When Richard Pitino looked to his bench last season, the Gophers just didn’t have many options to give starting point guard Marcus Carr a breather.

So they basically didn’t take him off the floor.

Carr led the Big Ten by playing all but two minutes of an entire 40-minute game on average in conference play. Things could be different this season after the Gophers added former four-star recruit Jamal Mashburn Jr., who will play backup point guard and be the U freshman expected to make the biggest impact.

“Doesn’t look like a freshman out there at all,” Pitino said about Mashburn in practice. “He’s going to make me figure out ways to play him. And that’s a good thing.”

Pitino believes Mashburn, a Miami native, is similar to former Gophers point guard Nate Mason “in a lot of ways.” Mason was an underrated recruit out of Florida who ended his Gophers career second in assists (512) and sixth in points (1,731) in school history.

“Just tough, physical and competitive,” Pitino said of Mashburn. “Has a really good midrange game, defends.”

In 2014-15, Pitino’s second season, Mason was a tough and confident freshman who wasn’t afraid to challenge the older guards in the program in practice. Mashburn is already in great shape, pushing upperclassmen such as Carr and Gabe Kalscheur, both juniors. Pitino called Mashburn a “fearless competitor” who never gets tired.

Mashburn’s arrival at Minnesota, of course, comes with a built-in story line of two family reunions. One of the best college basketball teams from the 1990s featured Rick Pitino coaching Jamal Mashburn to a Final four at Kentucky. Now their sons are together with the Gophers.

“He’s very, very undervalued because of the Rick Pitino-Jamal Mashburn connection,” Pitino said. “I think people neglect how good he really is because of that. And that’s OK. He’ll let his play do the talking.”

The younger Mashburn took his first unofficial visit in 2017 to see Rick Pitino at Louisville, earning a scholarship offer. But a recruiting scandal not involving Mashburn cost the elder Pitino his job and ended the chance he’d coach Mashburn’s son, too. Since then, Minnesota turned into a favorite landing spot. Richard Pitino had always known Mashburn’s son could play. He refers to him not as Jamal Jr. but “Jay.”

“I have a great opportunity to flourish at the point-guard position and have a chance to win,” Mashburn said about why he picked the Gophers over California and Wake Forest. “[Richard Pitino] is the person I built a connection with at an early age in my recruiting process.”

Despite lacking the height of his father, a 6-foot-8 do-it-all forward who played 11 years in the NBA, the younger Mashburn is a powerfully built 6-2 combo guard able to hit consistently from NBA three-point range and score at the basket on bigger defenders with his athleticism and strong frame.

In his senior year at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., Mashburn improved his leadership and facilitating. He led his team to the National Prep Showcase title game in Connecticut before the pandemic hit. The tournament annually crowns the prep school national champion.

With safety concerns over COVID-19 this summer, Mashburn chose to remain in Miami training with his father. Once he finally arrived in September, he quickly established himself ahead of fellow talented freshmen Martice Mitchell and David Mutaf, who need more development physically.

Carr, an All-Big Ten third-team guard last season, returns with Kalscheur and sophomore Tre’ Williams in the backcourt. As far as primary ball-handling duties, Pitino is expected to rely on Carr, Mashburn and Utah transfer Both Gach, if the NCAA grants him a waiver to play immediately.

Mashburn will spell Carr off the bench, but he thinks they both could be a “pretty dangerous combo” playing together, too.

“Marcus is a hell of a player,” Mashburn said. “I think it will be a great fit, especially because he needs another ballhandler. He needs somebody else who can take the load off.”