The most decorated backcourt player for the Gophers basketball team last season is now gone, leaving a year early for the pros.
But to take Amir Coffey’s place, Richard Pitino has another talented guard he can’t wait to unveil next season.
Pitino saw Marcus Carr’s potential when the sophomore simulated Purdue All-America Carsen Edwards in practice last season. The scout team often got the best of the starters, and Carr might have been the best player on the court.
“He was unstoppable,” Pitino said of the transfer from Pittsburgh. “I’m going to have to continue to tell him he can be Carsen Edwards next year. He looked really, really good.”
A talented point guard who could’ve been a difference maker for the U last season, Carr instead had to sit and wait. The NCAA twice declined his waiver requests to play immediately after transferring from Pitt, but he turned the disappointment into determination.
After preparing his teammates in practice last season, Carr is getting himself ready now, knowing some intense battles are coming this winter against the Big Ten’s top guards.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for me, but I’m ready for it,” the 6-2, 200-pound Toronto native said in his first interview since the middle of last season. “Definitely one of the things I’m looking forward to is going at all of the guards in the conference trying to prove not only I belong but that I belong at the top.”
As a freshman, Carr averaged 10 points and four assists and started 27 games for Pittsburgh in 2017-18 before transferring after the firing of Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings last spring.
Transfers are required by NCAA rules to sit out one season unless their waivers are approved to play immediately. Carr made his case but was still ineligible for the 2018-19.
He claimed he left Pittsburgh due to a “toxic environment” that got more difficult personally after Stallings was fired in March 2018. The NCAA determined Carr’s transfer was “not really due to student-athlete welfare,” he said.
“It was definitely pretty devastating not being able to play the game that I love,” Carr said. “The [NCAA] said I was strictly transferring for basketball reasons. They basically didn’t take anything from my argument serious.”
Not having a true point guard caused the Gophers to struggle with offensive consistency last season. Coffey eventually blossomed as a high-volume scorer with the ball in his hands to lead Minnesota into the NCAA tournament. The 6-8 junior declared early for the NBA Draft and decided not to remove his name once the withdrawal deadline passed Thursday.
“He’s a very talented player and definitely an NBA talent,” Carr said. “I definitely wish him all the best. But I still think we would be able to do big things without him.”
Coffey’s departure means fellow transfer Payton Willis will likely join Carr and sophomore-to-be Gabe Kalscheur in the starting backcourt in 2019-20. Carr and Willis, a 6-4 junior who transferred from Vanderbilt, built chemistry together playing on the scout team last season.
“They pushed each other and talked to each other about the frustration of not being able to play,” Pitino said. “I’d be shocked if both Payton and Marcus don’t come in right away and help this team win games.”
Pitino is excited about Carr’s potential as a facilitator and scorer in Minnesota’s pick-and-roll offense. Carr was recruited by the Gophers out of Montverde Academy in Florida in 2017 while playing alongside fellow Canadian R.J. Barrett, who is an NBA draft lottery pick after starring at Duke last season.
Carr’s biggest strength is penetrating off the dribble to make plays for himself and his teammates, but he also brings aggressive on-ball pressure defensively. He has worked this year on his outside shot and decisionmaking.
“I was a 33 percent three-point shooter as a freshman,” Carr said. “I definitely want to improve on that and be a 40 percent guy. I turned the ball over quite a bit my freshman year [2.9 turnovers a game]. I want to take better care of the ball.”
Carr’s expectations for the Gophers are to be at the top of the Big Ten next season and make a run in the NCAA tournament.
It all starts, though, with how the Gophers compete in practice this summer without Coffey. And the scout team MVP last season will now try to establish himself as their new leader.
“I’m going to have to be a coach on the floor,” Carr said. “I got to be an extension of [Pitino] and try to be as levelheaded as possible at all times. I’ll learn different ways I can get to my guys and motivate them, so we can have a great season.”