Today, I watched Minnesota’s NCAA-allotted two-hour weekly practice session. Before I write up my assessment of what I saw, understand that the Gophers played pick up ball, which is often a poor indicator of the way someone will carry themselves in a real game. In front of 15,000 fans. With a potential postseason bid on the line. On a team looking for an “extra” scholarship.
Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson, Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffarber and Paul Carter beat Devron Bostick, Damian Johnson, Al Nolen, Jon Williams and Kevin Payton in the only five-on-five game of the morning.
Overall, the Gophers looked like the young team that they are. But they have more depth than last season’s team with a solid recruiting class. And the Big Ten is, once again, wide open. So anything’s posssible.
Here are the things I learned about every player that participated in the morning workout at Williams Arena:
Paul Carter, F – First, Carter is not 6-8. He’s much closer to 6-6. But the Missouri State-West Plains CC product was the most intriguing guy on the court. Sources told me that he would be the surprise of the incoming recruiting class. And I understand why. He has solid ballhandling ability, and he has very good body control. He doesn’t force his shots. And he’s a decent shooter and good passer. On a fast break, he caught a behind-the-back bounce pass for Devoe Joseph and went up strong with his left hand.
Blake Hoffarber, G – His challenges remain. His assets are still there, too. Don’t expect Hoffarber to peform miracles off the dribble. With a wide open lane, he bobbled the ball before Devron Bostick rose up and blocked his layup attempt. But from the perimeter, he was money. The black, Allen Iverson sleeve he wore on his right arm may have helped, too.
Jon Williams, C – Williams told me that he lost “25 or 30″ pounds during the offseason. He moved well. Streaking down the court, Williams finished with a thunderous one-hand dunk, as Ralph Sampson III trailed him. But in a pickup game, it was hard to tell if his defense improved over the summer. That’s where he struggled most. And that’s where the Gophers need him most.
Devoe Joseph, G – The freshman has a decent jumper. He showed off his sharp passing ability and a nice 13-foot jump shot. He needs to take a weight room class this semester to build up his body, but he’s too skilled to stay off the court. Al Nolen’s the point man for the Gophers, but Joseph will be a solid backup for him.
Al Nolen, G – He’s bigger. He’s stronger. And he’s more vocal. I get the sense that the Gophers really look at Nolen as a leader in Year 2. He’s probably the most important player on the team. The thing I noticed about him this morning was the power he had when he drove to the lane. His quick hands made it hard for anyone to get a pass by him. He still needs to develop a more consistent jumper, but I expect a big improvement from Nolen on the offensive end.
Damian Johnson, F – Johnson didn’t really showcase his talent, choosing to step back and shoot jumpers for most of morning. His rebounding ability, shooting and defense have all improved. And he’s put on weight. He hit a few deep threes, but the Gophers will probably need him to play a lot in the paint this season.
Colton Iverson, F – He had class, so he only played one game. The thing you notice about Colton Iverson right away is his size. Whenever you read a preseason magazine or a media guide, it’s usually OK to knock one or two inches off of a player’s “listed” height. But Iverson is definitely 6-11. He’s very physical. And for that reason alone, he should get a significant amount of playing time this season.
Ralph Sampson III, C - It’s the little things that count. Sampson did a lot of little things in this morning’s pickup games. Rebounding. Dunks. Solid defense. He’ll need some time to put on more weight, but I think he’s ready for the reserve role that Tubby Smith will probably ask him to play this season. After one Sampson dunk, the backboard was still shaking as he ran up the court. And he played honest defense against Williams, whom he’ll probably back up.
Travis Busch, G/F – He sat out the first game and played with a lot of energy in the second game. His best bet to earn minutes is to play scrappy defense and hustle every time he steps on the floor. He had a good summer in the Howard Pulley League. And Smith will probably call on him to help out a team that’s still searching for better on-the-ball defenders.
Devron Bostick, G/F – He can light it up. He’s a true scorer. He hit a few deep threes. He still has to work on his defense. And he has to develop into a more consistent shooter. He’s a legit 6-4 or 6-5, which makes him even tougher to guard.
Kevin Payton, G/F – He’s the guy that will probably have the toughest time finding a niche on this team. He won’t earn minutes because of his size. And the guard and forward rotations are set. But he played solid defense this morning, and Smith will probably insert him in certain situations because of it.
Lawrence Westbrook and Jamal Abu-Shamala did not play due to injuries.