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Updated: November 12th, 2013 9:43pm
P.J.R.: Smallest Gopher provides fuel for Pitino's fast pace

P.J.R.: Smallest Gopher provides fuel for Pitino's fast pace

by Patrick Reusse
1500ESPN.com
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DeAndre Mathieu is listed at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. That could be generous. He's the smallest starting player that I've seen in four decades of watching Gophers basketball on a regular basis.

And then you watch him for the first time and find out why Rich Pitino and his staff outdid Ole Miss and other major programs to recruit Mathieu out of Central Arizona, a junior college. This 21-year-old is the super quick point guard required to press and push the pace in Pitino's pressurized system for playing hoops.

Mathieu comes from Knoxville, Tenn. He walked on originally at Morehead State in Kentucky and played in 29 games, with nine starts, as a freshman. And then he was given his release and headed to Arizona.

He scored 17 points and had 6 ½ assists a game in junior college, and there were plenty of Division I offers from which to choose.

Pitino's pitch to Mathieu was the fast-paced style of play that the point guard would find at Minnesota. When you're 5-foot-9 at best, and thin, the only way to succeed in big-time basketball is by playing faster than the other guy.

When he signed with Minnesota, Mathieu said: "I've been the smallest all my life. I learned just to deal with it. There's something about basketball that just brings happiness to me ... If you outwork somebody, somebody is going to notice.''

Tuesday was the first time I had watched this remodeled Gophers' operation. The first thing I noticed was Mathieu being the smallest starter witnessed for the Gophers. The second was his quickness on the press, and in making his decisions to drive, pass or shoot.

The opponent was Montana. The Grizzlies were 19-1 in the Big Sky last season. Mathieu made them look very heavy-legged.

The question becomes, will this small man be able to do the same in the Big Ten? I think there's a chance a guy this quick will give fits to the Wisconsins of the world, if not the Michigan States.

Andre Hollins is another player who appears to love the Pitino system. There's no governor on his offense in his junior season: He can shoot from anywhere, without being required to look at the sideline to find out if that was OK.

He made three 3s early, including a no-conscience pull-up over a defender that might have drawn a yelp from the previous administration.

The question becomes, is Hollins the best Gophers' player since Clem Haskins was the coach? I like his all-around game better than Przybilla, Humphries, Grier or Hoffarber, so I'm saying yes.

Hollins came into his junior season as the team's star. Two other juniors, both redshirts, appear to be celebrating the coaching change: Elliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks.

I think there's some evidence in the archives where I suggested it was a disservice for the 2012-13 Gophers to give such erratic playing time to Eliason. He's a 7-footer who can block shots and score inside. And now he's in the lineup and moving up and down the court in a manner that the Williams Arena customers could not have imagined.

I can't make any claim of being a prognosticator for effectiveness from Osenieks. I was among the mortified as he threw those airballs last winter.

What I can say is that Quincy Lewis was saying back in 2011-12, when Oseneiks was a redshirt freshman, that Oto might be the best long-range shooter on the club.

Quincy's scouting report wasn't looking too good when Osenieks went 11 for 41 on three-pointers that winter. And it was so bad last season (2 for 26 on threes) that when Oto started to hoist one, the crowd inside the Barn would groan in advance.

Early on this season, Osenieks is starting at power forward, and he's shooting without restrictions or groans. He equaled his 2012-13 total with a pair of 3s in the season opener vs. Lehigh, and he made a couple more in the first half of Tuesday's 84-58 victory over Montana.

All in all, the first look at Richie-ball was pretty good.

I like the little guy, Mathieu, and Eliason and Osenieks have a different look when it comes to confidence, and Andre Hollins -- well, he's Hell on wheels, now more than ever.
--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse
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