Freshman Tollackson packs it in for Gophers’ new-look inside game

Spencer Tollackson said he couldn’t pass up the chance to play at Williams Arena.

Bob Wothe

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team is well aware it can’t replace Kris Humphries, so coach Dan Monson said the Gophers’ inside play will be a “sum of the parts.”

But with senior center Jeff Hagen limited because of plantar fasciitis – an often chronic foot problem – the quality of parts has diminished slightly; the Gophers need somebody to step up.

Enter Spencer Tollackson.

Tollackson, a 6-foot-9-inch, 275-pound freshman from Chaska, Minn., is one of the most light-hearted Gophers. After two games, it doesn’t seem there’s a more emotional or happier player on the team.

But despite his obvious jovial attitude, team members said that he’s one of the team’s hardest workers and most vocal leaders once practice or games begin.

“He’s really vocal on the court,” freshman guard Rico Tucker said. “He’s one of the top five or six hardest-working guys on the team, and he’ll be one of our leaders.”

That, of course, has a lot to do with the makeup of the team. With just three healthy seniors and 12 freshmen or junior-college transfers, somebody has to fill the relative void of leadership.

“I think I portray a leader pretty well,” Tollackson said. “Coach told the centers to be really vocal because we can see the whole floor. So I’m doing that.”

Tollackson started being vocal after his sophomore year in high school when he committed to the Gophers, choosing Minnesota over schools such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Marquette.

Marquette coach Tom Crean even visited Tollackson’s home a week before he committed to Minnesota. But Tollackson said he couldn’t pass up a chance to play for the Gophers.

“Ever since the first time I stepped on this floor in high school, I’ve just loved it here,” Tollackson said. “The atmosphere at Williams (Arena) is just awesome, and it’s a great time playing in front of the home crowd.”

Between committing and actually arriving on campus, Tollackson kept working hard, making huge strides in his game.

He dominated the Minnesota high school basketball scene in winter, winning Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball and leading Chaska to the Class 4A state title – all while developing a pitching arm that has Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson interested.

But he wasn’t done. He kept working hard during the summer, putting on 32 pounds and gaining muscle in preparation for his first season of college basketball.

So far, the hard work has paid off. Tollackson averaged nine points per game in the Gophers’ two exhibitions and truly distinguished himself Friday against St. Cloud State, converting on a couple monster dunks and even being called for a technical on one of them, to the crowd’s dismay.

All of Tollackson’s hard work and emotion haven’t gone without notice from the rest of the team.

“He just brings so much energy into the game,” Tucker said. “You know he’ll always play hard and that he’s a guy you can go to war with.”

Considering that the entire Gophers team seems to view this season as one big war, Tollackson seems a perfect fit.

“We want to play like a blue-collar team, dive on the floor, get all the loose balls,” Tollackson said. “We’re not as talented as some of the Big Ten, so we’ll do the little things to win.”

Recruiting class official

The Gophers finally made their recruiting class for the 2005-06 season official Wednesday.

A full week after the early signing period opened, the Gophers announced that they had, as planned, signed James Davis, Damian Johnson, Kevin Payton and Brandon Smith to national letters of intent.