Big Ten in the house: Cam Christie meets his mom's school at The Barn

Cam Christie knew it was coming.

The Gophers' 6-6 freshman standout braced for the jeers from the Michigan State student section when he played against his brother's former team for the first time in a Jan. 18 loss.

The fans actually made him laugh when they chanted, "Max is better" throughout the night, referring to the other Christie, a second-year Los Angeles Lakers guard.

"It added more energy to the game," Cam said. "It was pretty fun."

No fun was Cam fouling out with eight minutes left vs. the Spartans. That game prepared him for last Saturday's win at Penn State, where he scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half to help seal the U's comeback from 16 points down.

Great timing for Cam's best Big Ten performance yet. His next two games are against familiar foes. The Gophers (13-7, 4-5 Big Ten) host Northwestern on Saturday and have a rematch with Michigan State on Tuesday at Williams Arena.

Cam's mother, Katrina (Hannaford), was a 1,000-point scorer for the Wildcats during her college career from 1993-97. Her picture is on a wall display in the concourse at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Christie brothers were taught basketball at a young age by their dad, who played at Wisconsin-Superior, a Division III school. They picked up a lot of natural ability from their 6-2 mother who never talked much about her hoops playing days but clearly left her mark in Evanston.

"We've been tied to Northwestern for a long time," said Max Christie Sr., Cam's father. "Cameron knows all those guys who play there. And we work out with them during the summer."

Cam picked the Gophers and coach Ben Johnson over several Big Ten schools, but Northwestern was close to landing him as basically his hometown program. The Christies raised their boys 20 miles away from Evanston in Arlington Heights, Ill. The brothers were stars at Rolling Meadows High nearby.

"Max was a ball boy at Northwestern," Max Sr. said. "I coached Cam in a game in the fifth grade right before Northwestern played on its court. And he hit the game-winning basket, too. Pretty cool."

Ready for big shots

The Gophers felt so confident in Cam's talent, by his second college game, they used leading scorer Dawson Garcia as a decoy and called a play for him with the game on the line in a Nov. 16 loss vs. Missouri. Cam missed a last-second jumper.

Facing adversity early in his college career has contributed to his growth.

"As a freshman, the goal is to go out there and get better with each game," Cam said. "Try not to put pressure on myself, knowing I'm experiencing everything for the first time."

A former four-star recruit, Cam scored 18 points in his first college game Nov. 10 vs. Texas Arlington, the best true Gophers freshman debut since former NBA player Kris Humphries in 2003. Cam had missed the season opener, recovering from mono, and was used as an offensive spark off the bench for the first seven games.

Now, he has started the last 11 games while going through ups and downs learning to play multiple positions, including point guard. Playing alongside juniors Elijah Hawkins and Mike Mitchell Jr. and sophomore Braeden Carrington has taken pressure off of him.

"Being able to ask questions and learn from Elijah is great," Cam said. "He's been a point guard his whole life and leads the country in assists."

Still, scoring is what Cam does best. The only Big Ten freshmen with a higher scoring average than his 10.5 points are Iowa's Owen Freeman and Indiana's Mackenzie Mgbako (both 10.9). He could be the first Gophers player since Amir Coffey in 2016-17 to earn All-Big Ten freshman honors..

"Had no expectations," Cam said. "Obviously as the Big Ten season has started, every game gets tougher and tougher as it goes. There are scouting reports. You have to learn to adapt to that."

During the U's recent four-game losing streak, Cam averaged 8.3 points but settled for jumpers with eight of his 12 made field goals on threes. He also went only 1-for-3 on free throws during that span. He surpassed that with 17 points on 5-for-5 shooting inside the arc and 4-for-4 free throws last Saturday vs. Penn State.

The Gophers' third-year coach was most impressed with Cam's all-around contribution with a season-high eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. Cam also shut down Penn State standout Ace Baldwin in the second half.

"What he did defensively in the second half was really good," Johnson said. "Pressuring the ball. Played in space. Got some stuff in transition. Just played like an older player."

Family's support

In late December, Max Christie Jr. was able to watch his not-so-little brother — Cam is one inch taller — play with the Gophers for the first time in a win vs. Maine. His Lakers were in town to play against the Timberwolves.

Their father, a pilot for Delta Airlines, made the trip to Minneapolis, too. They sat in the Barn that night seeing clear physical differences in Cam since he played with his big brother for two years in high school. Now 18 years old, Cam is 3 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. One thing remained the same, though.

"He's super confident when he's on the floor and you can tell nothing really rattles him," Max Jr. said on the Gophers halftime radio show Dec. 29. "All the work, the shots, the hours we've put in when we were younger coming on to this level. You can see it out here as he looks comfortable."

Michigan State offered Cam after Max Jr. went there. But the real recruiting battle was between Northwestern and the Gophers for the youngest Christie because "it's so close to home," his dad said.

Cam didn't let family ties influence his college decision. There was no avoiding the Spartans and Wildcats once he chose to stay in the Big Ten, but he's doing his own thing with the Gophers.

"It shows you how much he loved Minnesota," Cam's father said. "It's not about us but it's about his journey."