Earlier this summer, Minnesota assistant coach Dan McHale had a message for Joey King.
He needed to work on his lateral quickness.
As usual, the directive was met with a stare, and very few words.
An hour later, McHale spotted King in the gym, training rubber bands looped around his ankles, doing slides.
"He is a kid that is coachable," McHale said of the junior-to-be forward. "Joey King is our hard hat guy."
Head coach Richard Pitino and the rest of the staff have sited physical and mental toughness as the team's biggest weaknesses a year ago. King, McHale said, is the epitome of how they want the team to be. He works hard. He's thick-skinned. He reads and understands the scouting reports as well as anyone. And he's not afraid to sacrifice his body in the name of competition.
"He would dive off the stage of the Barn if you asked him to," McHale said."
This summer, King has been working on getting quicker while also putting on bulk. He's added about 20 pounds since last fall, according to strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown. Initially, the staff was concerned the mass would slow him down further; instead it's actually increased his vertical -- these days, King is dunking a lot more in practice. Even so, the staff knows that's not very realistic to expect. Two weeks ago, Pitino told a story about throwing a ball off the backboard for super athletic freshman Josh Martin to fling in the bucket. Afterwards, King wanted his turn.
"I said 'No, Joey,'" Pitino joked. "That's not your game."
The other major project of the summer for King is improving his ballhandling.
"We want to put him in situations where he can handle it and then getting his shot off quicker," McHale said.
One thing the team isn't giving a huge focus to is King's fouling proclivity. A year ago, he had 101 fouls -- averaging 2.7 a game -- which was second only to center Elliott Eliason. But the coaches don't want to take away the aggressiveness that makes King who he is.
"As frustrated as we got in the Florida State game when we were shorthanded and told him not to foul (and he had four), you can't do anything about it," McHale said. "The kid just plays so hard. He plays harder than anyone, he has the ultimate chip on his shoulder and he knows how appreciative he is to play for Minnesota."