NEW YORK – The Gophers are nearly a month into preparation for the 2017-18 season, but they still have several players not cleared for contact in a full practice.
Coach Richard Pitino said Thursday at Big Ten media day that center Reggie Lynch, guard Dupree McBrayer and forward Davonte Fitzgerald were on a contact restriction of 15 minutes.
“It’s been difficult because we have had a lot of guys who are allowed to practice but not do contact,” Pitino said at Madison Square Garden. “So it’s tough to figure out where are we at from a defensive standpoint, a rebounding standpoint, all those physicality things that you can’t work on.”
Pitino said Lynch, the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, was meeting the team doctor Thursday and could be cleared to fully participate. The 6-10 senior, who was originally scheduled to make the trip to media day but was replaced on short notice by junior forward Jordan Murphy, had minor knee surgery last month.
A projected starting shooting guard, McBrayer was out for a few months because of a leg injury, but he will be ready for the season, Pitino said.
Fitzgerald, a 6-8 junior, missed last season because of his second major knee injury. The Gophers will have to be “extremely patient” with the Texas A&M transfer, according to Pitino. He’s expected to fill the role of injured power forward Eric Curry, who is already lost for the season because of a knee injury.
Senior guard and leading returning scorer Nate Mason missed a couple practices because of a minor ankle sprain, but he returned to the court Wednesday.
“I’ve been like an NBA coach where I’ve really, really limited those guys,” Pitino said. “So it’s been difficult to gauge where we’re at. But we’ll get healthy. I don’t think any of them are major concerns. We’ve just got to be patient and I’ve got to be patient.”
Hot shot NY freshman
With media day in New York City, Pitino was asked some questions about high-profile freshman guard Isaiah Washington, who was New York’s Player of the Year at St. Raymond in the Bronx.
There’s a chance Washington could start at some point in the season, but Pitino said he’s not ready for that role right now.
“Isaiah’s an interesting one because he’s very, very talented, but he’s a freshman,” he said. “He’s got a long way to go with little things. Freshmen need to understand sometimes it’s what you do on the court that prohibits you to get on the court. And with [freshman guard] Jamir Harris and Isaiah, whether it’s mistakes and so on, if they can minimize those things, they can play a lot.”
Washington’s social media popularity (nearly 400,000 Instagram followers) stems from his flashy scoring ability and trademark “jelly” finger roll, but the Gophers are expecting him to be one of their best passers.
“Isaiah brings a dimension that we haven’t really had,” Pitino said. “He’s a phenomenal passer. End to end, he goes as good as anybody out there. I’ve tinkered with lineups to find a way to get him on the court.”
Gophers guards Mason and sophomore Amir Coffey were part of the 10-member preseason All-Big Ten team, the conference announced.
Mason led the team in scoring, assists, steals and foul shooting last year and became the first Gophers player to surpass 500 points and 100 assists in a season.
“It’s cool, but I’m definitely not letting it go to my head,” Mason said. “It’s an honor to get that in the preseason, but that’s just motivation to give me something to work towards and actually get that award. I’m more motivated than ever right now.”
Coffey, a 6-8 former Hopkins star, received the preseason accolade coming off a season in which he gave the Gophers their second consecutive All-Big Ten freshman team selection. Murphy, an All-Big Ten freshman pick in 2015-16, was named to the Karl Malone Award Watch list Thursday to select the best power forward in the country.
Ranked by coaches
The Gophers were ranked No. 15 in the first USA Today coaches basketball poll of the season. They are the second-highest-ranked Big Ten team behind Michigan State at No. 2. Northwestern and Purdue are ranked No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.