The calendar turned to June, the Golden Gophers had another scholarship to dole out, and Bryan Greenlee didn’t yet know where he’d be playing college basketball in the coming fall.
The three-star recruit from Gainesville, Fla., is now part of Richard Pitino’s bench in Minnesota, the team’s final offseason addition of 2019.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into because I didn’t take a visit before I actually committed,” Greenlee said, “but since I’ve been up here I like it a lot.”
Greenlee was a point guard at The Rock School, which won back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019. At 6-feet, he’s not the typical rangy, position-less guard Pitino usually recruits.
But he is versatile.
The freshman has found a niche beyond serving as a backup to Marcus Carr.
“That’s our barber,” said fellow freshman Sam Freeman.
Greenlee likes the standard teenage stuff as well: watching movies, outdoor activities, playing video games, etc. But hey, students are operating on tight budgets.
“I just got tired of paying for cuts,” Greenlee said. “Back home I’d pay like $20, tip $5, so that’s $25 every two weeks. I just kind of practiced on my friends and watched YouTube videos and picked it up on myself, and I actually cut my own hair.”
Minnesota has a tight-knit group of freshmen that live, work out and get pizza together. But even Greenlee had to do some coaxing before his freshmen pals allowed him to start snipping away at their hair.
“The first time he ever cut my hair I was kind of shaky,” said Tre Williams, “kind of paranoid, but after it was done, ‘Hey, I’m not going to anybody else.'”
Greenlee said he hasn’t gotten any wild requests yet. Just the standard fade cut; he’ll have to build a lengthier resume before he’s trusted with the advanced techniques. But if the choice comes down to a free Greenlee cut or spending $30 at Sport Clips, the decision is clear to Williams.
“I don’t know if they know how to cut my hair anyway,” he said about the chain.
On the floor, Greenlee hopes to be in the rotation as the second point guard. He played eight minutes without scoring in Minnesota’s season-opening 85-50 win over Cleveland State. In their exhibition win over Southwest Minnesota State, he hit two 3-pointers.
While the Gophers played much of last year with a non-traditional point guard in Amir Coffey and few reserve options while Isaiah Washington rode the bench, Greenlee should provide some stability, which Pitino wants from that position.
“As of now, I’m more of a facilitating point guard,” said Greenlee. “When I get more comfortable in my role, start feeling myself a little bit more, I feel like I can definitely score because I am a scoring point guard, but right now I’m just getting everyone in their positions, running the offense, being a good leader. When I have my open shots, when I have opportunities to score, I’ll take advantage.”
When the Gophers announced Greenlee’s signing, Pitino said he liked Greenlee’s competitiveness. As Greenlee says, he’s “quick, strong and scrappy.” The head coach wants to see that manifest itself on the defensive end, where Greenlee can make an immediate impact.
“He’s undersized, so he’s got to be a pest on the ball.”
OPENING WIN TAKEAWAYS
Here were the most notable observations from Tuesday’s 35-point win:
- The new starting guards were brilliant and packed the stat sheet. Payton Willis scored 17 with four rebounds and eight assists, and Marcus Carr flirted with a triple-double at 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Pitino has asked Carr to be more efficient as a scorer — and 5 of 13 shooting isn’t necessarily that — but making plays and crashing the glass can take the edge off a poor shooting percentage. As for Willis, he was the best Gophers guard on the floor for a second straight game, including the exhibition. He went 5 for 8 from beyond the arc Tuesday night. “They’ve got a nice quiet confidence about them, which I like,” said Pitino, “and I think they’re eager for these opportunities in front of them, and when you sit out for a year like Payton and Marcus you’re going to take advantage of those opportunities right away.”
- Speaking of the guards, they rebounded much better than they did in the exhibition against Southwest Minnesota State, who tied the Gophers in rebounding. The Gophers outboarded the Vikings 40-25 Tuesday night, led by sophomore Daniel Oturu, who scored 16 points to go with his 10 rebounds.
- The Gophers’ primary bench options were returners Jarvis Omersa and Michael Hurt, as well as freshman Tre Williams. Omersa was efficient around the rim with 4 of 5 shooting for eight points (tying a carer high).
- Alihan Demir, the Drexel transfer, was rusty-looking in the exhibition. He looked better Tuesday night with 10 points, two boards and two assists. His size played well against the overmatched Vikings.
- Cleveland State picked up a technical in the first half for two violations of flopping, a new rule to discourage embellishment from defensive players. “They’re trying to get deceiving the officials out of the game,” Pitino said. “I think it’s good. It’s a little weird. But I think it’s good for everybody to stop with that because it’s very prevalent.”
VISIT FROM RICK PITINO
Coach Pitino’s father, Rick, was in town recently and met with the team. Carr said the gist of Pitino’s address was toughness.
“The fact that we’re underdogs and we’re kind of embracing that, nobody’s really talking about us, and that’s fine with us,” Carr said. “We’re just going to keep our head down and keep working, and the results are going to show for us. He kind of talked about how personally he’s had teams with way less talent than we’ve had and he’s been to Final Fours with him, so he’s just saying how he’s confident in us, and we should have that same confidence, but that confidence should come from us working hard and pushing each other every day and going as hard as we can.”
The younger Pitino has described these Gophers as gym rats. Willis was asked what makes this team so dedicated and used a piece of Rick Pitino’s presentation as an example. The former Louisville coach asked the team which of them wanted to continue their basketball careers after school.
“Everybody raised their hand, and all of us said, ‘We want to play basketball after college,’ so I think that’s a big part of it,” said Willis. “We just want to win, and everybody knows that’s the formula to winning. Everybody getting better each day.”