Future Gophers on display at Howard Pulley game

Andrew Baker

Although Andre Hollins showed up midway through the third quarter of his teamâÄôs Howard Pulley ProCity Summer League game Monday, he atoned by stroking two three-pointers in quick succession to close out the period.

In the fourth, off a Hollins miss, his teammate and fellow incoming Gophers freshman Joe Coleman elevated for a ferocious one-handed tip slam worthy of a Blake Griffin highlight reel.

In the context of the Pulley league, unlike during the GophersâÄô season, HollinsâÄô tardiness and the fact that his team lost were immaterial.

WhatâÄôs more important for the Gophers players participating in the league is that they have a chance to hone their skills and develop team chemistry âÄî while showing off a little âÄî against elite talent in a relaxed off-season setting.

The pro-am Pulley league has become a rite of passage for Gophers basketball players, a proving ground where incoming freshmen like Collins and Coleman can mix it up with former Gophers like ColemanâÄôs brother Dan, who played for Minnesota from 2004 to 2008 and now plays professionally in Europe.

In the Pulley league, the elder Coleman plays for El-Amin Fish House, which on Monday defeated his brotherâÄôs Information Investors Group 131-123.

âÄúIt always feels good to beat Joe,âÄù Dan said afterwards with a smile.

He said that in terms of size and physicality, the Pulley league is a step up from what his younger brother is used to. âÄúBut as far as the organization and the defense,âÄù Coleman added, âÄúperhaps not.âÄù

In all, 10 current Gophers are playing in the league this summer, as well as some familiar faces like the elder Coleman and MinnesotaâÄôs all-time three-point field goal leader, Blake Hoffarber. Oto Osenieks and St. Paul native Chris Halvorsen âÄî both 6-8 forwards who redshirted last year âÄî join Hollins and Joe Coleman on the Information Investors Group team, though Osenieks was not at MondayâÄôs game.

In March, the younger Coleman won his third consecutive Class 4A state high school title as a senior at Hopkins. This fall, he will join a Gophers team that collapsed to close out the 2010-11 season, losing 10 of its final 11 games.

Like all former prep stars who advance to Division I, Coleman will have to get used to the accompanying increase in scrutiny and adversity.

âÄúI donâÄôt think thereâÄôs any high school player, any person that is good at taking criticism,âÄù said Hopkins coach Ken Novak Jr. âÄúI think JoeâÄôs probably better than most.âÄù

Now that seniors Hoffarber and point guard Al Nolen have moved on, a team that already struggled to score will need someone to step up in the back court, where Coleman and Hollins dominated as preps.

However, while Hoffarber reigned from long range, Coleman is better known for his abilities to get to the rim and create mid-range opportunities.

Summer league games are hardly the best indicator of a college playerâÄôs prowess. However, it seemed apparent that despite his high-flying, high-scoring performance Monday, Coleman will have some work to do if he wants to excel in the Big Ten.

He dropped 54 points in MondayâÄôs game, but struggled at times with his ball handling and long-range shooting.

âÄúI think part of it is he gets to the basket so well,âÄù Novak said. âÄúYou have a tendency to go to your strengths.âÄù

Novak, who coached both Colemans and Hoffarber, said he thinks Coleman has what it takes to be an elite college player, though he conceded that there is room for improvement in his game.

While the Pulley league is a good opportunity for Coleman to sharpen his skills against experienced players, Novak said, âÄúItâÄôs definitely not a defensive league. ItâÄôs become a one-on-one league a little bit. âĦ IâÄôm not convinced that those leagues are great skill developmental leagues.âÄù

The recruiting website Rivals.com lists Hollins as a three-star (out of five) recruit. Hollins, to whom Rivals referred as a âÄúcombo guard,âÄù earned Mr. Basketball honors in 2011 in his native Tennessee, where he also led White Station High School to a state title the year before.

Osenieks played on both the under-18 and under-20 Latvian national teams before moving to the U.S. to pursue basketball.

Halvorsen played one year at Valparaiso before transferring to Minnesota last year.

Coleman, Hollins and Halvorsen declined to comment for this story.