A few weeks ago, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino was passing through the locker room when he saw redshirt sophomore Charles Buggs posted up in front of the television, watching basketball.
For a second, it caught Pitino off-guard. Why? Buggs -- now in the starting lineup via a mixture of chance and notable improvement -- doesn't enjoy basketball the same way that some players do. He isn't caught up in the bubble talk, and he isn't salivating over the night's best matchups.
But his coach wants him to. At least to some degree. That, Pitino said, will in turn foster more growth from the 6-foot-9, super-athletic wing.
"I don't know if he loves the game," Pitino said recently. "I don't think he hates it but we've got to get him to live in the gym and love the game and realize, hey, he could do this and become pretty good at it."
Buggs, always an underdog to hold this role, entered the starting lineup for one game, vs. Iowa, in January, and then again to stay, at Iowa on Feb. 12, and he has every opportunity to capitalize once again next season. The Gophers' staff -- with three additional scholarships to play with for the 2015 class -- is still recruiting with the hopes the team will be able to bring on board at least one more big wing.
Currently, though, the Gophers' 2015 signees include just three guards and a center.
JUCO transfer Carlos Morris, who started at the 3 position for most of the year, will be a senior, but Pitino has made it clear he's not interested in giving the lanky wing more responsibility until he proves he'll try harder on defense and take fewer contested shots on offense.
Buggs, meanwhile, is beginning to mature on the court, while better taking advantage of the natural talent that has always been within him. When Pitino arrived at Minnesota, he told the media he thought Buggs -- then a redshirt freshman -- had the most potential of any player on the roster. The sophomore has shown he can rebound out of his area, not because he's great at blocking out -- he often forgets -- but because he has long arms and such instinctual leaping ability. He's got a smooth shooting touch and plenty of range. He's got the capability of making 'wow' plays at the basket without much effort sometimes. Eventually, Pitino says, he hopes Buggs will be able to create his own shot and get to the rim at will.
"He did it vs. Wisconsin. He drove on a left wing there, just went by -- I forget who it was -- that's just natural ability. Moving forward with this, that's what we've got to get to ... Buggs has that ability, he just has to figure out how to get there."
Buggs' minutes have gone up from last year, when he played a spot 6.7 a game to 13.4 through 29 games so far this year, and his scoring averages have increased correspondingly, from 1.7 points a game to 3.8. Meanwhile, his defense and general court awareness has improved. He still has a long ways to go before he's considered the favorite to start next year, but Pitino sees progress.
Now the coach wants to see a summer of dedication, and maybe a little more interest in watching other games as the NCAA tournament wages on.
"He's gotten way better from where he was," he said. "I mean, he has really, really improved.
Now it's going to come down to he's had a decent year -- not a bad year, not a good year -- now does he want to make that jump and have a great year next year. And that means living here. Living in the gym, living in the weight room and being serious about the game."