However early it may be, it appears Minnesota’s men’s basketball team is slowly starting to define roles and create an identity.
That’s good news for a team that lost five contributing seniors a year ago.
After six days of practice, the Gophers split into two teams for an intrasquad scrimmage in front of their fans at Williams Arena on Friday.
The Gold team used a second-half rally to pick up a 71-63 victory over the Maroon team. Junior guard Lawrence McKenzie led the victors with 19 points. Junior forward Dan Coleman paced the Maroon team with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Coach Dan Monson was unavailable for comment after the scrimmage.
The scrimmage had an old-versus-new feel based on how the teams were divided.
The Maroon team started redshirt freshman guard Kevin Payton, Coleman, junior center Spencer Tollackson, freshman guard Lawrence Westbrook and sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala.
The Gold team put out a starting five with four newcomers – McKenzie, junior guard Limar Wilson, junior forward Engen Nurumbi and freshman center Bryce Webster. Redshirt freshman forward Damian Johnson was the other starter, and he had the biggest night of all.
The 6-foot, 7-inch forward scored 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had five assists and seven steals and blocked two shots.
The athletic Johnson has been mentioned by many players on the team as possibly being this year’s surprise player.
The Gophers plan on being a more athletic and up-tempo team this year, and that could mean the scrappy Johnson could play a prominent role on the team.
“It’s a different type of team this year,” McKenzie said. “I think it’s a more athletic team and that’s going to be good.”
McKenzie said the scrimmage went well, but the team still has plenty of work to do.
“I think both teams (played) well,” he said. “But we have a lot of things to work on. But that’s good. It’s only October.”
Monson still has three weeks to figure out his rotation until Minnesota’s season opener against North Dakota State on Nov. 13, but some roles may already be close to being secured.
McKenzie and Wilson started in the backcourt for the Gold team and appear to have a leg-up on their competition for the starting guard duties.
The pair both acknowledged after the game that they felt comfortable playing with one another and their stats reflected it.
McKenzie showed he will be anything but shy this year. He has been named a captain and took it upon himself to lead by example during the scrimmage. He took the most shots on the night, going 4-of-14 from the floor including 2-of-8 from the three-point range.
The 6-foot, 2-inch combo guard showed he was more than capable of helping out with point guard duties as well. McKenzie helped Wilson bring the ball up the court for most of the scrimmage and ended up with a game-high seven assists.
McKenzie said he was content with his performance.
“I played all right,” he said. “I’ve got to shoot the ball better. But I did other things to help my team.”
Wilson, who spent the last two seasons at Northeast Community College, poured in 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had three assists, and after a slow first half, was instrumental in the Gold team’s second half comeback.
The speedster from Orlando, Fla., said he made a few mistakes during the scrimmage and quickly learned he can’t get away with calls at the Division I level that he got away with in junior college.
He also said he is pleased with how the team is progressing but that the Gophers need to stay alert.
“It’s coming (together) really good,” he said. “All the plays are really new right now; everybody (isn’t) familiar with the plays, so everything is unorganized right now.”