Amir Coffey stole a pass near the opponent’s free-throw line Sunday and took off with the ball. After three dribbles, his 6-8 frame cleared midcourt before taking flight for a one-handed slam.
The Gophers sophomore guard drew cheers from the announced crowd of 2,381 in attendance for a charity game against Wisconsin-Green Bay at Maturi Pavilion. The homegrown star put on a show for the fans who paid $10 a ticket to raise money for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.
In the last warmup before Friday’s season opener against USC Upstate, Gophers coach Richard Pitino put together an event to support a great cause. It also gave players like Coffey a chance to give everyone a glimpse of how big of a jump he could make this season.
Last year’s top recruit, Coffey had 26 points and five assists to lead the No. 15 Gophers to a 115-86 victory against Green Bay, a Division I team from the Horizon League. This season’s best recruit, Isaiah Washington, finished with 24 points and six assists.
“I keep telling him you’re a big guard who can pass, but you’re also a big guard who can score,” Pitino said. “We need you to score. You’re a good scorer. The only knock on Amir that everyone says is sometimes he’s not assertive enough.”
Four other players scored in double figures Sunday: Bakary Konate (10 points), Nate Mason (15 points), Jordan Murphy (12 points and 10 rebounds) and Jamir Harris (13 points).
Coffey isn’t always aggressive offensively. The former Hopkins standout took only two shots in a 91-79 closed scrimmage victory against Creighton last month. He had 10 points in Thursday’s 106-58 win against Division II Concordia (St. Paul).
Sometimes Coffey wants to get his teammates involved first. As one of the Gophers’ best passers, he led the team with eight assists vs. Creighton and six vs. Concordia. He often likes to let the game come to him and score after others get the ball. Not against Green Bay.
On Sunday, Coffey scored the first basket of the game on a hard driving layup. The Gophers led 17-5 to open and Coffey had nine points in the first 5 ½ minutes before his first break.
“Coaches told me to be aggressive,” said Coffey, who went 10-for-15 from the field and 5-for-7 from the foul line in 23 minutes. “So I just tried to make plays tonight and tried to stay aggressive throughout the game. It’s just something I’ve been working on in practice. Not taking possessions off and getting out and running.”
Coffey lived up to the hype, earning All-Big Ten freshman honors last season. He was named to the conference’s all-preseason team with Nate Mason last month.
After adding 10 pounds in the offseason, Coffey is stronger with the ball and appears more confident playing in Pitino’s system. When he got into the open floor, Phoenix players just stayed out of his way. The Gophers had 27 fast-break points and 11 dunks, including four from Coffey.
No matter how easily he scored, Coffey still looked for his teammates. His biggest strength is his vision coming off the pick-and-roll. Early in the second half, Konate was on the receiving end of one of his pinpoint drop-off passes for a slam.
If the Gophers take another step forward this year, Coffey’s aggressiveness will be one of the reasons why.
“He’s had a really, really productive summer and fall,” Pitino said. “And I think he’s ready and primed for a really good year.”