Incoming freshmen bring needed skills to help Gophers’ men’s basketball

Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell committed to Minnesota in fall 2019.

Gopher head coach Richard Pitino looks down the court on Tuesday, March 5 at Williams Arena.

Tony Saunders

Gopher head coach Richard Pitino looks down the court on Tuesday, March 5 at Williams Arena.

by Nick Jungheim

In the midst of an offseason full of roster turnover, the Gophers’ men’s basketball team will call upon multiple newcomers to contribute on the court in 2020-21. Two players expected to make an impact for Minnesota are incoming freshmen Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell. 

Both four-star recruits, Mashburn Jr. and Mitchell signed their letters of intent to join the Gophers in the fall and will join the team once the University allows team activities to resume. With Mitchell joining the frontcourt and Mashburn Jr. adding depth at guard, Minnesota hopes it has added two contributors for years to come.

Mitchell, the first of the two to verbally commit, played basketball at Bloom High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Listed at 6 feet, 10 inches, his length makes him a strong shot blocker defensively, but he also has skill and versatility on offense.

“He can play with his back to the basket or in space,” said Dante Maddox Sr., Mitchell’s head coach at Bloom. “I think he adds value playing on the wing. He can step out and shoot threes or get to the paint.”

Though some programs tabbed him as a pure center during the recruiting process, Mitchell feels his natural position is a stretch power forward that can play along the perimeter. 

At Bloom, Mitchell played alongside a roster filled with talent. Including Mitchell, four players from the team have signed letters of intent to play college hoops at the Division I level next season.

Surrounded by skilled players, Maddox Sr. said Mitchell’s experience learning to rely on teammates and find his place in an offense will help his development at the next level.

“Most of these players at the college level, they were the man at their high school,” Maddox said. “Martice had to learn how to play within a system, and I think that has made him better.”

As for Mashburn Jr., scouts praise his ability to knock down shots from the outside. With Mashburn Jr. and fellow incoming freshman David Mutaf who committed to Minnesota in May, Minnesota’s 2020 class features reinforcements for a team that has struggled finding consistency shooting the three in recent years.

Having played high school ball at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Mashburn shows promise as a combo guard who can play the point or off the ball. Additionally, his high school coach, Jason Smith, said Mashburn Jr.’s intangibles make him capable of contributing right away in the Big Ten.

“When you look at Jamal, you’re getting a player with fantastic work ethic,” Smith said. “He really is a gym rat. You wish you could have 12 guys like him on your roster.”

Offering a comparison for Mashburn’s game, Smith said he resembles North Carolina State guard Thomas Allen who played for Brewster Academy. Allen averaged 8.7 points per game with Nebraska as a sophomore, shooting 36% from three before sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations.

“The only comparisons I really draw from are the guys I’ve coached,” Smith said. “I think Thomas is the only player that comes to mind for a comparison to Jamal. Both guys have the ability to play both guard positions and shoot from the perimeter.”

Guiding his decision to commit to Minnesota, Mashburn’s family has ties to head coach Richard Pitino. Mashburn’s father, former All-NBA forward Jamal Mashburn Sr., played college basketball at Kentucky, where his head coach was Pitino’s father, Rick Pitino.