Gophers' Christie says NBA draft talk will have to wait

You won't see Gophers freshman Cam Christie's name mentioned much on NBA mock drafts for this year yet, but scouts are surely keeping a watchful eye.

Christie, named Big Ten freshman of the week for the second time Monday, has been one of the hottest young players in the conference in the last month. He's scored in double figures in nine of the last 10 games.

The 6-6 sharpshooter is making the type of impact his older brother, Max, did as a freshman for Michigan State before the Los Angeles Lakers picked him in the second round of the 2022 NBA draft.

Joining his brother in the NBA is a goal, but Christie's focus is on continuing to develop. A former four-star recruit, he is eyeing a strong finish with the Gophers (18-11, 9-9 Big Ten), who play their final home game Wednesday vs. Indiana.

"I just try to stay in the moment and think about my team," said Christie, who had a team-high 19 points in Sunday's 75-70 comeback win vs. Penn State. "If I started to think about the future and going to the NBA or whatnot, then it's going to affect my play."

Social media has been buzzing, though, about Christie's draft stock rising fast, and understandably so.

Christie is a strong candidate for Big Ten freshman of the year. He's a lock to be the first Gophers player to earn all-conference freshman honors since current Los Angeles Clippers guard Amir Coffey in 2016-17.

An Arlington Heights, Ill., native, Christie is second behind Indiana's Mackenzie Mgbako (12.0) among Big Ten freshman scorers at 11.9 points per game, which includes a career-high 23 points with six threes in last week's loss at Illinois.

Christie leads all conference freshmen in assists per game (2.2), minutes per game (29.4) and threes made (62) while shooting 42.2% from long distance in 28 games.

Christie's brother averaged 9.3 points on 31.7% three-point shooting in a team-high 30.8 minutes in 2021-22. The former five-star recruit's NBA potential was evident before he declared for the draft following a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Duke.

"There were a lot of different factors that went into it," Christie said. "My experience and his experience are different, the things that go into it.

"So, I haven't talked to him about the NBA draft or anything like that for me. There are a lot of things that went into his decision that are probably going to go into mine."

The Gophers are long shots at making the NCAA tourney, but Christie's play alongside fellow backcourt starters Elijah Hawkins and Mike Mitchell Jr. has helped give them a chance to finish above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2016-17. Next week's Big Ten tournament played at Target Center also gives the U a chance at a possible deep run.

"I've gained confidence in myself as a player and shooter," Christie said. "Not passing up open looks. My teammates believe in me to make those shots."

Gophers coach Ben Johnson said there have been no talks with Christie or any of his players about pro possibilities after this season, including leading scorer Dawson Garcia, who declared for the 2021 NBA draft after his freshman year at Marquette. Garcia is focused on winning right now.

"He understands there's a time and place for all that stuff," Johnson said. "[Garcia's] so locked in right now that he wouldn't even entertain the thought. And all of the rest of our guys wouldn't. That's what I love about this team."

Garcia and Hawkins both said they'll wait until after the season to make decisions on their college future to keep their attention on the late-season push. "It's definitely a possibility," Garcia said about returning to the Gophers.

Christie won't let NBA draft talk distract him from the task at hand, either.

"When that time comes, then I'll focus on it," Christie said. "But right now, staying focused on [the next game] is the main thing."