Gophers wing Wally Ellenson was well aware of the cons when he fought for giving up his redshirt and playing this season.
After all, the freshman had already missed 11 games – all but two games of the non-conference schedule – with a broken left hand. He would be tossed into the ring just as the Gophers started the tough and gritty Big Ten schedule. And he would effectively lose his full four years of eligibility, which he could have had if he sat out this season.
No matter. In getting off to an exciting start, the Gophers had proven they could be something this season and Ellenson just wanted to be involved.
“I definitely just wanted to play,” he said. “I want to play the game. I have bigger goals and dreams, like I want to go to the NBA and I just didn’t want to be in college for five years.”
He talked with coach Tubby Smith, who ultimately agreed to let the freshman play even though he couldn’t guarantee how many minutes the wing would get with such a deep squad this season. In Minnesota’s game against South Dakota State, Ellenson made his debut, playing four minutes and getting his first point on a free throw. In the second half of the Lafayette blowout, the Wisconsin native played 15 minutes, getting a dunk and a hitting a three-pointer.
But against Michigan State in the league opener, Ellenson didn’t play at all. The freshman isn’t worried, though.
“I feel like I can get those minutes, I can earn them,” he said. “But it’s really up to coach and my shot. I’m going to hit my shot and its just keep working on it every day in practice.”
Smith seemed prepared to redshirt Ellenson at the beginning of the year, and he did make that decision with the team’s other freshman, Charles Buggs. But it makes sense that the coach would take Ellenson’s opinion into such heavy consideration with the freshman’s brother, Henry, at the top of the Gophers’ wish list for 2015.
Ellenson might be getting a baptism by fire in league play, but so far he’s not concerned, and is simply enjoying being a part of this team.
“I guess it will be good, because all I’ll know will be Big Ten, so I’ll just play up to that competition and feel that out,” he said. “It’s so fun. The guys are great. The locker room is just a great experience. Everyone is happy, excited, we know we have a great team, we’re going to have a great season and we just want to see how far we can go.”
- Gophers’ Sunday opponent, Northwestern hasn’t been on the best steak lately – their best player, Drew Crawford is out for the season with a dislocated elbow. And last night, the Wildcats started out their Big Ten season by getting absolutely dominated on their home court by Michigan. But Rodney Williams knows not to overlook Northwestern, whose Princeton-style offense gives the Gophers a different look than they’ve seen thus far, and their 1-3-1 defensive zone has given Minnesota plenty of problems in the past. “You’ve got to come prepared every time,” Williams said. “You’ve got to watch a lot of film on them. Their offense is, it’s a different offense, man. They’ll back-door you all day. And that 1-3-1 is real tough to score on. We’ve got a good game plan and hopefully we can come out and execute on Sunday.”
- Mo Walker, who had been dealing with a sore shoulder for a week or so, is mostly back to normal, Smith said on Friday. “He’s been in contact, so I haven’t had any … problems,” Smith said. “He’s been getting treatment, so I think he’s feeling a lot better.”
- Smith indicated that the shorter bench we saw against Michigan State in the second half could be typical going forward, with the starters playing more. “We’re going to try to stick with those guys and they’re probably going to log those types of minutes,” he said.