The home careers of Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi, Oto Osenieks, and Malik Smith will (hopefully) come to an end on Sunday afternoon, as the Golden Gophers celebrate senior day, and hopefully inch one step closer to a return to the NCAA tournament. The basketball game is self-evidently big, and if the Gophers do want to return to the tournament, they need to win. After thirty games, you don’t need me to tell you that the Gophers’ defense needs to improve, including their defensive rebounding, or that Deandre Mathieu needs to play well for the Gophers to win, so I won’t tell you any of that. Instead, it seems like an appropriate time to recognize and appreciate the class of 2014, who for between one and four seasons, represented the University of Minnesota about as well as anyone can.
The internet is a great thing, especially when it archives interviews with kids right out of high school.
That 18-year-old kid said that he didn’t need to be pushed to play basketball by his NBA coach father. Hollins never needed anyone to motivate him. He didn’t need to be told to try harder, or to get better. No player on the Gophers in recent memory seemed more self-aware. Always a bit streaky, he knew when he was off, and he knew when he was on. So did the rest of us. But while the rest of us got frustrated when his shot wasn’t falling, or if he committed a sloppy turnover, Hollins found a way to make his team, and his teammates better. We saw this most recently at Northwestern. He couldn’t shoot or hang on to the ball, but he pulled down six rebounds and held Drew Crawford, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at the time, to two points on 1-15 shooting. On a team desperately needing help on the boards, he doubled his defensive rebounding. In a season full of ups and downs, he contributed enough to lead the Gophers in minutes played. It shouldn’t be surprising that Hollins’ hard work has paid off in big way, and at big times. During his sophomore year his last second drive and free-throw sent the Illinois game to overtime, and the Gophers eventually won. Last season, in a sequence that should define his career, he knocked down a game winning three-pointer to beat Iowa in the closing seconds, and sealed the win with a steal at the buzzer, before Iowa could get a final shot off. Everyone asked who would replace Lawrence Westbrook. Richard Pitino described Austin Hollins as the most “professional” player he’s met. If he means self-motivated, self-directed, and willing to do whatever needs to be done, we’ve known this for four years, and it has been a pleasure to watch.
Give credit to Maverick Ahanmisi for sticking around. From the moment he committed to play for the Gophers, there were already people calling for his proverbial head. They said he wasn’t good enough to play in the Big Ten and that he was wasting a scholarship. Somewhat strangely, there were also people blaming the post-Al Nolen tail-spin in 2011 on Maverick Ahanmisi not playing point guard. At the same time he was supposedly wasting a scholarship, he wasn’t playing enough. Maverick never complained about what anyone said about him. He never complained when Deandre Mathieu set foot on campus, and Ahanmisi barely ever got to play. He didn’t complain when he finally got some playing time, and lost a tooth.
It wasn’t all missing teeth and missing playing time for Ahanmisi though. On one glorious night in Bloomington, Indiana, he helped the Gophers win their first road game over a top 10 team in 30 years. He had 8 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a rebound. His five straight points in the first half gave the Gophers a 6 point lead, and they never get up that lead. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller will enjoy a life of fame and fortune, but on that night in January, Maverick Ahamisi got the win.
We thought Malik Smith would be a chucker with the potential to win and lose any game he played in, and he turned out to be that. While he is currently mired in a cold streak, he is really, really, fun to watch when he is on a hot streak. Unfortunately, Malik Smith’s hot streaks have been poorly timed. His best games came against Syracuse and Nebraska, two narrow losses that would have been wins if any of his teammates had stepped up. He still has at least two games left in his short Golden Gopher career, so maybe he’ll finally hit that game winning shot. Even though his time with the team will be limited to one season, he is responsible for one of the defining moments. His long, arching dagger of a three-pointer against Wisconsin will be remembered for a long time.
We already wrote about Osenieks, and the pre-mature end of his basketball career. While his playing days are over, we trust this is just the beginning of his youtube career. For this, we are forever grateful.