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Gophers men’s basketball eyeing long-term success

With the first week of the season behind them, the Gophers are working on a process that will build seasons of success.
Image by Amaya Battle
Mike Mitchell and Parker Fox on the Gopher men’s basketball team talking through the game during a free throw on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 at Williams Arena.

After their first week of games, the Gophers men’s basketball team looks to field a roster full of depth and versatility, something last year’s predominantly young team lacked.

In week one of Big Ten basketball, the Gophers defeated Bethune-Cookman University and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

Other significant moments across the Big Ten include James Madison University defeating No. 4 Michigan State on Monday and Florida Gulf Coast giving Indiana a run for their money, losing by just six points.

Head coach Ben Johnson said he likes to point out these instances in the Big Ten to his team to prove his point that building a team is a process.

“Anybody can beat anybody, especially early in the year when teams are still figuring out their identity,” Johnson said.
The Gophers will meet Florida Gulf Coast on their home court on Dec. 9.

Minnesota is going through the process of building a mix of younger and older talent. Dawson Garcia, after leading the team with 23 points, said this year’s team has shown a lot of potential in that regard.

The Gophers’ 27-point lead in the second half quickly fell to a 12-point lead when guard Damani McEntire hit a jumper from the paint for Betune-Cookman. They were able to bring their lead to 20 before finishing out the game, something Garcia said last year’s team “was not doing.”

“Coach can hold people accountable but if the players are doing it, then you have a chance to be special,” Garcia said.

Johnson has recruited a mix of older and younger players. Currently, the roster has three true freshmen, with two more coming next season, and four players with four or more years of experience.

Cam Christie, one of the Gophers freshmen, made his collegiate debut against UTSA Friday after sitting out of the first game due to an illness. Christie put up 18 points, went four for six from the three-point line and had three rebounds.

“It was definitely rough to miss the scrimmage and the first few games but my teammates did a good job of keeping me included,” Christie said.

Christie said when adjusting to the tempo of college basketball, he would look to his junior teammate Elijah Hawkins to help him adjust, which made his transition from high school to college easier.

Finding a balance between recruiting large high school classes and smaller classes from year to year is a point Johnson made when discussing building a program according to his recruiting philosophy. Once he has an established program, Johnson said he would like to have an older team.

“To be able to stay old and have a couple of younger guys that could develop within your program,” Johnson said. “That could be an advantage to us.”

Johnson added that depending on what his roster looks like in the spring, he plans to use the transfer portal and will likely not go back to recruiting out of high schools.

Issac Asuma, a guard out of Cherry High School, and Grayson Grove, a forward out of Alexandria High School, signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday and will join the Gophers in 2024.

Johnson said Asuma is a guard who fits his style of play “to a T.”

“He’s got a little bit of Mike Mitchell to him, how Mike’s got that burst,” Johnson said. “He’s just got that blue-collar, football player mentality.”

Grove, however, is “bouncy” and “can run the floor.” Johnson credits Grove’s energy to his experience playing soccer in high school.

Both Asuma and Grove are multi-sport athletes, but they will not be the only ones with experience in more than one sport on the Gophers roster next season.

Graduate transfer Jack Wilson played in 25 career football games at Washington State University. Wilson said he thinks his experience playing football helped give him the athletic ability to play basketball for the Gophers.

“I’m going up against a guy like Pharell Payne every day,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to have some explosiveness to keep up with him.”

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  • Joseph
    Nov 20, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    Another great article from the goat, Alex Karwowski!

  • Sean Kennedy
    Nov 14, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    Looking forward to more games at the Barn!