Gophers fans will get to enjoy a brand new scoreboard this year at The Barn.
A lot can happen in seven months. For Gopher fans, the basketball offseason is basically spent hoping and praying that nothing of note happens. No news is always good news, and the best thing to hear from the basketball program during the summer and fall is absolute silence. In recent years, though, almost ALL news has been bad news, so we’re a little high-strung up here in the Twin Cities.
Unfortunately, the Gopher drama train was once again in full force this offseason. In fact, it’s getting really hard to picture a season WITHOUT horrific happenings. Assaults, transfers, injuries, probation violations. The list reads like the script from He Got Game or Blue Chips. You’d almost think something was going wrong if Minnesota’s offseason transgressions weren’t on the ESPN ticker in early fall.
It wasn’t ALL bad, of course. In fact, there were even some good things that happened since the nets were cut down in April. Bad stuff still happened, but that comes with the territory these days. In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of the highlights that accompanied Gopher basketball this offseason. Some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Let’s get to it.
Two excellent 2013 commitments – Heading into late summer without a 2013 commit and facing the prospect of losing three seniors to graduation isn’t ideal. However, Tubby finally solidified his 2013 class and continued to make inroads into the Chicago scene by nabbing Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster – former teammates from De La Salle High School.
Ellis, a three-star Rivals recruit, was also considering Butler and Kansas State among other schools before committing to the U. A 6-4 wing, Ellis brings a knack for scoring to the table and gives the Gophers a good threat at the 2-spot. Given the attention Tubby and his staff gave to Ellis over the course of the last year, it was good to see them cash in on a target wing recruit.
In Foster, the Gophers beat out Auburn and Tennessee to sign the 6-8, wish-list forward who is expected to help replace Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe. The jury is still out on exactly where on the court Foster will fit. With more size he could fit in on the block, but might project better as a three.
The fact that the two were former teammates at De La Salle also bodes well for immediate chemistry when they come to town and might put the Gophers in a position to influence the decision of Gavin Schilling, another wish-list recruit who played with Foster and Ellis at De La Salle before transferring.
Norwood Teague comes to town – Joel Maturi was finally ousted, leading to a mini celebration of sorts. The question was who would replace him. Enter Norwood Teague, a relative unknown who joined the university as AD in July after serving in the same position at Virginia Commonwealth University. Obviously the signing goes beyond just basketball, but in terms of a hoops-related resume, Teague’s is glowing. VCU has always had a decent mid-major basketball program, but under Teague’s administration the team really took off, even making it to the Final Four in 2011. On top of that, he successfully obtained approval for a practice facility (!) and oversaw a privately-funded renovation of VCU’s basketball arena.
If he has a supreme strength, it’s fundraising – something that will certainly serve him well as the topic of a new practice facility and possible arena renovations promise to be hot-button issues for the foreseeable future. Teague also brought along his longtime right-hand man, David Benedict, to serve as executive associate AD and bolster his fundraising efforts. With Teague since 1999, the two have overseen many successful fundraising campaigns. Let’s get ‘er done.
New Williams Arena scoreboard – Short of building a practice facility or revamping The Barn, the U is at least open to giving a few things a facelift. This included new ribbon boards and a full upgrade of the hanging scoreboard over the court. Admittedly, there was something quaint about the old scoreboard with the LED numbers and point/foul totals, but it was also severely outdated and in need of replacement. However, considering how low the new scoreboard hangs, how long until it impedes a last-second, full-court pass?
Tubby Smith gets extended – The results Tubby Smith has achieved since his arrival are certainly a point of contention among the fan base, and a lack of perceived success continues to define his tenure here. However, without having a full deck to work with due to injuries, transfers and behavioral issues it’s hard to really grade Smith’s achievements accurately. One of Teague’s first orders of business was to grant Tubby an extension through the 2016-17 season, adding three more years to his original deal.
The extension is good for a couple noteworthy reasons. First, it keeps Tubby around for longer. Honestly, the program IS in better shape now than before he arrived. It hasn’t been sparkles and unicorns each and every year, but he quickly turned a dismal program around and has the team pointed in the right direction. His own players are now seeing significant playing time and succeeding. Given that he hasn’t had a full squad at his disposal in quite some time it’s increasingly difficult to accurately define his success.
Second, the extension gives Smith better leverage on the recruiting trail when potential recruits know that he’ll be around if and when they sign. With several high-profile, local recruits in the mix, having this foundation is crucial. Overall the extension was a good and necessary thing. It promotes program stability at a time when things are finally starting to get in order.
New home uniforms – Acting on his own volition, Joe Coleman gave us a nice summer surprise when he tweeted a picture of the new home uniforms for the Gophers. And while the image was soon taken down, it didn’t take long for the thumbnail to make its rounds around the interwebs. It’s not a huge leap from the past home golds, but being outfitted by Nike, the back of the jersey now features a pretty slick Aerographic design of The Barn, the ‘M’ logo and “1851” – the year the school was founded. Whether or not the Gophers needed a uniform upgrade is debatable, but it’s certainly cool to pay homage to Williams Arena on the jerseys.
