Around the 15-minute mark in the second half of a 77-52 rout by Northwestern on Saturday, the University of Minnesota men's basketball team was practically buried -- down by 14 at that point -- and clearly floundering.
As most games go, no one was good and no one was all bad. But in that moment, one of the bright spots was freshman Dupree McBrayer.
There he was, driving at the hoop, drawing fouls and playing with energy despite the spiritless situation. From 14:02 to 10:26, McBrayer got to the line six times (making four shots) and added a layup.
That energy and relentlessness are a couple of the reasons coach Richard Pitino is so high on the the 6-4 guard from Queens, NY and calls him one of his "toughest" players. McBrayer's struggles from three-point range have been well documented and have been a problem, early. But in spite of all the bricks, McBrayer seems unflappable. He keeps shooting, he keeps attacking and he's one of the few players on the team who rarely hangs his head.
Some bits from a recent conversation with McBrayer:
On his confidence in his three-point shooting, despite hitting just three of 26 (11.5 percent):
"Thanks to Coach P, he keeps that confidence within me. I just try to keep playing hard, try to take easy, open shots. They’re going to go in one day so I’m not going to stop shooting, I’m just going to keep trying until they go in. [When he sees one go in] it’s kind of like a sigh of relief. But it’s giving me confidence, let’s hit another one or let’s get to the basket, let’s get to the free-throw line. That’s the way I try to get started and put some points on the board to help the team."
On Pitino's trust in him and belief in his potential:
"He has trust in me even though I’m a freshman and I make little freshman mistakes, he still has trust in me. That’s big, I think that boosts my confidence even more ...I’m a guard who can get downhill, get others involved, I can rebound, I play defense. I try to guard the best player, if not, one of the secondary best players and try to lock them up. I just try to do a little bit of everything that way I’m not one-dimensional."
On the size adjustment in the Big Ten as a somewhat undersized (6-4; 180) guard:
"In the Michigan State game, it was real physical. I tried to get down there, and I got on the floor, they pushed me on the floor three or four times. Then again it’s are you willing to get dirty. I honestly don’t care how much I weigh it’s just that you’ve got to be a monster to get in there. In the offseason, I know my weight will go up and I’ll be ready ...it’s way different. At first I was like ‘Aw man.’ But a couple games later, I was like ‘I’m finally here.’"
On learning from an earlier slump:
"Early on in high school, I went through a slump where I wasn’t really shooting the ball well but then I just had to stay with it. My coach kept telling me to stay with it. And then finally I broke out and then after that, I just became consistent. I just feel like all I have to do is keep working and God is going to bless me and I’ll be able to play great ...I think it was like an eight-game slump where I was playing high competition at St. Pats (St. Patrick's School in New Jersey). And then I finally broke out in the championship game and I had like 25 points and we won the championship. This is different though, and I wish my breakout game would come a lot sooner."
On what he's doing to regain his shot:
"After practice, I just stay and work on my shot, work on my free throws and I’m just gaining confidence in practice so when they do pass me the ball, I’ll be able to knock down the open shot ...Everything feels good, I just feel like I’ve got to get more arc on the ball."