The Men in the Middle: Gopher Basketball Summer Camp

Go Gophers! Maurice Walker has been out of the Gopher lineup since a knee injury in 2010.
Go Gophers!
Maurice Walker has been out of the Gopher lineup since a knee injury in 2010.
Go Gophers!

Aug. 17, 2012

By Justine Buerkle
GopherSports.com

A new NCAA rule allows college basketball coaches to spend up to two hours per week working with their teams. As Tubby Smith and the Golden Gophers take advantage of this added practice time, GopherSports.com takes a position-by-position look at where Minnesota stands during the offseason. Today's final installment features the center position.

2011-12 Review
With Maurice Walker still recovering from ACL surgery, Ralph Sampson III and Elliott Eliason carried the load at the center position last season.

Sampson became just the fifth Gopher ever to collect 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 150 blocks. But he was hampered by injuries during his senior season, and missed the Big Ten Tournament and NIT.

Elliott Eliason filled in admirably while Sampson was out. The redshirt freshman got his first taste of the starting lineup during the nonconference schedule when Sampson missed a few games with an ankle injury.

Practice Prospectus
*Eliason could expand his role in 2012-13 if he develops his scoring ability. He was active in the Gopher offense last season, setting lots of screens for his teammates and pulling down the second most offensive rebounds of anyone on the team. But he averaged just 2.6 points per game (with a season-high of 12). Some work on Eliason’s post moves could help take some of the pressure off the Gopher power forwards and perimeter players.

*Walker needs to make sure he is in playing condition. After he had largely recovered from ACL surgery, he suffered a setback when he hurt his ankle in practice near the end of the season. Associate head coach Ron Jirsa said Walker has done a good job with conditioning so far, a positive sign for the Gophers.

2012-13 Outlook
Jirsa said that Eliason’s performance last season gave him confidence that has carried over into summer practice. It took him a while to adjust during his redshirt freshman season, but with that full year under his belt he will be more ready from the start during the 2012-13 campaign.

It will be good for the Gophers to have Walker back after his season of rehab. His big frame will be a plus in the post, and he does have a partial collegiate season under his belt.

Andre Ingram could potentially play at the center spot if needed, but is more suited for power forward. Eliason and Walker should be able to rotate in and out for each other.

With Sampson’s graduation, the Gophers will have a more youthful rotation at center. Senior Trevor Mbakwe could spend some time playing the 5-spot, but his primary position is power forward, so it will largely be up to the younger players to patrol the low post.