Tollackson hoping to fill Gophers’ hole at center in his sophomore season

C.J. Spang

It would be difficult for anyone to fill the shoes of 7-foot, 260-pound Jeff Hagen.

Add that he was second in blocks per game in the Big Ten last season, and his shoes become even bigger.

Spencer Tollackson, the 6-foot 9-inch, 270-pound sophomore center, is the man expected to fill that large void left by the departed Hagen.

When asked what advantages he has over Hagen, Tollackson had trouble finding an answer.

“That’s a hard question,” Tollackson said. “Jeff did so much for us.”

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the legacy Hagen left.

“Jeff came in with much lower expectations,” senior guard Adam Boone said. “But at the same time, Jeff had a great deal of improvement by the time he was a junior and a senior.”

The 7-footer’s first-year numbers were far from impressive in the 2000-2001 season. He averaged 1.9 points per game, 1.2 rebounds per game, and had seven assists and 15 blocks in 26 games. The year after, he took a redshirt season.

Hagen came back to the team in relief of Rick Rickert ” the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2002, and a member of the All-Big Ten First Team in 2003.

While backing up Hagen, Tollackson’s first year numbers were slightly better.

He saw time in 32 games, averaging 3.2 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game, and had 23 assists and 16 blocks.

However, Tollackson did see more time in his freshman campaign, averaging 12.9 minutes per game to Hagen’s 7.5.

But unlike Hagen, Tollackson gets only one year of experience before being thrust into the spotlight.

“Right now, we’re counting on him as a sophomore,” Boone said. “So as he continues to grow, by his senior year the sky’s the limit.”

At a visit to the Tollackson home this summer, coach Dan Monson laid out what he hoped to get out of his sophomore center.

“He was just saying that I need to grow up as a person, as a student, as a basketball player,” Tollackson said. “On the court, he just talked about how I need to just basically fill Jeff’s shoes, be an inside presence for us this year.

Mature as a person and as a basketball player, hardly an easy task for the 19-year-old.

“I think Spence said it to me best,” Monson said. “He said, “I think I’m doing a good job

of the transition I need to make to be the player I need to, but I’m frustrated during the process.’ I’m happy with the strides he’s making to become the player that we need him to.”

Tollackson’s teammates also have noticed his improvement, and echo their coach’s confidence in their big man.

“He’s really improved obviously since last season,” Boone said. “He’s a very talented offensive player (and) he can score around the basket ” we all have confidence in him down there.”