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Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino is eager to see his talented class of newcomers for the first time in summer practices this week.

But one promising talent, freshman guard Jarvis Johnson, wasn’t cleared to play by team doctors because of a heart condition.

Pitino talked Monday with the Pioneer Press about Johnson’s situation, senior leadership, Oklahoma State and more.

Q: Were you as surprised as Johnson’s family was about the decision by the team doctors?

A: The biggest thing with Jarvis is everybody wants what’s best for Jarvis and his health. Certainly, we’re disappointed he will not be playing for us. The intentions are very, very good. We all want to see him succeed for a long, long time in the game of life. I think Jarvis’ family knows that. I told Jarvis this the other day, that, “One door is closed but that doesn’t mean that a bunch of doors won’t open for you.”

He’s a special kid. He’s a resilient kid. He’s a well-rounded person who will get the most out of his opportunity. He’ll still help out our program a lot. This was something that we trusted in our doctors and we knew that what they wanted more than anything was for Jarvis to be healthy.

Q: Will he ever have a chance to play for the Gophers?

A: We haven’t even really thought like that. More than anything, we’ve told him, “This is the situation, and if you want to explore other options, you’re more than welcome to do that. Or if you want to be a part of our program still, help out and be a valuable asset to what we’re trying to do, we would love to have you.”

It’s disappointing he can’t play basketball, but he still gets a free education and still gets to be a part of this team. You always hear the disappointing things about what the NCAA does, or universities; well, this is a good thing that they do. I’m happy we’re able to provide him that.

Q: Does Johnson’s scholarship count against your 13, and what would you do with an open scholarship?

A: It doesn’t count against us. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with it. We’re always open and looking for certain things. We’re always recruiting. That’s something we always do because you never know what can happen with anything. I’m not sure if it’s too late or not, but we’re looking at a couple different options.

Q: What are your impressions of the team after the first week of individual workouts?

A: You know it’s early, and it’s a totally different team. So many new faces; six new faces (four freshmen and two transfers). With individuals, it’s so much skill work. It’s not really as competitive as practice. I’ll have a really good gauge this week after practice. But the one thing I’ve noticed is that we’re bigger with our (small forwards and power forwards). You look at Jordan Murphy: He can legitimately play the (small forward or the power forward). He is 6-foot-7 and weights 225. Ahmad Gilbert is 6-7; he can play multiple positions. Dupree McBrayer is 6-4. Davonte (Fitzgerald) is 6-8. We set out to get bigger, and certainly we have that.

Q: What do you think about Illinois State transfer and Edina native Reggie Lynch?

A: We have him listed at 6-9 and he weighs about 260. It sounds obvious, but he is so big and it’s such an advantage for him. The thing that he does really well is he catches every single ball thrown his way. He’s got great hands. He’s a very good shot blocker. He has very good timing. I think this year off for him will really help his offensive skills. But I’m very excited having a guy with his size in our program.

Q: How much will sophomore center Bakary Konate benefit from competing against Lynch in practice?

A: Competition is the best thing for both of those guys. Healthy competition is huge. There’s something to be said for a transfer being able to learn without having all the pressure and expectations of the season going on. He can do it while being on the sideline. Hopefully, a guy with his size makes Bakary better. And maybe Bakary can make him better.

Q: Have you noticed anything different from Konate since the end of the season?

A: I think he weights about 235. He’s done his work in the weight room. We’d like to get him up to about 245. But as for just on-the-court stuff, it’s too early. To get that raw talent out of him, you have to see it in 5 on 5. He’s got to be able to operate without fouling. He’s got to be able to catch the ball. Do all those things with other people around him. In individual (drills), you’re doing a move by yourself. It’s a little different when you have a crowd around you. The full practices with the whole team will help him. A summer will really help him.

With (Gaston Diedhiou) and Bakary, they were so behind the 8 ball. Well, now this summer we really need those two guys to take the next step this summer. I think with workouts, and with (the trip) to Spain, I think all those things will be really beneficial to them.

Q: Has sophomore guard Nate Mason fully recovered from the thumb injury?

A: He doesn’t look raw or anything. You never want a guy to get injured, but the timing of the injury was probably the best time it could possibly be. Everybody was going home anyway, and probably going to take a few weeks off. He was still doing a lot of work with cardio staff and working on his left hand. He looks very good. He doesn’t look like he’s been injured at all.

Q: What does senior forward Joey King have to do this summer to grasp that leadership role?

A: I think that Joey has the ultimate respect from everyone on the team and everyone in the program. He loves basketball. He works his butt off. He never takes a second off in practice. His next step is pulling everybody with him while he does that. When you want to be a leader, you have to have everybody’s respect. Joey’s got that because he’s all about the right things; he’s all about getting better, he’s all about winning, he’s all about playing for the state of Minnesota. He’s from here and has got so much pride in it. Now getting him to verbalize it is the next step. I think he’s really worked on that and he’s doing a very good job this offseason. You’re hearing him a lot more, which is good.

Q: Are you going to expect the same type of leadership from senior guard Carlos Morris?

A: Carlos is naturally not a very talkative kid, but I’ve heard his voice a lot more this summer than I did last year. I think Carlos got a year under his belt; he knows what will be expected from him. He’s at about 185 pounds (up from 175) right now, which is good. It’s giving him a lot of confidence. He’s done his job and hopefully he’s ready to take the next step.

Q: Were you trying to add a marquee home opponent before deciding to play Oklahoma State in Sioux Falls, S.D.?

A: We weren’t sure in the Big Ten/ACC if we were going to be at home or away. When we found at we were at home, what that most likely means is that we’ll be away next year. Certainly, we want to bring a great opponent in here, but you’ve also got to be smart about the way you schedule. If you bring a home team in this year and start a home-and-home, then that means you’ve got two games in the Big Ten/ACC on the road, as well as the home-and-home you started on the road. Plus, there’s the Gavitt (Tipoff) series we’re going to be in and potentially an exempt tournament. That would be really difficult for our guys if you were playing that many true road games.

I wanted to set out to alternate and get a home game next year in our building. We’re really close to getting that, starting a series against a very good opponent next year. We’re just trying to solidify a couple things. I thought with the Oklahoma State game, I know our fans wanted to see us play against a great opponent. This is the next best thing. Plus, you’re playing a team that makes the NCAA tournament every year. We’re trying to challenge our guys to get them ready. I’ve said it before, I thought I messed up the schedule last year. I thought our first few weeks were very challenging, but I thought I needed to challenge them a little better in December. I think this gives us the opportunity to do that.

Q: What did it mean for you and your coaching staff to get raises this offseason?

A: None of that has been announced yet. I think the biggest thing I can say more than anything, I’ve always felt like (athletics director) Norwood (Teague) has been extremely supportive of our basketball program. On a daily basis, he’s been great. I feel like I work for one of the best athletic directors in the country. He’s done so much in so little time — what he’s been able to get close to building, and I know it’s going to take off here shortly. The amount of fund-raising he’s done in a short period of time is amazing. I never doubted his support for us and me.

Follow Marcus R. Fuller at twitter.com/GophersNow.

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