The Gophers named three captains on Thursday with Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy and Akeem Springs. 


But Mason is not only the leading scorer returning but he's arguably the team's most important player.

That's why it was critical for Minnesota to get the junior point guard back in practice after missing last week's exhibition game against Bemidji State with a concussion. Mason will play in Friday's opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Thursday.

"He came back Wednesday full contact," Pitino said. "He looked good yesterday."

Mason said he suffered the concussion in practice a week ago when he ran into an elbow from junior center Bakary Konate.

"It was my first concussion," he said. "The first two or three days I was out of it, but I felt i was good after that. But obviously they take the concussion protocol pretty serious. I had to go through all of the steps."

-- Minnesota’s players voted on captains Wednesday. Mason and Murphy were expected to be named since they represented the Gophers at Big Ten Media Day this year. Springs, a senior graduate transfer from UW-Milwaukee, was surprised.

“I didn’t vote for myself,” Springs said. “I voted for one of the other guys. So I thought it would be them. It definitely surprised me. It’s humbling to know my teammates think that much of me.”

Pitino played against Louisiana-Lafayette when he was a first-year Florida International coach in 2013-14. The Ragin’ Cajun were led then by current Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton.

“I was in the Sun Belt, so I know that’s a real good program,” he said. “That’s a program that’s been in the postseason the last three years. They’ve had two pros in Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long (Philadelphia 76ers). Two NBA players. They’re always going to have really good talent.”