Notebook: Alvin Ellis, Alex Foster officially sign with Gophers
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Signing day held no surprises for the Gophers men's basketball teams on Wednesday.
Recruits Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster made their original commitments official after the Gophers received National Letters of Intent from both players early Wednesday afternoon.
Ellis and Foster, who both live in the Chicago metro area, were former teammates at De La Salle High School and also spent three years together on the AAU squad Meanstreets. The pair will round out next year's Gophers roster that will lose four seniors after this season -- forwards Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe, Andre Ingram and guard Julian Welch.
"Alvin and Alex are great additions to our team due to their skill sets," coach Tubby Smith said in a statement. "We have been involved recruiting-wise for some time with both players and I want to commend my staff, especially (assistant coach) Vince Taylor, on the great job."
Ellis put up 17 points and four assists per game, on average, in his junior season at De La Salle. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds and a 41 percent 3-point shooter, Ellis is versatile option in the backcourt.
"In Alvin we get a kid that is multi-talented at 6-4," Smith told reporters after practice Wednesday. "He can really stroke it and knows how to play ... He's a guard that can play the one, two or three."
Foster fits in more as wing player or power forward, but like Ellis, he has the ability to be shifted around to multiple positions. Foster, who also fielded offers from Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue, averaged a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) for De La Salle.
"Alex Foster is a 6-8 player, a lefty, that can shoot the three, that can put it on the floor," Smith said. "He can play the three or four for us, maybe even some two. He's that versatile. That's what we were looking for."
Foster is spending the year at Seton Academy (South Holland, Ill.), while Ellis still attends De La Salle.
Awaiting showdown with Duke
When No. 9-ranked Duke outlasted No. 3 Kentucky, 75-68, on Tuesday night in Atlanta, a certain future opponent was paying attention from afar.
The Gophers have two games remaining before their Thanksgiving Day match-up against the Blue Devils in next week's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, but that doesn't mean the players haven't already started to think about their long-anticipated showdown.
"We all watched them beat Kentucky on ESPN. We do a little bit of watching," sophomore Elliott Eliason said with a slight grin. "You have to stay focus, stay focus in these upcoming trap games. But in the back of our mind it's got to be there. It's a big game for us."
However, in the meantime Gophers must make their way through those so-called "trap games," starting with Tennessee State on Wednesday before rounding out their opening four-game homestand against Richmond. Based on their start to the year - back-to-back blowouts against American and Toledo, getting to the Bahamas with a 4-0 record shouldn't be much of an issue.
But slip-ups are always possible when a team is caught looking a week ahead, though Smith isn't worried about it having an effect on his squad.
"I hope it's an inspiration for them to come in and work hard. Today we were focused. They've been good about that," Smith said. "I think they're mature enough to get through two more game before Duke."
With the victories over American and Toledo, the Gophers currently hold a 31-2 record in their last 33 regular season non-conference games, dating back to 2009.
Buggs to redshirt
Before senior forward Trevor Mbakwe was granted a medical redshirt in March, there was a chance incoming freshman forward Charles Buggs would see playing time in his first year on campus.
But with Mbakwe and a deep roster of returning player intact, the Gophers have opted to redshirt Buggs this season.
Smith sat down with Buggs and his parents last Friday and laid out the team's future plans.
"They agreed that Charles needs to get stronger," Smith said. "We've have limited minutes at that position right now. When we signed Charles we weren't expecting Trevor to be back. A lot of things change. He understands that.
"He'll be involved in practice. I love Charles' attitude. Everybody wants to play, but he understands he's better off redshirting this year and get stronger and getting better."
The Gophers did not redshirt anyone last season as both Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman logged significant minutes in their first year, both eventually making their way into the starting lineup.
Buggs could eventually be joined in his redshirt status by fellow freshman Wally Ellenson. Already a long shot to see the court this season, the 6-foot-4 guard broke his hand two days prior to the Gophers' first exhibition game. He is expected to be out until at least mid to late-December.
Smith said a decision on whether or not Ellenson will redshirt would be made closer to his return date.
• Mbakwe has made gradual progress in his return to the court 10 months after undergoing knee surgery on a torn right ACL, but Smith said he's not yet ready to move the senior forward back into the starting lineup.
"He won't be in the starting-five," Smith said Wednesday. "He won't be doing that. I didn't say never. I'm more concerned about the chemistry of the team. He'll probably play more minutes as time goes on. I want to bring him along slowly, because I want to make sure he's not only physically strong enough, but also fits into what we're trying to do as a team."
• Senior forward Rodney Williams and junior guard Austin Hollins were announced by Smith as the Gophers' co-captains. Interestingly enough, Mbakwe was not mentioned.
Williams, the team's leader in points, rebounds, steals and blocks last season, is an obvious choice. Smith dubbed the Gophers as "Rodney's team, per say."
Hollins' captaincy is also not complete surprise. After a solid sophomore season, Hollins has stepped into a primary role both offensively and defensively. Through two games, he leads the Gophers in points (16.5 per game) and has totaled 10 rebounds and seven steals.