Pitino and players ready for first offseason together

The Gophers closed out the first year of the Richard Pitino era with a title.

Minnesota mens basketball head coach Richard Pitino watches his team play at the NIT finals at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. on Thursday April 4, 2014.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Minnesota men’s basketball head coach Richard Pitino watches his team play at the NIT finals at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. on Thursday April 4, 2014.

by Jace Frederick

DeAndre Mathieu didn’t have a true offseason a year ago.

He spent his summer taking care of academics while the rest of his teammates learned new head coach Richard Pitino’s offensive and defensive schemes. Still, when Mathieu did arrive on campus, there was no learning curve.

Pitino said his junior point guard was consistently the Gophers’ best player all season. Mathieu was named All-Big Ten honorable mention at the end of the season.

Now, after a season of great success, come great expectations for next year. The season will also bring him a lot of attention from future opponents.

“He understands that,” Pitino said. “He needs to make that next step, and strength will be huge for him.”

Mathieu said his strength and further developing his outside shot are two areas he’s hoping to improve for next year.

Mathieu hit 49 percent of shots from beyond the arc this season but also took just 45 attempts.

“I’m going to shoot a lot of jump shots so guys can’t go underneath screens,” Mathieu said. “It’s just going to be a big summer for me.”

Mathieu said he was most motivated by not making any of the three All-Big Ten teams this season. He’s looking forward to getting to work this offseason.

“He’s chomping at the bit to get back to it,” Pitino said.

Hollins hobbled

Pitino said he didn’t think junior guard Andre Hollins was 100 percent healthy at the end of the season.

Hollins never seemed to fully recover from a left ankle sprain he sustained against Wisconsin in January, but Pitino said it was actually Hollins’ hip that plagued the junior guard down the stretch.

Pitino said the team will have the injury checked out this week.

Pitino said Hollins “probably didn’t think he had a great year,” but he doesn’t expect that to carry over to his senior campaign.

“He needs to get right physically,” Pitino said. “I don’t worry about him moving forward. I think he’s going to have a huge senior year.”

Summer of McNeil

Gophers sophomore forward Joey King staked his claim for the starting power forward spot next season with his play down the stretch.

Pitino hopes freshman Daquein McNeil will do something similar to the small forward position this summer.

“I think Day-Day has the potential to take a big step,” Pitino said. “I told him this morning when I spoke to him, ‘You’re the only pure small forward in our program right now.’”

McNeil and incoming junior college transfer Carlos Morris should be the candidates to fill that starting spot at the three, left vacant with the departure of Austin Hollins.

“That’s healthy competition,” Pitino said.

Year 2

Pitino’s summer will be strange because this time, he’s likely staying put.

His previous three summers involved transitioning from Florida to Louisville, then from Louisville to Florida International, and finally from FIU to Minnesota.

This time, there will likely be no packing and no moving, just coaching a group of guys he already knows. A group of guys who just completed a season featuring a school-record 25 wins and an NIT championship.

Still, there’s room for improvement and plenty of time to improve.

“This summer, I don’t need to install my offensive or defensive system,” Pitino said. “Now we can really just work on their games. That’s exciting. I’m excited about that.”