MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Gopher men’s basketball team takes on Iowa Sunday. It is another swing game, which means it has NCAA tournament implications because they could end up close in the standings.

That is only part of the story for Dupree McBrayer. He lost his number-one fan, his mother, earlier this season, and that changes your perspective.

McBrayer is suddenly a senior, and he is a key to if the Gophers can get to the NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve said from day one in order to get to where we want to get to, we need those older guys, those experienced guys to play like experienced guys, and Dupree is quietly playing very good basketball,” said Coach Richard Pitino.

He needs to be in the middle of it all; not as a star, but as a stand out — a player that is a big part of a balanced attack that shares the ball.

Dupree McBrayer (credit: CBS)

“Everybody’s a threat on the court, you know, you can’t just worry about one person, you got to worry about the others. And it could be anybody’s night, anybody could get hot,” McBrayer said.

And none of it is easy, not when your mother and biggest fan passes away early in the season, and leaves you reeling.

“Now that he’s physically healthy, mentally [healthy], as time passes I’m sure it’s a little less difficult for him, and he’s got some clarity on the court,” Pitino said.

That’s what this year has become: Tunnel vision on winning, on playing well and doing it for mom.

“Just playing basketball, that’s it. Not worried about the future, taking it game by game knowing this season is for my mom,” he said.

And maybe that’s the legacy he is leaving as he leaves the University of Minnesota, that you can persevere through the worst of times, and you can make an impact — just like mom would expect.

“So it’s like anything else. Nobody really knows what anyone’s truly going through. We all deal with a lot of different things,” Pitino said. “But I do think that you can see the weight of the world isn’t on his shoulders as much as it was.”

Mike Max