Non-conference home schedule – As a whole the Gophers should end up playing a pretty high-quality non-conference schedule. The Battle 4 Atlantis features a stacked lineup, and the team also travels to Florida State in the B1G/ACC Challenge. However, the home non-con schedule leaves a whole lot to be desired from a “names” standpoint. Granted, Minnesota is actually playing some decent talent across the board – SDSU was #43 in the RPI last season, and Richmond is a decent A-10 team. But the school failed to bring in a BCS school, which caused some ire among season ticket holders.
Not only is it a nice RPI boost, but bringing in high-quality talent is beneficial from an atmosphere standpoint as well. USC, while far from a marquee BCS basketball program, brought the intensity level of The Barn to a fever pitch last year, even in a sloppy game. Fans clamor for contests like that, and scheduling a prime-time, non-conference home game should be on the annual checklist. That said, it’s not “cupcake city” as SelectionSunday pointed out, but there isn’t a game we’re all circling on our home calendars either, which is disappointing.
Little movement on the practice facility – Whether or not a new practice facility is a pie-in-the-sky dream at this point is up for debate. Frankly, all we’ve had up to this point is a lot of lip service regarding the what, when, and how of a new construction. To boot, this summer was a whole bunch of nothing in terms of getting closer to groundbreaking.
Sure, there were “updates” – they’re working with the design firm POPULOUS on a master facilities plan, for instance – but the reality is that things are still moving as slow as ever. Norwood Teague continues to assert that getting something built for the basketball team is at the top of his list, but without any concrete dates or plans in place it appears to be nothing but fluff at this point. Building a practice facility is a priority for everyone involved with the program (including fans), but actually getting it built continues to be a point of frustration.
Daniel Edozie commits … then doesn’t – Whether it was a miscommunication, poor scouting or something entirely different, the whole Daniel Edozie fiasco earlier this year was one giant facepalm. For the unfamiliar, the story sort of goes like this (the jury is still out on what actually happened):
On Oct. 3 it was reported that some guy named Daniel Edozie, from a JUCO in Texas, had verbally committed to Minnesota. He was a big dude, but not exactly what we would call highly touted. In fact, only low-majors were hot on his trail – think Eastern Washington and Eastern Illinois. The reception was, um, underwhelming for the most part.
Fast forward less than a week later and it becomes apparent that Edozie is now de-committing from his scholarship. That is, if it was ever offered in the first place. Apparently “some wires were crossed” in the recruiting process and the sides “might not have been on the same page.” If you can decipher what that means then you get a gold star. According to our own Amelia Rayno, the Gophers watched him play in a tournament and didn't like what they saw. Uhhh. Okay.
Whatever the real story is – something we may never actually know since the staff can’t comment on recruiting – this means that the Gophers either: a) offered a guy they may have never seen play and then rescinded the offer after seeing him in person; or b) miscommunicated their intentions and insinuated they wanted to sign Edozie when they, in fact, did not. Either scenario is frightening for a major D1 program that wants to be taken seriously.
Regardless of what actually happened, the fact that such a miscommunication can occur between the staff and a recruit is just plain ugly. Edozie is not in the team’s future plans, by the way.
Trevor Mbakwe AND Saul Smith DUIs – Good. Lord. Can we just have an offseason where no one gets in trouble? We were well on our way to having a few months of milk, honey and Sweet Sixteen dreams when we get news straight out of the plot of a dark comedy. YAY! TREVOR MBAKWE MIGHT GO TO JAIL BECAUSE HE GOT A DUI AND VIOLATED HIS PROBATION IN FLORIDA. Season: shot. Championship hopes: dashed. Winter: much colder. Whiskey bottle: now empty.
Of course we all know it all worked out and Trevor got another chance to be a literal man among boys and things are all just PEACHY. But I tell ya – not until that morning during the sentencing at the Miami-Dade courtroom had I clicked the “refresh” button so many times on my browser or given so many high fives in the office. THE 2013 CHAMPIONSHIP TRAIN WILL NOT BE DERAILED BY HIGH MORALS.
But wait. It’s not a party until a second person gets in on the DUI trend. The NEXT DAY, Saul Smith got picked up for driving on the shoulder on westbound 394 after bar close. In fact, the dude blew a .18 at 2 a.m. after getting picked up. That’s a whole lot of Goldschlager. Not only is drinking and driving a terrible idea (thank you, 7th grade health class), but speeding on 394 at any time during the day or night is just asking for trouble. Suburban cops have nothing to do but pull people over.
Of course, there was slightly less fanfare because Saul Smith is a lowly assistant coach and not a game-altering athletic freak, but in the end he received a two game suspension and will have to attend alcohol education classes. In all seriousness, the public humiliation on top of the fines and other punishments that come with a DUI, in addition to the University’s punishment is a serving sentence. There’s no need to fire the guy.
For the most part, we seemed to have dodged a couple bullets – namely the Mbakwe fiasco – and picked up some good news along the way. The start of the season is just around the corner, which means the team is mercifully running out of time to get in serious off-court trouble. Until then, we can continue to tell ourselves that it could have been worse. Baby steps, guys.
Tag(s): Gopher Basketball