Tubby Smith won't sweat playing-time puzzle
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota has the top nine scorers from last season's NCAA tournament team returning this fall, plus a nationally lauded recruiting class. Don't think coach Tubby Smith is stressed about finding e...
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota has the top nine scorers from last season's NCAA tournament team returning this fall, plus a nationally lauded recruiting class.
Don't think coach Tubby Smith is stressed about finding everyone ample time on the court, though. Lineups were always fluid during Smith's first two seasons here, and the use-it-or-lose-it philosophy toward playing time certainly will continue. Eleven players averaged 11 minutes or more last season, while the Gophers went 22-11.
"Rotation, it never comes into my mind to be honest with you," Smith said. "That's just the way I coach. Guys earn their time in the rotation by performing in practice and on and off the court."
The Gophers in particular have a glut of players at the traditional small forward position with freshmen Royce White and Rodney Williams arriving to join seniors Damian Johnson and Devron Bostick and junior Paul Carter. The 6-foot-7 Williams also could play as an oversized off guard, where senior Lawrence Westbrook, junior Blake Hoffarber and sophomore Devoe Joseph are also significant contributors.
Joseph can play point guard, too, where junior Al Nolen lost his confidence and his touch last season and freshman Justin Cobbs comes in from California. Underneath, sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson have a year of Big Ten bruising for their experience. Transfer Trevor Mbakwe, who will have two years of eligibility remaining if he's cleared to play despite his legal trouble, adds bulk.
"We've got a bunch of good players coming in and a bunch of returning players who've proved they can do stuff, and hopefully that's a good recipe to have," said Hoffarber, whose 3-point percentage dropped from 42.7 as a freshman to 34.1 last season.
Carter is another returning player who might see some of his time going to the newcomers.
"It goes through my mind as a player, definitely, but I kind of just leave it up to the coaches," Carter said. "That's their headache, you know? I just go out there and practice hard and play and give 'em what I can and not think about it."
The quartet of Cobbs, Mbakwe, White and Williams was ranked 16th and 24th in the nation, respectively, by Scout.com and Rivals.com. Smith's goal was to add athleticism to better fit his up-tempo style.
"Rodney, he's probably the best athlete I ever played with," Johnson said. "Trevor, he's a real strong guy. Justin is athletic. He's probably got the highest vertical on the team. Then you've got Royce: He's powerful. You probably don't have too many people in the Big Ten as powerful as him, and he's just a freshman."
Williams played at Cooper High School just outside Minneapolis, and White finished his prep career at powerhouse Hopkins in the western Twin Cities suburbs. White wound up there after being expelled from DeLaSalle High School for academic misconduct.
"None of us think that we're above the system, and I especially just want to do anything possible to help," White said. "If you get rid of the natural selfishness that people have and just buy into a team effort, the more talent you have only the better you can be."
Mbakwe is also a local boy who started at Marquette and attended a community college in Miami last year. There, he was recently charged with felony assault for an alleged attack on a woman in April. Mbakwe, who has maintained innocence, faces a December trial date.
Athletics director Joel Maturi has not yet cleared Mbakwe to play. He can practice with the team; Maturi said Friday he will decide before Minnesota's first exhibition game on Nov. 5.
"It's great to be back, and I'm just looking forward to the season," Mbakwe said. "It's just wonderful that I can help keep reviving this program."