With a sour taste still in his mouth after bowing out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino believes the 2017-18 season has a chance to be a special one.
The only key player from this year's surprise team who won't be back next season is Akeem Springs, whose senior season ended prematurely when he tore his Achilles in the Big Ten Tournament. Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry played big roles and will be back next season.
But the secret weapon might be Davonte Fitzgerald, who missed all of this season with a torn ACL. Pitino says Fitzgerald might be their best player.
"When healthy he shows flashes of being our best player," Pitino said about Fitzgerald in his blog at GopherSports.com. "There were times last year that he blocked just as many shots as Reggie (Lynch). He's getting healthy and working hard in his rehab. Will look at him at the 3 and the 4 next season. Great versatility!"
Fitzgerald sat out the 2015 season after transferring to Minnesota from Texas A&M. When healthy, the 6-foot-8 forward can provide the 3-point shooting Minnesota has lacked.
“Our team last year lacked three point shooting,” Pitino wrote last summer. “I am hoping Davonte can be the guy who consistently provides that. Nobody puts in more time than him in the gym!”
Without Springs the Gophers struggled to shoot from deep in the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan (3-of-13 on threes) and their first round NCAA Tournament loss to 12-seed Middle Tennessee (6-of-21 on threes).