Several weeks ago, Richard Pitino surveyed his players, wanting to get a sense of the confidence his team felt.

"How many of you think you're going to the NBA?" the Gophers coach asked.

The unsure nature of the group was evident. But one hand flew up right away.

Carlos Morris, a junior college transfer, was ready to take on the next stage and what came after.

"He's a gamer," Pitino said of his starting small forward at the start of the season. "He's one of those guys that when the lights come on, he puts the ball in the basket in a very unorthodox way. And we need that."

The first three weeks of the season have shown that the lanky playmaker from Apalachicola, Fla., has a long ways to go.

An eager scorer, Morris isn't the most efficient player and doesn't always take the smartest shots. As an aggressive driver, he can be a bit turnover prone. He's still adapting to his new responsibilities in boxing out, rebounding and packing on the pounds that will allow him to play in the meaty Big Ten.

But already, Morris' athleticism is paying dividends for Minnesota. Through eight games, he is averaging 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and two steals a game.

"He is really confident," Pitino said. "He believes that he knows the game and sometimes to a fault. He doesn't know it as well as he thinks he does. But he is a smart kid. … I'd rather have a very confident kid than a guy who doesn't believe he can do it."

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about Morris — who was highly recruited after high school, but chose a junior college out of academic necessity — is that he doesn't seem close to reaching his potential.

Long and agile with quick feet and a big wingspan, Morris — nicknamed "Squirrel" from childhood because his grandfather thought he moved like one — has a knack for slithering past defenders and getting to the basket.

That's what drives Pitino so crazy about Morris' penchant for tossing up rushed, contested shots.

"You've got to let him go through it a little bit," Pitino said, shaking his head. "But he can go by anybody. … I don't want him looking at the bench saying 'Should I shoot it, should I not?' I hate that. I want my guys to play with freedom. But with that being said, if you can go by anybody, go by anybody."

In the last three games or so, Morris has gotten better at making those decisions — handing off the ball when he should, shooting when he's open and otherwise doing what he does best: blowing past anyone who stands in his way.

Still, Morris' defensive potential by way of those same physical characteristics is what Pitino — who wants to make his high-pressure defense the team's identity — is most excited about.

Morris had eight steals vs. Wake Forest, one short of the school record. "I didn't even know that," Morris said after the game, an open-mouthed smile pulling over his face.

The same night, Morris had a game-high six turnovers, prompting Pitino to jab at Morris, suggesting he nearly got a triple-double.

The transition is still a work in progress for Morris, certainly. In a media availability, Pitino pointed out a moment in the Wake Forest game when Morris brought the ball up the length of the court rather than passing it off to either point guard DeAndre Mathieu or shooting guard Andre Hollins, the primary ballhandlers, as an example of the little things Morris needs to learn.

The shots need to be better, too.

The confidence is great, as long as he keeps it in check.

"In junior college, I could take any shot I wanted, so that was a big transition for me," Morris said. "A lot of shots I don't think are bad shots, but coach P thinks they are."

Because of Minnesota's thin personnel, that schooling will come on the fly.

"A lot of time, with jucos, it takes a year," Pitino said. "We don't have a year with him, just like we didn't have a year with DeAndre Mathieu [last year]. He's got to figure it out right now. Because he's our only true small forward in the program. He's got to figure out a lot of things quickly."