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Scott M

Colton Iverson

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U's Iverson stays ahead of steep learning curve

Myron Medcalf, Star Tribune

Midway through the Gophers' 71-54 victory Saturday over Cornell, Colton Iverson's 6-10 frame -- his listed height, which seems a couple inches short to most observers -- fell to the hardwood as he wrestled for an inconsequential loose ball. The 235-pound freshman has spent a good portion of his first season in similar scrums and scrambles.

With post players Damian Johnson, Paul Carter and Jonathan Williams all missing time this season because of various injuries and illnesses, Iverson hasn't had time to develop gradually like other freshman big men. Iverson's performance hasn't always been pretty, but the bottom line is: The Gophers are off to an 8-0 start.

"I think that's his style and he's learned to fall the right way," said Gophers coach Tubby Smith, whose team faces South Dakota State tonight. "But for a big guy, Colton Iverson does lay it on the line, and that's what we're trying to get all of our players to understand, to play with that type of aggression. He does it about as well as anybody, especially as a freshman."

Smith does not allow freshmen to be interviewed from preseason media day to the start of the Big Ten season. But in Iverson's case, his performance has spoken for itself.

Preseason individual workouts: Point guard Al Nolen quickly notices Iverson's physical strength, as the freshman challenges the 6-7 Johnson, perhaps the team's best defender, and 6-9, 285-pound Williams. "He hasn't played like a freshman at all," Nolen said. "He gives us a big inside presence with scoring and he also gives us defense, and it brings a toughness to our team that we didn't have last year."

That tenacity alone has helped the Yankton, S.D., native become the clear starter at center. Iverson already is in the team record book with nine blocks against Bowling Green, tied for the third-best individual performance in Minnesota men's basketball history, behind Mychal Thompson and Joel Pryzbilla.

He has displayed a steadily improving offensive game, complete with jump hooks and a knack for dunks off rebounds.

He also has had lapses like most first-year players.

"I'm mostly just working on my post defense and my post offense again," Iverson said during media day. "I'm trying to get bigger, trying to get quicker. ... We just want to perfect everything, get better every day."

Nov. 22 at Colorado State. Iverson's final stat line: five points, three turnovers and five fouls in 11 minutes.

When Iverson faced Colorado State, he picked up two quick fouls and eventually fouled out late in the game. Former Hopkins post player Dan Vandervieren scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in that game for the Rams. Iverson's absence in the first half made the Gophers' 72-71 victory much tougher to come by and also showed his value to the team. Iverson has provided the Gophers with their only sense of consistency in the paint.

By mid-November, he was giving Minnesota more defensively than last season's starting center, Spencer Tollackson. But Iverson wasn't replacing Tollackson's offensive output, averaging only 6.5 points in the team's first four games.

Nov. 26 vs. Eastern Washington: Iverson scores eight consecutive points to spark a 17-3 run to start the game. He finished with 20 points, a career-high.

His point total was impressive, but not as much as the way he went about amassing it. Iverson was more aggressive around the basket than he had been all season. He added five rebounds, four assists and a block. It was as if he had finally figured out that he needed to attack the basket more. He has averaged 11.0 points in the team's past four contests.

"Colton, he was a monster in the paint," Johnson said after the game.

Saturday against Cornell: a Johnson miss bounces off the rim, Iverson jumps up, grabs the ball and slams it, as more than 12,000 Gophers fans roar in appreciation.

Part of Iverson's success so far can be attributed to his attitude entering his first season of college basketball. Iverson simply wanted to contribute. He never planned to earn a reputation so quickly as one of Minnesota's most important players.

"There's a little pressure, it's not too bad," Iverson said before the season began. "I just want to come out here and help the team compete with everyone and help the team out the best I can."

***************************************************

Iverson's been a beast inside at times. I could see him staying 4 years and leaving some marks in the record books. Sampson is still pretty raw, but if they stick around, improve their games, and Tubby can put some athletic slashers and guards around them we could be looking at a team that's thinking Final Four in a couple years. It's only been 8 games but its hard to ignore the potential. I was really disappointed when Cole Aldrich left and now he's being mentioned as a potential first round NBA pick (Can't blame him for going to a place that wins...he's got that NCAA ring for life). I see Iverson as having a very similar game as Aldrich in short time. Fill out the stat book, defend the middle and the rim, clean the glass, post up hard, and be a double double threat every night. Gotta love Colt 45.

The bigs are a piece of Tubby's puzzle. He needs quick and athletic guards in his system and he'll pressure you off the court. If he keeps recruiting at the level he's established he'll get a stash of players that can play at the next level and he will make some deep NCAA runs.

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You gotta love this kid.

He has given the Gophers an inside presents that they have lacked for a number of years.

A good shot blocker with the ability to take over a game when he's making his shots.

Freshmen players can be a little inconsistent at times, however he's only going to get better.

With the quality of players that Tubby will surround him with, I see nothing but upside with this kid. Together he and Sampson could take this team a long way as they both mature.

"Ace" smile

Happy Holidays!

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