To Rickert and beyond

Last year, Rick Rickert left school early to prove he belonged in the NBA. He didn't get drafted. This year, freshman Kris Humphries is showing far better production than Rickert ever did.

The star system is alive and well — at least in Minnesota.

Last year, much of Dan Monson's offense was funneled through talented big man Rick Rickert, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds.

When Rickert opted to leave the program because of a desire to prove himself in the NBA — a dream that fell hard because he went undrafted — the Gophers pinned their hopes on freshman Kris Humphries.

So far Humphries has exceeded expectations.

He has gone well past Rickert's numbers, as he is averaging 24.3 ppg and 11.8 rebounds. He was at his best in the Gophers' 88-58 victory over Long Beach State on Dec. 9 when he scored 28 points and had 12 rebounds.

His teammates have been looking to him since the first game of the season and he is clearly coming through. While they may be a bit surprised by his ability to step forward, head coach Dan Monson had high expectations.

"I think how's he's playing is exactly how I envisioned it," said Monson.

"He's unstoppable when he gets the ball on his terms and he gets the ball where we want him to get it. It's a broken record, but he doesn't play like a freshman. He's a great finisher around the basket."

At 6-8 and 240 pounds, Humphries has the size and strength to impose his will on his opponents. He's off to a very impressive start, but whether he has the mental tenacity to last through a full conference season remains to be seen.

Head coach Dan Monson is not averse to playing racehorse basketball and having the Gophers use a fast-break attack — as long as they don't forget their responsibilities on the defensive end. So far this year, Minnesota is averaging 79.2 ppg — good for second in the Big Ten behind Illinois.

— The Gophers love to shoot the trey. Through their first six games, the are shooting 38 percent behind the arc, which is good for second in the Big Ten. Only Northwestern — at 38.1 percent — is better than Minnesota.

— Minnesota is an impressive third in the Big Ten in turnover differential at plus-1.0 per game. Wisconsin and Purdue are the only teams ahead of the Gophers.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Kris Humphries, forward Michael Bauer, guard Moe Hargrow, guard Ben Johnson, guard Adam Boone.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It hasn't been just his first couple of games. It hasn't been against people he should do it against, it's been against everybody, it's been in practice and it's been every day almost." — Senior guard Ben Johnson on freshman Kris Humphries.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Oral Roberts, Friday, Dec. 12

KEYS: This is not Michigan State's schedule. Far from it. The Gophers will be able to build up a fine pre-Big Ten record, but they may not have the defensive strength to hold up for a full Big Ten season.


— Freshman forward Kris Humphries is leading the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding through the first six games of his college career, averaging 24.3 points and 11.8 rebounds.

— Guard Ben Johnson is ninth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage as he is converting 55.6 percent of his shots. Johnson is averaging 13.2 ppg.

— Guard Adam Boone is giving a great effort all over the court. He is fifth in the Big Ten is assists with 5.0 per game. The junior transfer from North Carolina is impressing his teammates and coaches with his all-around hustle.

— Forward Kerry Wooldridge is expected to take a redshirt this season and try again in 2004-05.

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