Grier-less Gophers host Chattanooga

by C.J. Spang

Life without Vincent Grier.

That’s the next chapter of the season for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team.

The Gophers (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) begin the four to six week stretch without the All-Big Ten senior Saturday against Tennessee-Chattanooga at 3 p.m. at Williams Arena.

Despite losing their star guard, team members are confident in what they can accomplish without Grier.

“I think the initial reaction was, Whoa, what the hell?” sophomore Spencer Tollackson said. “But now I think guys are starting to settle down more and realize what we need to do.”

That to-do list will be quite long.

Last season, Grier averaged 17.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds and 1.79 steals, good for third, 13th and first in the Big Ten, respectively.

Also lost will be his leadership on the court. But Grier will still be leading from the sidelines.

“Vince is the type of guy that when he gets hurt, he’s not the one to sit there and mope around,” Tollackson said. “He’s there encouraging us; he’s at everything on time (and) always dressed.

“We see that in him ” that he still believes in us.”

While much of the pressure to perform is spread around, undoubtedly there is more on the freshman guards Brandon Smith and Jamal Abu-Shamala.

Smith and Abu-Shamala saw a combined 10 minutes of playing time in the season opener against North Dakota State, but certainly their minutes will increase significantly.

“I’m willing to do whatever the program needs,” Abu-Shamala said. “If they need me to step up and play more minutes, I’d love to. It’s been a goal (of mine) to play and it’s a big opportunity, so I’ll be ready for sure.”

Tucker timetable set

Dan Monson met with Rico Tucker and his academic advisers this week to outline a plan to get the sophomore guard back on the court.

“The earliest I would fully clear him would be in a week, so that would be next Tuesday,” Monson said. “He’s got a plan to get on the plane at Maryland.”

Right now, Tucker is cleared to practice with the team on a day-to-day basis.

With the loss of Vincent Grier, Tucker’s return has become even more important for Minnesota’s depleted backcourt.

While outside expectations placed upon Tucker may be high, Monson isn’t putting the entire burden on the sophomore.

“To think that he’s going to go and be the answer in a game of that magnitude isn’t realistic,” Monson said.