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Gophers doing best to support grieving teammate Dupree McBrayer

Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Dupree McBrayer (1) dribbles the ball during a game against Penn State Nittany last season. Matthew O'Haren / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Gophers senior forward Jordan Murphy asked head coach Richard Pitino an off-the-court question a few weeks ago: What should he say to Dupree McBrayer?

McBrayer’s mother, Tayra McFarlane, was not well and Murphy wasn’t sure how to approach it with his teammate.

“Nobody knows what to say,” Pitino told him. “You just say you’re there for them and you be there for them all the time.”

McFarlane died Monday, Dec. 3, after a battle with cancer, and the Gophers are there for McBrayer, who plans to play Wednesday, Dec. 5, when Minnesota faces Nebraska in an 8 p.m. tip-off at Williams Arena.

“Mom,” McBrayer wrote in a message on Instagram. “I Know You Watching Over Me And The Family But I Just Want You To Know I’ll Forever Try To Make You Proud!”

McBrayer spent time away from the team in October and was gone Monday, as well, although he had planned to practice Tuesday. Funeral arrangements, Pitino said, are pending.

“We anticipate having him from a basketball standpoint, but that is totally irrelevant,” Pitino said. “… Whatever he needs, obviously helping him plan all of this and figure all of this out. We are there for him logistically as well as being mentally there for him.”

McBrayer has averaged 10 points, 2.3 assists and 2.1 rebounds across eight games and has been “amazingly strong and resilient” under the circumstances, Pitino said.

Murphy has tried to be supportive while also giving him some space.

“We hate to see him in any emotional pain,” Murphy said “… We want to be people he can lean on and we are going to do our best to be that brother, be that support for him right now.”

McBrayer shared aspects of his relationship with his mom on Instagram and Twitter.

“I Lost My Best Friend In The Whole Wide World,” he wrote. “Anybody That Knew My Mom Knew How Cool She Was … How She Treated My Friends Like They Were Her Sons. Now She’s Gone and Taken Away From Me. I Feel So Empty.”

McBrayer, from New York City, was looking forward to his mother, who recently retired from her job at a prison, coming to Minnesota for big events during his senior year. “She Was Supposed to Be At Senior Night And Graduation,” he wrote.

Pitnio recalled a memorable in-home recruiting visit to see McBrayer in Queens. McFarlane confirmed that Pitino has Italian heritage and then provided him and then-assistant Kimani Young with lasagna and pasta — at 10 a.m. There also was a beverage, too.

“You normally take whatever they have — juice, water, Sprite, soda — whatever it may be, and she just hands me a big tall Budweiser,” Pitino said. “I’m just looking at Kimani. ‘I guess I have to drink this.’ ”

Pitino recalled McFarlane as “a great lady, a very warm person. You would have a big (game) and she would text you. She was never a parent to text you any complaints.”

Sophomore guard Isaiah Washington, a fellow New Yorker, had known McFarlane since he was a freshman in high school. “I had a strong bond with (McBrayer) before I even came here,” he said, “so when (she) passed, it hurt me, too.”

McBrayer’s return to the court could be part of his healing process.

“You see athletes all the time; they use sports as a release,” Pitnio said. “If he can do that to use it to get his mind off it for a couple of hours, than maybe it’s done it’s job.”

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