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New Gophers Impress with Shooting

07/18/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Jason Groth

Gopher Basketball

It's a pretty common opinion that outside shooting will not be Minnesota's strength this season, and that's a fair assessment. But the Gophers have added several players who are at least good enough shooters to keep defenses honest, and their shots were falling at a pretty good clip in the latest session of pick-up games at Williams Arena.

Outside shooting was on display more than usual on this day, because the Gophers went with halfcourt 3-on-3 (and later 4-on-4) scrimmages instead of the usual fullcourt 5-on-5. Without the usual fastbreak opportunities that 94-foot action provides, the guys had to work for their points a little more than usual. While there were certainly plenty of missed jumpers, there were also some guys who were really shooting the rock well.

I have to start out by talking about Alex Popp. I've seen solid shooting from the new walk-on before, but this time he was on fire. He knocked down almost every 3-point look he got (he was maybe 8 for 11 or so), and he impressed even more in between games when he buried 10+ threes in a row from all over the court. Don't be surprised if Alex carves out a solid reserve role for himself at some point during his career.

The guy who surprised me the most with his shooting was another new walk-on: Zach Puchtel. I knew from previous scrimmages and also from his high school days that Zach had strength, a solid interior game, and good skills. I now know that he's also a very good shooter. He actually might rank among the top half-dozen or so 3-point shooters on the team, and his midrange jumper is almost automatic. I don't expect Zach to get many minutes, due to Minnesota's frontcourt depth, but he won't be an offensive liability when he does get on the floor. My opinion of his potential to contribute has definitely increased.

Another newcomer who shot the ball on this day was Rico Tucker. I've said before how Rico has developed almost flawless mechanics on his jumper, but the shots hadn't always been dropping. This day started out that same way, but than Rico caught fire. He drained a number of 3s in the second half of the session, some of which came from a few feet behind the line. Rico also knocked down a 17-footer off a sweet crossover and step-back.

Dan Coleman continued to impress with his all-around game and also had one of his most impressive shooting days. He hit several long-range jumpers throughout the games and nailed three in a row during one game late in the session.

And, while his status is still uncertain (at least officially), I'll mention Moe Hargrow as the fifth newcomer who really shot the ball well. He's obviously shot the ball a lot over the past few months, and his form looks as good as it ever has. Moe has also added some range to his jumper and is now able to pull up effortlessly from a step or two behind the 3-point line. Earlier in his career it seemed like even 19'9" took him out of his natural shot.

The other benefit from the halfcourt action was a noticeable increase in post play and offensive involvement of the big guys. That provided for some good battles. Jeff Hagen was impressive and would probably win my vote for Most Improved Player over the past 5 months. He had a number of nice post moves, was knocking down midrange jumpers at a high clip, and had one tremendous assist where he caught a pass with one hand and instantly dumped it off to a cutter in the lane.

Spencer Tollackson had perhaps his best day of the summer and had some stretches of strong play in the post. He was able to score on a regular basis against several shorter defenders, and he also held his own against Hagen. The only thing that managed to stop Spencer were a couple of hard falls, but he looked like he should be ok other than a few bruises (easy for me to say).

Here are some other notes:
  • Dan Coleman and Jeff Hagen went head-to-head a couple of times in a very interesting and entertaining match-up. Neither could really stop the other, as Dan was too quick for Jeff and Jeff was too big for Dan.
  • In addition to his shooting, Rico Tucker also had a good day passing the basketball. The halfcourt setting allowed him to penetrate and dish a lot more than he can in the transition game.
  • J'son Stamper knocked down several outside jumpers and showed good versatility to his game.
  • Brent Lawson again had a very solid day. He finished well around the basket and knocked down most of his open jumpers.
  • Adam Boone was solid throughout the day, but he caught fire at the end when he hit 3 pull-up jumpers in a row coming off screens. He also knocked down several 3s and did a good job battling on the boards.
  • In addition to shooting the ball better and being a little quicker, Moe Hargrow looks like he's really improved his ball-handling. He was able to beat his defenders off the dribble almost at will, and he did a good job of finishing at the basket.
  • Vincent Grier wasn't able to take advantage of his strong transition game, but he still showed the ability to score both off the dribble and with his jumper. He also passed the ball well as usual and did a good job of keeping several rebounds alive (he really gets up quick).
  • Aaron Robinson knocked down a couple of 3s and had several nice passes during the games. He appeared to be looking to penetrate and dish a little more often than in the past.

Talk about the team and the newcomers on our Gopher Basketball message board.

Tag(s): Gopher Basketball