Amir Coffey's lasting legacy with Gophers basketball is being that local high school star who made it cool again to be a hometown hero.
A few years later, Coffey continues to represent his state as the face of the Gophers in the NBA.
A fourth-year guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, Coffey's started the NBA preseason strong this October. He has picked up where he left off last season when he produced career-high numbers.
The Clippers, who host Coffey's hometown Timberwolves on Sunday in L.A., have given the ex-Gophers standout opportunities so far in preseason, even with the return of stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard from injuries.
The Hopkins product averaged 9.0 points and shot 38% from three-point range with 30 starts in 2021-22. His 15-point effort on Monday to lead the Clippers against Portland was a sign his confidence continues to soar.
This year Coffey went from a two-way contract player to earning a standard NBA deal: a three-year, $11 million contract signed in June.
"It's a dream come true," Coffey told the Star Tribune earlier. "Just playing in the league and doing something I've been wanting to do since I was a kid. Just putting all that work in and having it pay off is a good feeling."
Coffey's success story helps second-year Gophers coach Ben Johnson sell to recruits how they can get to the next level through the same program. Coffey's happy to fill that role for his former coach.
"He was one of the main reasons why I went there," Coffey said about Johnson, who recruited him as a Gophers assistant. "He recruited me since the seventh and eighth grade. Just building that relationship over the years meant a lot. I'm excited for him. I'm proud of him. And I know he's proud of me."
Once undrafted following his junior season with the Gophers, Coffey's established himself as a solid "3-and-D" player (outside shooting and defense). He's also now 6-7, 220 pounds after adding 15 pounds and strength to his athletic frame.
The Clippers lost to the Timberwolves in the play-in tournament in April, but it made him reflect on his basketball journey since leading Hopkins to the Class 4A title at Target Center in 2016.
The Clippers under head coach Tyronn Lue increased Coffey's role. He played 44 games in his second season and 69 last season.
"Without Amir, we wouldn't be in the position that we're in," Lue said during his team's playoff push without George and Leonard.
A 32-point performance on April 1 against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks was the highlight of his third season. But Coffey had seven 20-point games in 2021-22, including 27 points vs. the Indiana Pacers and 29 points vs. the Washington Wizards.
The Clippers told him this summer they wanted him to be ready to play different positions, especially on defense. His role will likely change a bit with players back from injuries.
"We have a lot of wings on this team — a lot of 3-and-D guys," Coffey said. "Just doing what I can to help the team. That could be game-by-game and week-by-week. Just playing multiple positions. We have a lot of wings on the team, so I know we'll be playing a lot of small ball."
Two years ago, Coffey got to play with former Gophers All-America Daniel Oturu, who joined the Clippers after breaking the U's NBA draft drought in 2020. Oturu is now with the Windy City Bulls, the Chicago Bulls NBA G League affiliate.
Coffey saw that he and Oturu are featured on walls at the team's Athletes Village basketball facility and at Williams Arena, and he appreciates how much Johnson's program highlights the stars of the past.
"It means a lot," Coffey said. "I remember the legends wall at Williams when I was growing up. Looking at that was pretty cool, especially when you had guys from [Minnesota]."