For your average college student, the summer months are for putting down the studies in exchange for a frosty mug. But for your men's basketball student-athletes, the off-season that is just beginning will be about improving their game. And each of the returning players has an area or two that need to improve if the Gophers are going to take another step next year.
For some players they'll need to work on their jump shot. Others will need to work on protecting the basketball or simply diversifying their offensive game. After the jump I lay out what I think each player needs to concentrate on in the months to come.
I start with Minnesota's returning guards in this post and will follow-up with a similar article on our big men in the coming days.
Guards: Generally, all of our returning guards--perhaps with the exception of Blake Hoffarber--absolutely need to spend time this off-season concentrating on the un-sexy task of passing the basketball into the low post. As most of our guards played the role of scorer at the high-school level, many of these players have never really learned the art of the entry pass. And it's an area where the Gophers need to excel. They can watch tape of Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers for motivation. The Badgers do this well and the Gophers struggled, something that has to change if the Gophers are going to continue trying to run their offense through the post.
Al Nolen: A stout defensive player, for the second year in a row, Nolen needs to spend every waking minute over the summer to turn himself into a threat on the offensive end of the floor. Nolen showed flashes in 2008-09 of being able to penetrate and draw fouls, but his inability to shoot from the perimeter allowed defenders to play off of him thus taking away his driving lanes.
The thing I believe Nolen needs to come into 2009-10 capable of is hitting a pull-up off of a pick and roll at the top of the key. Nolen might never have the range to hit the three with consistency, but if he can hit a jumper off of the dribble on a pick and roll at the top of the key, Nolen will then be able to drive with some regularity.
Devoe Joseph: As a freshman Joseph showed that he's capable of putting up big numbers from the perimeter. But he rarely showed an ability to take the ball to the basket and either score or distribute off of the dribble. If Joseph intends to play point guard in the years to come, he absolutely has to learn to take his defender off of the dribble.
Lawrence Westbrook: On one night he thrills. The next he might make you pull your hair out. Sometimes he might make you say "No, no, no. no, no. YES!." And other times it's just "No." As he moves into his last season in maroon and gold, Westbrook needs to take that senior leader label to heart and play within himself more often. That doesn't mean he needs to stop trying to create his offense. Instead, I'm saying he just needs to do a better job of picking his spots.
For Westbrook it's not a matter of him adding an item to his repertoire, it's a matter of compusre. Westbrook can be a better player as a senior if he does a better job of understanding game situations.
Blake Hoffarber: The easy answer would be to send Hoffarber to the gym and have him shoot hundreds of shots a day to regain confidence in his shot. But shooters are prone to down-years and Hoffarber just came off of one where more of his shots rimmed out than he's accustomed to. But we should expect Hoffarber to come back and be able to catch-and-shoot from the outside as he's done his entire life.
What I'd like to see Hoffarber work on is his first step. Defenders know he's our shooter and they are guarding him as closely as possible. One way to combat that is to work on that initial first step with the dribble. He can practice his jab step and first dribble. He might not be quick enough to get all the way to the basket. But he can generage a little space and pull back or step up into a shorter jumper. Hoff will be an outside shooter no matter what, but he can diversify his outside repretoire.