The Gopher basketball team begins practice next month without a player who was a regular starter in Big Ten Conference games. The Gophers have no seniors on the roster and will be without Vince Grier who led the team in scoring for two seasons after coming here from a junior college.
Last year’s team wasn’t successful, finishing 10th in the Big Ten Conference and had an overall record of 16-15. Minnesota is hoping for results similar to two seasons ago when the Gophers surprised just about everyone by finishing fourth in the conference and advancing to the NCAA tournament (24-12 overall record). Team defense was impressive, players shared the basketball on offense and the Gophers became a team that liked and trusted one another.
Assistant coach Jim Molinari, who says defense is his “passion,” received considerable credit for the 2004-2005 success. He said the Gophers now are similar to the team of two years ago in that the starting players are yet to be determined. The roster make up is six juniors, six sophomores, and two freshmen. Eight of the players have never played a game minute for the Gophers.
Despite the lack of game experience, Molinari said the coaches are expecting to produce a winning team. “I think we have to go in there with the idea we want to be champions this year,” he said. “And, really, basketball is different from other sports because chemistry really ups your overall product. … a lack of chemistry really takes down your product. Last year was everyone’s fault.”
Molinari likes the team’s depth and expects strong competition for starting positions. He is concerned about who is going to pick up the scoring left by Grier who averaged almost 17 points per game over two seasons. He is also concerned about perimeter defense and rebounding.
Transfer guard Lawrence McKenzie, who played two seasons for Oklahoma averaging 8.2 and 9.5 points, may be the most likely player to provide scoring but freshman guard Lawrence Westbrook, who led the nation in scoring as a high school junior at 41 points per game while playing in Arizona, is intriguing.
Junior big men Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson, both 6-9, started many games last year and will be counted on to rebound along with junior college transfer Engen Nurumbi, 6-7, 230.“I think Dan and Spencer have to be consistent rebounders for this team,” Molinari said.Comments Welcome