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Gophers’ Richard Pitino: Law allowing student-athletes to earn money ‘progress’

MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino on Wednesday, Oct. 2 voiced support for a new California law that will allow college athletes to earn money from their image and likeness.

“I think it’s progress,” Pitino said Wednesday from Big Ten media days in Rosemont, Ill. “I think over the last couple of years we are headed in the right direction with taking care of our student-athletes. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but I think it’s a good idea. I know a lot of people have been pushing for it.”

The California law, which will take effect in 2023, allows college players in the state to hire agents and market themselves through endorsements. Other states are considering similar measures.

“I think the biggest thing now is just getting everybody on the same page,” Pitino said. “Getting all the states, getting the NCAA and everybody working together is the most important thing. But the more we can get (for) these guys, these student-athletes, I’m all for it.”

On Monday, Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle released a statement saying the U “will work closely” with the Big Ten on the matter. On Tuesday, football coach P.J. Fleck said he was concentrating on Saturday’s homecoming game against Illinois, adding, “I haven’t read enough about it. I know where college football is headed. Change is inevitable.”

“One thing I know about the University of Minnesota since I’ve been here, we’re going to do everything we possibly can do to provide the most unique and elite experience. … I know that for a fact,” he continued. “Now, what comes along with all the legislation? I know the University of Minnesota is going to work directly in stride with the Big Ten and the NCAA to provide that, the best opportunities and the best experiences our players can have in what they’re allowed to do.”

Gophers picked 11th

A poll of 28 Big Ten basketball beat writers picked the Gophers men’s basketball team was picked to finish 11th in the 14-team conference this season. The joint Columbus Dispatch/The Athletic poll released Monday picked Minnesota ahead of only Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern.

“We lost a lot (of players), but that doesn’t mean we have to take a step back,” Pitino said from the podium at the Hilton Rosemont hotel, “and we’ve got to get our guys to understand that. Just excited about this group. They are good guys. They work hard. They represent themselves the right way.”

Michigan State was picked to win the conference with 27-first place votes, followed by Maryland with one. The order of the rest of the conference was: Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Penn State, Indiana and then Minnesota.

The Gophers finished seventh in the Big Ten last year, 9-11 in the conference and 22-14 overall. They advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament and the second round of the NCAA tournament but lost three starters, most notably senior Jordan Murphy and junior Amir Coffey. That pair contributed 44 percent of the U’s scoring and 40 percent of both its rebounding and assist totals last season.

The Gophers are introducing seven new players, including projected starting point guard Marcus Carr, a transfer from Pittsburgh, and off-guard Payton Willis, a transfer from Vanderbilt.

Pitino spoke about their leadership abilities from the podium Wednesday.

“Marcus is a natural leader, just confident on and off the court, tough, competes, versatile, can play a multitude of positions, fearless,” he said. “He’s only a sophomore, but he doesn’t act like it.”

Of Willis, Pitino said, “He may not be as loud as (Carr) at times, but his work ethic does the talking. I think the young guys see how hard he works every single day. That is the biggest thing you can get.”

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