Three games into the season, sophomore guard Amir Coffey addressed the more experienced team the Gophers men’s basketball team was going to put on the floor and how that experience would help in the long run.
“Every time we’re on the court, we have five guys a threat to score,” Coffey said. “It’s going to be hard to just contain one person. It’s going to be hard to stop us.”
A lot can change in a couple months, or even a few days.
Some of those threats to score aren’t part of the puzzle anymore, and that includes Coffey. One of the nation’s top shot blockers, Reggie Lynch, was suspended. Dupree McBrayer has been hurting for much of the season and has missed games. They already started the season without the injured Eric Curry. The injury bug hit Coffey, too, just after Lynch’s suspension.
It’s a bit dizzying to think how quickly this Gophers season turned from NCAA Tournament hopes to just trying to scratch out another Big Ten victory for the pride column. The Gophers are 14-13 this season, just 3-11 in the Big Ten, have dropped seven straight games and have gone 1-10 in their last 11 games.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens when so many important players, starters, miss time. The Gophers starting five early in the year consisted of Coffey, McBrayer, Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy and Lynch. Murphy is the only one who hasn’t missed a game.
“We lost a lot of scoring without Reggie and Amir,” said sophomore Michael Hurt, after Coffey missed his first game back in early January.
A once-promising season for the Gophers has turned into a lost season. Mirroring that, it’ll turn out to be a disappointing sophomore campaign for the local lad Coffey as well. He missed his 10th game of the season Tuesday with a right shoulder injury, when the Gophers hosted Michigan State.
Coffey missed five games after injuring his shoulder – a HAGL lesion – against Illinois on Jan. 3. He was out indefinitely but returned later in the month for games against Ohio State and Northwestern. He scored 15 points and fouled out against Northwestern while also tweaking his injury. There’s been no specific timetable for a return except that he hasn’t been shut down for the season (yet). Coach Richard Pitino maintains Coffey’s status is “day-to-day.”
“Nothing new,” Pitino said after the team’s 91-85 home loss to Nebraska on Feb. 6. “More than anything, it’s rehab him and see if he can practice. See if he can do some physical stuff before you clear him.”
Minnesota folks likely know the story behind Coffey by now. He’s probably been called “Richard” more than once, a reference to his father who played for the Gophers (1986-90) and Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s pretty safe to say the basketball talent was passed down. Coffey was selected Mr. Basketball after winning a state title at Hopkins High School before starting his Gophers career.
As a freshman, Coffey was a big part of the turnaround for a program that had won just eight games the year before. Coffey started all 33 games he played in (missing one with an injury), scoring 404 points and averaging 12.2 points per game, which ranked second on the team. It’s pretty rare for him to not see double-digit scoring each game. He also made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
This season, he’s played in just 18 games – only five in conference play – and averaged 14.0 points per game. He scored a season-high 23 points Nov. 29 against Miami.
Though it’s not quite the same sample size compared with his full freshman season with 33 games, Coffey’s percentages on the stat sheet are up. He’s grabbed 4.1 rebounds per game (3.8 last year), he’s a 36.8 percent 3-point shooter (33.7 percent last year) and his scoring percentage is up to 47.5 percent from 44.9 percent. Take those with a grain of salt.
Coffey isn’t a one-trick-pony on the court and is one of the more reliable players for the Gophers when he’s healthy. He can sink 3-pointers, drive the basket and electrify the crowd with a dunk and tally some assists and rebounds along the way, too. He can be a bit of a quiet leader when it comes to scoring points. All of a sudden, he’ll have 10 or 12 points on the scoreboard. It’s guys like Mason and Murphy who have led the team with their poise and play, but Coffey is right on their heels setting up to be a leader next year as a junior.
If there’s one thing Coffey continues to develop with his game, it’s being more aggressive on the court. Pitino saw the improvement from him in the category even back in early December.
“He’s getting better at it,” Pitino said. “I continue to tell him, ‘You need to be assertive, because you’re a talented, talented player.’”
Despite missing time this season, he’s on track for the 1,000-points club in his career. He reached 600 points Dec. 23 against Florida Atlantic University.
In November, Pitino talked about Coffey’s emotion and personality. Coffey appears to be the shy guy, but he’s also one to joke around in the locker room, Pitino said. In the games he’s played, Coffey has shown more emotion this year and become a more vocal teammate on the court. Pitino knows Coffey will be a terrific player for the Gophers.
“He doesn’t ever seem rattled,” Pitino said.
The Gophers and their fans are no doubt hoping this nagging injury doesn’t rattle him either. If he doesn’t make a return this season, they’ll settle for a 100 percent healthy Coffey to help lead his team as a junior next year.