Gophers plan to find roles for freshmen
MINNEAPOLIS — Judging by first impressions, Gophers freshmen Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs appear to be very different.
Ellenson was calm, quiet and soft-spoken and he sat in his chair during Minnesota's media day last Friday. Buggs was energetic and talkative, bouncing around as he stood, his big smile drawing reporters into the conversation.
Off the court, though, the two freshmen are more similar than they initially seem. Not only teammates but roommates, Ellenson and Buggs share a love for music. Buggs lets it slip that Ellenson likes to rap, while Buggs fancies himself as something of a dancer.
"We always have fun together," Buggs said.
Once Ellenson and Buggs finally hit the court for the Gophers during the 2012-13 season, Minnesota fans will see another similarity in that both freshmen are athletic. Gophers coach Tubby Smith said they're probably two of the most athletic players he's recruited since arriving on the Minnesota campus in 2007.
Because of their athleticism, Ellenson and Buggs should contribute to the Gophers this year as true freshmen despite Minnesota returning plenty of depth from last year's team that advanced to the NIT championship game. What type of impact each freshman may have remains to be seen, but Smith said he doesn't plan to redshirt either of them.
"It's a lot of depth and experience. We have four seniors that are pretty mature and have a good feel for the game and the system," Smith said. "Getting quality minutes is going to be a challenge for (the freshmen)."
Ellenson, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, comes to Minnesota via Wisconsin. He crossed the border after starring for Rice Lake (Wis.) High School. As a senior, Ellenson averaged 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He was also a star track and field athlete, twice winning the Wisconsin Division I state championship in the high jump.
Ellenson said his shooting is his strength. For a Gophers team that struggled to find consistency from 3-point range last year, Ellenson's shot will be a welcome addition.
"Wally, with his outside shooting ability, that's something that we needed help with," Smith said. "I think he'll help us there."
Ellenson's decision to leave Wisconsin for the rival Gophers ruffled a few feathers in his home state — especially in his own home. Ellenson's dad, John, played basketball for the Badgers from 1989-91 and was one of Wisconsin's captains in 1991.
Once John Ellenson's son committed to Minnesota, he had no choice but to ditch the cardinal and white to support the maroon and gold.
"He turned into a Gopher fan," Wally Ellenson said of his dad.
Buggs joins the Gophers after playing for Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., last season. He wound up at Minnesota because his coach at Hargrave, A.W. Hamilton, is from Kentucky – where Smith used to coach -- and knows Smith and his son, Saul, an assistant on the Gophers.
"Everybody got connected and they came to see me and recruited me a lot," Buggs said. "I came here and saw how nice it was. I liked the players on the team, so I decided to come here."
Prior to playing for Hargrave during the 2011-12 season, the 6-foot-8 Buggs played at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. He averaged 11.4 points in 15 games in his final year at Martin.
"A guy like Charles, he has a knack for putting the ball in the basket," Smith said. "He has a nice stroke and he reminds me a lot of (former Gophers forward) Damian Johnson in his agility and mobility. We've got to teach him to understand our defensive concept, but he's eager to know."
Minnesota returns plenty from last year's team, and the Gophers get Trevor Mbakwe back from injury after the senior missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL. They also bring back senior forward Rodney Williams and others who gained valuable experience during last year's postseason run.
Expectations are high for Smith's team in 2012-13, and the addition of two athletic freshmen can only help.
"I like both of those young men, their energy and their athleticism," Smith said of Buggs and Ellenson. "They're very coachable. That's No. 1. That means that they're going to do what we tell them to do, and they want to be coached.
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