At no other time in Richard Pitino’s first six seasons as Gophers basketball coach have this many newcomers made their debut for one team: seven.
At no other time in Pitino’s tenure have fans also waited all month to get their first look at Pitino’s team, either.
Typically, there would be a fan fest with an intrasquad scrimmage and autograph session earlier in October. That annual event was canceled for the first time because of scheduling conflicts.
So, Monday’s exhibition game vs. Southwest Minnesota State at Williams Arena is part meet-and-greet session and part regular-season warmup for Pitino’s new-look basketball team.
Transfers Marcus Carr, Payton Willis and Alihan Demir are newcomers in the starting lineup. Freshmen Tre’ Williams, Isaiah Ihnen, Bryan Greenlee and Sam Freeman are newcomers off the bench.
“Obviously, a lot of new guys,” Pitino said. “We have good days, we have bad days, and that’s to be expected. But there’s a competitiveness to this team. There’s a toughness to this team that I like.”
Carr and Willis are the only newcomers who were on the team last season, sitting out after transferring from Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt, respectively. They’ll be asked to replace star guard Amir Coffey, who left early for the NBA.
Demir, a 6-foot-9 senior, joined the Gophers during the summer as a graduate transfer from Drexel. He’s asked to help replace All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy.
Demir and forward Michael Hurt are the only seniors on the roster with experience.
“This team does not have a lot of upperclassmen,” Pitino said. “I said to them the other day, ‘If I’m constantly talking about how young we are, that probably means we’re losing.’ That’s the bottom line, if I’m constantly talking about leadership that probably means the young guys are sitting back on their hands. We’re young, so what. Nobody cares.”