There isn’t a coach Jamal Mashburn Jr. would rather play for in college than Richard Pitino. That’s why the four-star Brewster Academy (N.H.) guard was excited to hear last week Pitino would be returning with the Gophers next season.
Mashburn and Pitino have a family history with their fathers teaming up as star player and coach at the University of Kentucky in the early 1990s.
The younger Mashburn, who earned first team All-New England Prep School Class AAA honors this year, is joined in the Gophers' 2020 recruiting class by four-star Chicago Heights Bloom forward Martice Mitchell.
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune recently, Mashburn shared his thoughts on this season for Pitino and the Gophers, his senior year being cut short by the virus crisis, his potential role as a freshman and more.
Q: How were you affected by the Coronavirus cancellations in the world of sports last week?
A: We were actually at the National Prep Showcase [in Connecticut]. We were in the championship game, but we had to call it quits. We were able to play two games before it was cancelled. We were named co-champions with Putnam Science Academy (Conn.). It was really good to play with the guys. We came together in the end. I’m sad we couldn’t [play for the national title], because I know we could have won. Just those last two games being wins, I’m glad it ended on a positive note. Now, it’s time to take the next step.
Q: What was your senior season experience like with Brewster Academy?
A: As far as the overall season, I felt like individually I did well. We obviously have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things on the floor. That’s what Brewster is. We bring a lot of talented guys together. We try to get better competing against each other in practice. Just to get better is the main goal. Try to get better for the next level. Overall, it was a very good year. A very successful year.
Q: What did you work on improving in your game the most this season?
A: This year, I think my defense has taken a big leap. Being able to make certain reads and on and off the ball defense. Just reading the game, I’ve gotten a lot better. The game has slowed down for me, especially being a lead guard. That’s something that I improved on.
Q: From watching your games, it seems you were attacking the basket more this year. Was that your intent?
A: Yeah. One of the things I wanted coming into this year was work on finishing better around the basket. Just playmaking. Those are things I can do, but people were kind of questioning. I just wanted to try to add more pieces to my game and bring it all together.
Q: The Gophers had some big wins, but they also struggled in close games at the end this season. What are your thoughts on Pitino’s team?
A: I see a team with talent [and youth]. I’ve been around the guys for some time. I see that there’s potential. There are things that can be done [to get better]. I’m going to come in and work my butt off, as I always do. I’m ready to get going. I see a coach who lets his players play with freedom. I’m just excited to get there. Really excited.
Q: Sophomore point guard Marcus Carr had an All-Big Ten season. How do you think you’ll play with him as a freshman?
A: I’ve played with other great guards. I think we’ll mix well together. It will be a pretty dangerous combo. Marcus is a hell of a player. I think it will be a great fit, especially because he needs another ball hander. He needs somebody else who can take the load off. We can play off each other. I think it will be very good.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard that Pitino will be back with the Gophers next season?
A: I’m excited. I had no question that they wouldn’t bring him back. He’s a great coach, a young coach and he has a young team. I’m excited, because he’s the person I built a connection with at an early age in my recruiting process. He’s a big part of why I’m going there. I wouldn’t want any other coaching staff to be there. I’m really happy that he’s going to be back next year.
Q: How excited are you to try to help the Gophers get back to the NCAA tournament next season?
A: I’m ecstatic. It’s a dream to play in the NCAA tournament. Being in March Madness. I’m sad I couldn’t see it this year [as a fan]. I’m excited for next year. Can’t wait to get there.