Richard Pitino interrupted preparations for the returning flight to Minneapolis Saturday night to thank the player he believes transformed the Gophers into a NCAA tournament-caliber team.
"Can I get everyone's attention real quick? Headphones off guys," Pitino's said over the airplane's speaker system in a video posted on the Gophers men's basketball Twitter account Saturday night. Pitino thanked everyone that made the trip to to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten tournament and then spent the next minute praising senior Akeem Springs.
The senior shooting guard suffered an Achilles injury Friday against Michigan State and will miss the rest of the season that continues this week in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers earned the No. 5 seed in the South Region and play Thursday against Middle Tennessee State in Milwaukee.
Pitino said the postseason berth and high seed would not have been possible without Springs.
"At the beginning of the season, I was extremely excited about this team, but I was a little bit apprehensive because we were very, very young," Pitino said. "And we made a great late-season addition of a guy by the name of Akeem Springs, who absolutely transformed our locker room.
"And unfortunately, with the devastating injury that he had, it was a major setback to Akeem, but we know he'll come back even stronger. So I personally want to say we would not be getting a NCAA tournament berth like we're going to get [Sunday] if it weren't for Akeem Springs.
"So let's please stand up and give him a round of applause."
The video pans back to Springs where he graciously thanks Pitino, his teammates and other supporters.
Springs transferred to Minnesota after Wisconsin-Milwaukee fired its coach last March. Springs averaged 9.5 points and three rebounds per game this season.
Watch the video here: