Stan Gaines didn’t want to put pressure on himself. He knew his time would come and, when it did, he wanted to be ready.
So this past summer, the Minnesota men’s basketball forward worked on his midrange jump shot and his three-point shooting and added muscle to his 6-foot-7-inch frame, bulking up to 245 pounds.
Although he didn’t crack the Gophers’ starting lineup in the team’s first 12 games, Gaines stayed upbeat and content to bring a lift – especially on defense – off of the bench.
However, in Minnesota’s past four games – all starts – Gaines has averaged 11 points in 31.3 minutes of playing time.
And this is what makes this season all the more difficult for Gaines.
While becoming an impact player, the Gophers (8-9, 0-5 Big Ten) are off to their worst conference start since 1988.
One more loss, a possibility tonight against Michigan State, and Minnesota will tie the 1971 club that started 0-6 in the Big Ten.
In addition, Gaines’ emergence coincides with the offensive slide – and subsequent program departure – of one of his best friends on the team, Moe Hargrow.
Hargrow averaged 5.5 points in his final four games with the Gophers.
Gaines has also taken over some of senior Michael Bauer’s role. Bauer has struggled this season and become a valuable reserve off the bench.
“I hate to see one of my best friends leave the team for it to happen,” Gaines said. “I would rather score no points and win. The offense I put up now is an effort to help us win.”
Gaines is finding out firsthand about the revolving door of college athletics, where an athlete’s impact can sometimes be measured in months, not years.
Guard Adam Boone watched Gaines this summer in workouts and expected the 20-year-old to make a difference this season.
“You got guys who have handled the positions he is capable of playing,” Boone said. “You have to bide your time well. When the time comes, you have to answer the call and he has done that well.”
As Gaines’ playing time has increased, so have his statistics.
Gaines, who primarily plays at both forward positions, has been able to take what the defense gives him. Against Purdue last week, the Chicago native was guarded by a taller defender.
Gaines drove around him with his quickness.
Against Indiana on Saturday, Gaines found small guards defending him and shot over them.
“I am doing the same thing on the court that I have been doing all season,” Gaines said. “I just feel a lot more comfortable.”
Gophers coach Dan Monson said they knew the potential and versatility Gaines had when recruiting him – and beating out most aother Big Ten schools and Connecticut for his services.
“You have to be out there for a while to know what is going to work,” Monson said. “As a team, we haven’t exactly lit it up on the offensive end so it has been a welcome addition.”
Although he didn’t expect his chance to come this way, Gaines is out to make the most of his opportunity.
And in the process, he has shown he is ready to fill a void.