Gophers’ Ellenson out six to eight weeks

MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers freshman guard Wally Ellenson broke his left hand in practice Tuesday and will miss 6-to-8 weeks, Minnesota head basketball coach Tubby Smith said Wednesday.

Smith said that Ellenson got his hand caught in a teammate’s jersey during a rebounding drill and bent the hand backward. Minnesota did not originally plan on redshirting Ellenson, but Smith said Wednesday that it’s certainly an option now.

“It’s too early right now to know if we’ll redshirt him or not,” Smith said. “But something we will probably consider at this juncture.”

The Gophers suffered numerous injuries last season, most notably losing senior forward Trevor Mbakwe early in the year to a torn ACL. Minnesota begins its 2012-13 season Thursday with an exhibition game against Minnesota State, but has already been bitten by the injury bug.

“It’s kind of frustrating, especially with Wally. He’s been working so hard since he got here in the summer,” Mbakwe said. “I felt bad for him, because I’ve had many injuries and I kind of know what he’s going through, especially right before our first game. … It’s tough. I just told him to keep his head up. I know he’s going to work hard.”

Ellenson is one of two freshmen on the Gophers, along with Charles Buggs. The 6-foot-4 Ellenson graduated from Rice Lake High School in Wisconsin and averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior. He was also a track star for Rice Lake and was the two-time Wisconsin Division I state champion in high jump.

Before his injury, Ellenson was going to have his work cut out for him to find minutes. Minnesota returns all but one player from last season’s team that made a run to the NIT Championship. That, plus the return of Mbakwe from his injury, means this Gophers squad will be deep.

“We have four seniors that are pretty mature and have a good feel for the game and the system,” Smith said earlier this month at the team’s media day. “Getting quality minutes is going to be a challenge for (the freshmen).”

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