Andre Hollins wanted to wear Cardinal red.
The Gophers’ star sophomore point guard knew Stanford was his top choice after scouting out the campus as a high school senior in October 2010.
“Early on, I thought it would be the perfect combination between school and basketball,” Hollins said.
The Memphis, Tenn., native texted his high school coach during his Stanford visit, pouring excited thoughts into his cellphone.
“He kept saying he loved the place, so I said, ‘Well, commit if that’s where you want to be,’” said Jesus Patino, Hollins’ coach at White Station High School, “but he wanted to complete all of his visits.”
Patino said Stanford didn’t tell Hollins about having a lone scholarship left.
And as Hollins humored his other suitors, Stanford signed Chasson Randle, a guard from Rock Island, Ill., to fill its last opening.
Hollins said he was disappointed but “went with the flow” and moved down his list.
Minnesota and Harvard, his initial backups, became his top options.
It was a choice between basketball and education.
“I pushed him to Minnesota,” Patino said. “I thought the Big Ten gave him the potential to live the [basketball] dream.”
Hollins, now a Carlson School of Management sophomore, said choosing Minnesota has helped his education, too.
“Some of the main Fortune 500 companies are here. I’ve networked with some powerful people,” Hollins said. “I knew as soon as I committed here I made the right choice.”
As a 17-year-old, Hollins agreed to join a struggling program that hasn’t officially won an NCAA tournament game since the 1989-90 season.
He rolled the dice on the Gophers, and head coach Tubby Smith took an equal risk on a shooting guard that had only served one full season as a point guard.
“Trying to make that transition [from shooting to point guard] in the Big Ten is as big of a challenge as you can have,” Smith said.
Smith said every player goes through growing pains, especially Hollins, who had started every season since ninth grade.
“It takes time [to mature] for a guy who had played just about every minute in high school,” Smith said.
Hollins, who turns 20 on Tuesday, averaged 18 minutes off the bench in his first 11 games with Minnesota last season.
He made a relatively smooth transition from high school to college, shooting guard to point guard and earned the Gophers’ starting point guard role midway through his freshman year.
He still sometimes looks for his shot first before facilitating to his teammates, a remnant from his days as a shooting guard.
His old habits have helped Minnesota more than not early this season, and they aren’t likely to change.
Hollins averages a team-high 13.7 points and has led Minnesota to wins over Stanford and his hometown Memphis. He scored 41 points against Memphis, more than any Gophers player in the past 41 years.
“There are no taking sides for me. If I’m open, wouldn’t you want me to shoot it?” Hollins said. “If I’m off, I need to create for my teammates. It depends on the flow of the game.”
‘Going with the flow’
Hollins’ inexperience and poor ball-handling his freshman year caused him to post the most turnovers of this year’s starting five.
The problem persists this season, but Hollins’ growth as a Big Ten point guard is exponential.
In 11 games this season, Hollins has raised his scoring average by five points from last year. He’s averaging almost double the assists while turning it over slightly more than he did in his freshman season.
But he said he simply wants to improve and enjoy the ride with no specific goals in place.
“Right now, I’m kind of like I was in high school,” Hollins said, “just setting the trail for myself, going with the flow.”
With its balanced scoring, Minnesota (10-1) has ridden the ups and downs of Hollins’ inconsistent shooting with ease.
Austin and Andre Hollins, no relation, played against each other in high school, as they both attended Memphis-area schools.
“I could tell he had potential because he was starting as a freshman [in high school],” Austin Hollins said.
“But it’s good to have him on my team. He’s always smiling — and that’s something we need in the locker room.”
Patino said Andre Hollins was the “glue that held everybody together” in high school. He said Hollins’ personality is one of the greatest intangibles he offers.
“It’s like with a job,” Andre Hollins said. “You’d rather work with somebody you can go out with off the clock.”
He said his carefree attitude is contagious and can sometimes hurt him on the court.
In his 41-point outing against Memphis, Hollins said he was as mentally focused as he’d ever been — and needs to make it a habit.
“I need to focus on being more serious-minded,” Hollins said. “I’m a playful guy, [and] sometimes I’m not as entirely focused as I should be.”