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Dad Wants Amir Coffey to ‘Step on Toes’

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February 5, 2017

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Amir Coffey has impressed in his first season of college basketball. The Gophers 6-8 freshman forward from Hopkins High School is second on the team in scoring and minutes played. Twice he has been selected as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

“He is one of the better freshmen in the country,” former Gophers head coach Jim Dutcher told Sports Headliners. “I’ve really enjoyed watching him play.”

Coffey is averaging 12.2 points and 31.9 minutes per game, ranking second in both categories behind junior point guard Nate Mason. Coffey is a versatile player who helps the Gophers in multiple ways including rebounding and passing. He is fifth on the team in rebounding average and only Mason has more assists.

That versatility and willingness to help teammates earns the praise of many obervers including Coffey’s dad, Richard Coffey who played four seasons for the Gophers in the late 1980s.

Amir Coffey

“Amir is a team guy,” Richard said. “He’s not selfish. He’s going to try and make the right basketball play. He sees the ball really well. He has a high basketball I.Q.”

During an interview with Sports Headliners, Richard expressed approval of his son’s first-year performance. “I think he’s doing extremely well. I didn’t come in with a lot of expectations, because I didn’t want to put that pressure on him. I just wanted him to come in and learn his teammates, learn the coaching staff, learn the offense and try to use his skill-set as much as possible in the game. He’s done that. …”

The older Coffey was a warrior playing for the Gophers. His on-court demeanor as a rugged 6-6 rebounder and defender fit his background as a former Army airborne paratrooper. He led Minnesota in rebounding all four seasons from 1986-1990. It’s not surprising Richard believes a mental adjustment is what his son needs to be more consistent and elevate his play.

“(When) Amir steps on the court right now, sometimes he might be thinking that I am a freshman and I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” Richard said. “He needs to learn that he needs to step on some people’s toes to get to that next level. When you’re not aggressive, you’re not only not helping but in some cases you maybe hindering because of your skill-set. This team needs Amir to be aggressive to win.

“When I say aggressive, I don’t mean shoot. I mean having the ball, make a play with the ball and create something for yourself or your teammates.”

There are times, though, when the Gophers do need Coffey to score, and that was evident in a loss at home to Maryland late last month. Minnesota led the nationally ranked Terrapins 33-26 at halftime and Coffey had 11 points. But the Gophers lost the game 85-78 and Coffey didn’t score a point in the second half.

Yesterday against Illinois Coffey played a team high 38 minutes in a 68-59 road win that stopped Minnesota’s five game losing streak. Coffey took only six shots but scored 13 points while holding the Illini’s leading scorer, Malcolm Hill, to 13 points on five of 18 shooting. It was a steady performance for Coffey who was a team leader including with his solid position defense against Hill.

Ups and downs are to be expected, even with a freshman as talented as Coffey who was the state’s 2016 Mr. Basketball. In a 2015 interview Hopkins coach Ken Novak Jr. told Sports Headliners Coffey was the most versatile player he has had in more than 30 years of coaching and he predicted that eventually Amir could become a dominant Big Ten player. That’s high praise coming from someone who has coached high school superstars Kris Humphries and Royce White—two players who became first round NBA draft choices.

Jim Dutcher

Part of that process will involve becoming physically stronger. At less than 200 pounds, Coffey needs more weight and muscle. “That comes with maturity,” Dutcher said.

Certainly a more physical body will be needed if Amir is to play in the NBA, but neither in the past or right now has there been family strategizing on reaching that destination. “Is that Amir’s dream? Of course it is, but we haven’t had those conversations for a couple different reasons,” Richard said. “

“I don’t want to put that pressure on him. I think that (NBA focus) will happen when the time is right—whether it’s two years, three years, four years. When the time is right, I think he will know, the coaching staff would know and I would know it. Then we’ll start having those conversations.

“But if a kid is going out there thinking I need to play to get to the NBA, that’s just a set up for disaster. Enjoy this experience. College was one of the most pleasurable experiences in my life. …Let’s do well where we are right now and then other things will happen.”

Richard spent a lot of time coaching Amir when his son was young. Among the development goals was to have Amir become similar to European professionals who often are versatile enough to play multiple positions and have varied responsibilities on the floor. Amir’s versatility will continue to help the Gophers and enhance his pro possibilities. He is a player who makes those around him better, even if his dad and others want to see more consistency in his total game.

Richard is optimistic about his son’s future including a possible NBA career. “I think he has a great chance if he continues to grow physically and grow mentally, and stay healthy.”

Amir has already shown his dad and others a willingness to work. That quality has much to do with achieving the success already in place including helping Hopkins to a state championship last year. His dad said more work must be done by the freshman including “stepping on toes.”

“He is a 6-8 kid right now that shoots the ball average—that can see the ball, make plays,” Richard said. “He has good ball skills for a kid that age. Now all of those things need to tighten up. His ball handling needs to tighten up. His shooting needs to tighten up. His free throws. Everything needs to get better, but…he’s working. …”

And impressing.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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