Dupree McBrayer is ready for a healthy senior season

The guard is hoping for a successful end to his college career after battling injuries last year.

Senior Dupree McBrayer runs down court after injuring his leg on Monday, Nov. 12 at Williams Arena. The Gophers beat the Utes 78-69.

Tony Saunders

Senior Dupree McBrayer runs down court after injuring his leg on Monday, Nov. 12 at Williams Arena. The Gophers beat the Utes 78-69.

Nick Jungheim

The Gophers men’s basketball team didn’t have the season they were hoping for in 2017-18. The whole team is looking to rebound this season, perhaps nobody more so than senior Dupree McBrayer.

The senior from Queens, New York battled injuries all last season. Although he only missed five games due to injury, head coach Richard Pitino said McBrayer was never at full strength.

“He was hobbling last year,” Pitino said. “He could hardly walk, he could hardly practice. You’re not going to get in a flow offensively if you do not practice. When he’s healthy he’s a really, really good guard. Last year was just a perfect storm of having bad things happen at once.”

At the Big Ten media day before the season, McBrayer detailed exactly how much his injury limited him last year. 

“I really couldn’t jump, really couldn’t move laterally,” McBrayer said. “I couldn’t have a good first step or anything, so it was just hard running up and down [the court].”

While battling a nagging leg injury, McBrayer was still able to average 9.4 points per game. However, the injury hindered his efficiency. He shot just .357 from the field, compared to .448 the year prior. Now healthy, he says he feels much better on the court.

In this year’s regular season opener against Nebraska-Omaha, it appeared McBrayer was back to his old self, connecting on five of six three-point field goals.  

“I’m extremely happy,” McBrayer said. “I’m having a lot of fun, I’m smiling, just like I was two years ago. I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now.” 

McBrayer is part of a Minnesota backcourt that features an intriguing mix of youth and experience and has a special connection to the Gophers’ sixth man this season.  

Sophomore Isaiah Washington, like McBrayer, is a native of New York City.  Raised in Harlem, Washington won New York’s Mr. Basketball award in his senior season playing for St. Raymond High School. Both he and McBrayer played for the New Heights AAU program. Now at Minnesota, their familiarity gives the duo an advantage over opposing teams.

“We’ve known each other since we were young,” McBrayer said. “There’s chemistry there. We’re both really good at scoring … and passing the ball.”

While Washington took some time to adjust to the college game, he improved as he got more playing time near the end of last season. After a summer of working with his teammates, he now feels more familiar with the team around him.

“I just got to know all my teammates off the court more,” Washington said. “We just talked a lot about whether we like the ball here or there … just being comfortable with them, them being comfortable with me … being able to trust each other.”

The goal for McBrayer, Washington and the Gophers is a return to the NCAA tournament in McBrayer’s senior season. In order accomplish that, McBrayer will have to add value to the team with his play and leadership. His head coach said his will to win is second to none.

“In the conference tournament last year he could barely walk,” Pitino said before the season, “He kept telling me, ‘I’m fine when it’s time to play.’ Just shows you the type of toughness that he has.”

McBrayer and the Gophers will hit the road next week, starting with three games in four days at the Vancouver Showcase. The tournament begins with a matchup against Texas A&M on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. CT.