Graduate transfers aren’t easy to land for teams coming off losing seasons, especially players who can become double-figure scorers in a major conference.
That’s why senior Akeem Springs is so valuable to the Gophers.
Entering Wednesday’s 101-89 two-overtime victory over Iowa, the 6-4 guard was third on the team in scoring in Big Ten play, while averaging 17 points on 46 percent shooting from three-point range in four games since being inserted into the starting lineup Jan. 21 against Wisconsin. He scored another 17 against the Hawkeyes, making five of eight three-point attempts.
Springs’ role change didn’t immediately translate to wins until Saturday’s 68-59 victory at Illinois stopped Minnesota’s five-game losing streak. But his leadership rubbed off on his younger teammates.
“I thought we were going to be young,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We thought Akeem would be a perfect bridge to that. He’s shown to be very helpful. We needed to get older. It was extremely important.”
After starting his college career as a reserve at Northern Illinois, Springs transferred and became one of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s top players as a sophomore and junior. He only decided to transfer again for his senior season after Panthers coach Rob Jeter was fired last March.
After taking an official visit to the University of Mississippi last spring, Springs felt like committing to the program, especially since he had family nearby. But the Waukegan, Ill., native still took a trip to see the Gophers — and he felt an even stronger bond with the team.
“It was just the way the team made me feel,” he said. “When some things happened, my grandmother passed and my sister got diagnosed with what they thought was cancer again, just the way the coaching staff and [the players] reached out to me — it felt like home.”
After passing a full course load over the summer to graduate, Springs joined the Gophers in the fall for the first time. Once the adjustment period coming off the bench was over, he’s thrived in a starting role and hopes he can lead the team into the NCAA tournament in his final season.
“I want to win some games in the [NCAA] tournament,” Springs said. “Just have a great last year. As I reflect on all my years in college, I just want to make this the best one.”
The legendary radio voice of the Gophers Ray Christensen was honored with a banner and moment of silence before Wednesday’s game. Christensen, who broadcast Gophers football and basketball games for 50 years through the 2000-01 basketball season, died Sunday.