Thanks again to colleague Mike Rand for the help getting quotes at Minnesota availability today.
Minnesota forward Joey King hasn’t exactly been the beacon of efficiency lately, and it’s obvious that’s something the senior doesn’t take lightly. Sometimes King will be seen on the court shaking his head or acting visibly frustrated after a mistake or a missed shot. That aggravation is even clearer in the locker room after losses when King often heaps responsibility on himself.
Coach Richard Pitino said on Monday that King’s shooting slump is “stressing him out” but emphasized the team’s effort to take the pressure off.
King still leads the team in scoring with 12.8 points a game, but it’s no longer by the wide margin it was early on in the non-conference schedule. Nate Mason is right behind with 12.6 points and game and Carlos Morris has 11.6 a game. King is has drilled a team-high 29 three-pointers and is shooting 42.6 percent from that range, but in the last seven games, King has hit just seven threes in 29 attempts, good for 24.1 percent.
“I think it’s bothering him,” Pitino said. “Because I think that he puts a lot of pressure on himself to score …nobody’s told him he has to do that to help us win. He knows he’s such a good shooter that he thinks he can bring value with those things.
“I think he needs to understand that he brings value in a lot of other ways. If he gets an open shot, shoot it. If he makes it 45 percent of the time, that’s still pretty good.”
Pitino said while his two seniors – King and Morris – are not naturally vocal leaders, they’ve both gained the respect of teammates, which he says is “the most important thing.”
But in the absence of the chatter, he pinpoints two youngsters – freshmen, in fact – that have stepped up in that regard.
Freshmen forward Jordan Murphy and guard Kevin Dorsey have “kind of separated themselves” that way, Pitino said on Monday, a trend that’s becoming more evident in games when one of the two players will be seen talking on defense, putting their arms around teammates after a play or pulling someone over for a few words. After sophomore Bakary Konate picked up a bad foul when he ducked into the post with his elbow, I saw Murphy pull on the frustrated player’s arm halfway across the court until he could get a couple words in. Konate looked as confident as he has all year after that, making his next three shots, the only others he would take.
With the team trying to find some sort of chemistry that will help the Gophers be competitive a little more often, developments such as these are big ones.
“I feel like I can most definitely be one of the leaders on this team, one of the more vocal guys on this team,” Dorsey said. “Me being a point guard, I have to be vocal anyway and just taking the extra step is big for me, it’s something I’ve been trying to do.”
Next man up
Pitino had some very complementary words for transfer center Reggie Lynch, who is sitting out this year due to NCAA rules, on Monday, when commenting on the kind of competition Konate gets from him in practice.
“I believe Reggie can be an all-league center, I really do,” Pitino said. “I think Reggie has got a chance to play in the NBA. He’s a little undersized and his motor doesn’t necessarily run great, but he catches everything and he will score 50-some percent of the time when he’s down there. And he is very, very hard to guard.”
Pitino said Konate is going up against current backup center Gaston Diedhiou in practice more often, given that the pair need a lot of work, but that the staff is mindful that Illinois State transfer Lynch – who led the country in block percentage last year – and Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald need to get game-ready for next year as well.
“Bakary is totally different, but he’s got to approach it as ‘He’s going to make me better every single day,’” Pitino said of Lynch.