When Gophers guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. looked up at his father in the Williams Arena crowd Saturday afternoon, he didn't need to get much more than a nod to turn his game up a notch.
"We have our own signals ever since AAU ball," said former NBA and Kentucky standout Jamal Mashburn Sr., who was in attendance for his son's game for the first time this season.
The young Mashburn's performance ended up being one of the only bright spots Saturday. He scored a team-high 16 points in Minnesota's 94-63 loss to No. 5-ranked Illinois.
"I played quite a bit of basketball in my day, so it wasn't about the loss," Mashburn Sr. said. "It's about the experience for him. He's getting very valuable experience playing alongside Marcus [Carr]."
Mashburn is blossoming with the extended playing time gained after replacing injured junior guard Gabe Kalscheur in the starting lineup. He led the team in scoring for the third straight game, including in two starts. Earlier in the week, the 6-2, 175-pound Florida native had a career-high 19 points in a 82-72 loss at Maryland.
On Saturday, the Gophers tied the score 19-19 midway through the first half on two Mashburn free throws. His stepmother, Bailey, was cheering next to his father in the crowd.
Even after Illinois pulled away, Mashburn kept competing and scored 12 points in the second half on 5-for-9 shooting from the field.
"Jay is very competitive," Mashburn Sr. said. "He's the type of kid that doesn't run from anything. A part of his recruitment process, we were looking for the best competition in the best conference. That's what the Big Ten and Minnesota offers."
Richard Pitino's father, Rick, coached the elder Mashburn at Kentucky, but the new generation of this connection is making both sons excited as well.
"It's a great opportunity for him," the Gophers coach said. "With Gabe out, he's going to get significant minutes … I'm excited about him. He's tough. He's learning. He's growing."