Offseason Issues Overshadow Gopher Talent
The Minnesota Golden Gophers had a rough offseason with player and assistant coaches getting arrested. Will that affect the team once the ball is tipped?
THE MODERATOR: Now we have Minnesota head Coach Tubby Smith. He is entering his sixth season with the Gophers and returns 4 starters and 11 letter winners from last year’s team.
TUBBY SMITH: Good morning. First, it’s another year to see where we are in our program and our team and I like the sound of having 11 returning players. Certainly we believe we’ve got a good nucleus to be able to compete with anybody in the Big Ten. So we’ve got to stay healthy and if we do that I think we will have a good chance.
Q. Tubby with Williams’ performance in the NIT has he turned the corner from great athlete, good player to consistent player and potentially great player? TUBBY SMITH: When you put the tag or label “great” on someone, it’s tough but Rodney has the capability. I think he has turned the corner, he did everything for us last year, rebounding, blocked shots, steals, he was an all purpose player. When we switched him to the power forward spot after Trevor went down and we were trying a lot of different combinations, that’s when he stepped up and became more comfortable playing that role for us. Another thing is he’s in great shape and I think you’re right, there are things he’s worked extremely hard over the last year and probably the last season was his condition and his strength.
I see him making that next step to not just being a good player, but being a dominant player for us, and carrying the role of being a leader on the team, not just a great athlete. I think that’s where Rodney has grown, in that area, as far as leadership is concerned.
Q. With Trevor’s legal status being clarified last Friday, can you explain what his status is with you guys as you go forward into the season?
TUBBY SMITH: Trevor Mbakwe had a DUI back in the summer and had been suspended for a few weeks and had some requirements, that affected another area and he’s on probation for another two years, but through it all, Trevor is a fine young man, hell, I’ve never had a problem with him on the basketball court or in practice or in the classroom. He’s graduated, he’s working on his Masters degree.
I think with stability in his life and now that he’s over recovering from his knee surgery, there are a lot of things that he had to deal with last year, and I think he has that under control, both mental and physically. I think he’s in the right place. He’s a guy that will bring a real inside presence. Last year we struggled rebounding the ball and Trevor is one of the best rebounders I’ve ever seen, the best I’ve ever coached so we expect him to step in and contribute. He’s looking good in practice. Icing his knee down before and after practice is beneficial to him, he has a brace. He has gone through our practices full tilt.
At this juncture he will be able to step in and contribute, but we’re going to bring him along slowly to make sure that his knee is completely healthy.
Q. There is anticipation with the league this year, five teams in the top 25. Do you have any thoughts on how many teams would be appropriate for the NCAA Tournament if all goes well? TUBBY SMITH: Well, we had, what, six or seven last year and I would imagine with the depth and the strength of this league, of the Big Ten, with so many talented players and so many good teams, we’re going to be in a position to have more than we had in the past, I would think, selected to play in the NCAAs, let’s hope we’re one of those teams. We have expectations going forward this year.
We’re looking forward to putting ourselves in that position, and that takes winning. I think the conference is well positioned with all the teams we have and I think everybody has really improved themselves and certainly with Indiana being the number one team in the country and certainly we had three teams that were tied for first last year and all of those teams are back with pretty good players.
I think you will see more teams than we have ever had in NCAA Tournament.