It worked for seven minutes on Saturday.
And more than likely it will work again Monday against Division II Western New Mexico University in the Pit.
But just how long coach Richard Pitino’s rebuilt roster can handle point guard Jaelen House being out with an ankle injury — one the team has not updated since he hurt it in Saturday’s win over Montana State — is about to be put to the test.
And for a roster that ranks 317th out of 358 Division I teams in terms of past DI playing experience, handling adversity and position changes on the fly isn’t as simple as some fans might want it to be.
“When you have a guy like House — he’s playing 30-plus minutes, he’s averaging 20-plus points, and then he goes down. Other guys got to step up,” Pitino said. “We’re so obsessed with starting lineup, starting lineup, starting lineup. Everybody’s got to be ready. There’s foul trouble. There’s injuries. … That’s part of the game and that’s why everybody’s ready at all times for whatever is thrown your way.”
While several players will get some minutes at the point guard position in whatever absence House may experience, it’s clear that combo guard Jamal Mashburn Jr., the sophomore transfer who followed Pitino over from Minnesota in the offseason as a transfer from the Big Ten, will be looked at first to guide the team most, even if it takes him away from a role where he’s been flourishing as a scorer.
And that’s just fine with him.
“I’m ready to play a ‘5′ if he needs me to,” said Mashburn on Saturday, responding to a reporter’s question of whether he’s willing to play the point for the Lobos depending on House’s status moving forward.
“Whatever he needs me to do, I’m ready.”
In 37 minutes Saturday, Mashburn had a highly efficient stat line of 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, four assists, two steals and just one turnover.
He has said time and again he doesn’t think much about positions on the court as his dad, former NBA All-Star and collegiate All-American at Kentucky Jamal Mashburn Sr., raised him “to just be a basketball player, not any specific position.”
While players like Jeremiah Francis off the bench and certainly sharp-shooting reserve K.J. Jenkins will also get some run at the point should House be out awhile, Mashburn clearly has the trust of his coach — a trust that comes not only from his steady production on the court through four games (18.3 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 49.2% from the field), but from now a year and a half of watching how Mashburn approaches the game.
“Jamal comes in every single day and it’s amazing how intentional he is,” Pitino said of Mashburn at practice. “He’s all business. That doesn’t mean he’s not fun. He’s a fun guy. But he’s competitive. Every day he comes to work like he’s a pro. He comes to practice to work on his game, not to get through it. He goes into the weight room to get stronger. He eats the right way because he knows his body is important. And then when he goes out there and competes, I know I’ve got a guy on the court who will do whatever it takes to get the win.”
SHOOTER? As an off guard with House on the ball, Mashburn has been very effective as a scorer so far this season. And his attention to his outside shot since leaving Minnesota has been a big part of his focus.
“I know last year, they labeled me as a non-shooter, going under my ball screens (when defending against him, something defenses don’t do to players considered top-level shooters),” Mashburn said. “So, I’m gonna start making them pay for going under. I’ve been putting in a lot of work and I’m gonna continue to put in a lot of work to prove … them wrong.”
Through four games, Mashburn has hit 6-of-18 3-pointers (33.3%).
In three Pit games, he’s hit 5-of-12 (41.7%) of his 3s. At Minnesota a year ago, he hit 27.6% of his 3-pointers.