Lofton (who would have redshirted, per NCAA rules) for failing to meet the team’s “expectations and obligations” shortly before the season began. Just before Minnesota chartered to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off, reserve sophomore guard Daquein McNeil, who had been averaging 18.8 minutes a game, was arrested on two counts of felony assault and subsequently suspended indefinitely.
“Guys are dropping and we haven’t made it to Christmas yet,” senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu said after Martin’s departure on Dec. 8.
Martin’s absence made a thin frontcourt thinner. Behind starting power forward Joey King, the Gophers had only one viable option: redshirt 6-9 sophomore Charles Buggs, a talented player with limited game experience.
Fans could see Diedhiou in action as early as Friday, although the coach conceded that the freshman, like fellow international big man Bakary Konate, is raw.
The timing of the decision at least gives Pitino a chance to get Diedhiou minutes in three nonconference games before the start of the grueling Big Ten schedule. Konate, a 6-11 center, has averaged 8.9 minutes in eight games.
“I don’t have a whole lot of expectations for [Diedhiou] right now, immediately,” Pitino said. “That’s what those guys need: playing time.”