When Dawson Garcia was named Big Ten player of the week last week, the forward from Prior Lake credited cardio workouts he and his Gopher men’s basketball teammates did during preseason.
“I’m in a lot better shape this year to start the season,” said Garcia, who leads Minnesota with 18.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. “This is a big testament to the work we put in as a team in the offseason. We had a Winners Week, and I really think that helped out tremendously — as it did the rest of the guys.”
That is music to coach Ben Johnson’s ears.
In September, Johnson set up a week’s worth of difficult cardio workouts for before sunrise and basketball activities for the afternoon. The team broke into groups and kept score throughout one week, hence the name “Winners Week.”
“Finding ways to get these guys to understand they are winners and develop that mindset,” Johnson said Monday. “… Especially when you haven’t won, you have to find wins every day to build that self confidence and to view yourself as a winner.”
The transition to winning on the court this season went into a pothole last week. Minnesota gave up a 20-point lead in last Thursday’s 70-68 to Missouri, but bounced back with a 67-53 win over South Carolina-Upstate on Saturday.
“Part of it is, we are still trying to find ways to win,” Johnson said of the Missouri game.
The Gophers (3-1) play Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-2) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Williams Arena.
Garcia said he has more stamina this season, and the 6-foot-11 forward is playing a team-high 34 minutes per game.
Forward Parker Fox said the workouts, which were at a variety of Gophers stadiums on campus, came with some anxiety.
“It was kind of something that you look at and dread,” Fox said. “ ‘ Oh, I got to get up at 5 a.m. and go do whatever the heck they tell me to do conditioning-wise?’ ”
But the last night of Winners Week ended with a sleepover at The Barn.
“Guys were sleeping all over the place,” Fox shared. “Braeden Carrington was in the barn lofts. Dawson slept at half court and his blowup mattress deflated. He was just sleeping on the ground. I took the visitors locker room because there is air conditioning. That was a veteran play by myself.”
Johnson wanted to conduct Winners Week to be able to point to that experience when challenges arise during the season.
“When you haven’t had success on a big level at this stage, it’s hard,” Johnson said. “I can try to push confidence in you all I want, but you have to have a reference point that you can go back to and say, ‘you know, he’s right.’ ”
After beating the Gophers on Thursday, Missouri lost 73-72 to previously winless Jackson State on Sunday. Missouri fell to 3-2 this season. … The Gophers beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 72-56 last season, but Johnson said this year’s Pine Bluff squad is a much-different team. The Golden Lions can play an unorthodox style, sometimes with five guards on the court.