Recruits will play important role this season

Basketball Media Day

Stephen Maturen

Basketball Media Day

As Tubby Smith enters his second season as the GophersâÄô head coach, his biggest upgrade over former coach Dan Monson is becoming clear. The man can recruit. Rivals.com ranks SmithâÄôs 2008 recruiting class at No. 23 in the nation , and his 2009 class at No. 20 . Monson didnâÄôt have any top-25 classes in the five years Rivals ranked classes while he was at Minnesota . Because of that, the Gophers will, if anything, struggle with having too much depth this year despite having their three top scorers Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson graduate. âÄúWe have a lot of depth,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThatâÄôs what we recruited, so when we go to the bench, thereâÄôs not much of a drop-off. You have guys that can pick up the intensity and not lose much.âÄù All five incoming players will have a chance for significant playing time, in addition to seven returning players who all averaged more than nine minutes per game last year. Senior captain Jamal Abu-Shamala could lose his starting role at small forward to an incoming player, either Devron Bostick or Paul Carter , while freshmen Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson could become immediate starters at power forward and center, respectively. In other words, not everyone will be happy. âÄúThe competition will hopefully build togetherness instead of building envy or jealousy,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIf you bring in another player and heâÄôs a better player than you, you have to accept your role and recognize that this is the direction of the program and team.âÄù Bostick even stole junior Lawrence WestbrookâÄôs dunk contest title at the second-annual âÄúTubbyâÄôs Tip-OffâÄù on Friday night, throwing the ball over the backboard, catching it off the bounce with one hand, and making a 180-degree dunk. The event was MinnesotaâÄôs version of âÄúMidnight Madness,âÄù which Smith instated after being named head coach. Bostick, a junior, was the junior college national Player of the Year last season , garnering interest from schools like Arkansas, Tennessee and Marquett e. He and Carter, also a junior college transfer, bring depth to a Gophers team with just two seniors. âÄúThe good thing about them is they have games under their belt at a higher level than high school,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWe felt like we needed maturity and leadership, and in Paul and Devron weâÄôve been able to recruit that.âÄù Smith said the addition of the five recruits will make Minnesota a faster team. Smith tried to install a speed-based offense last season, which the team got away from in the Big Ten season. âÄúLast year it took us a while, because we had a team that was used to a certain style of play that we had to change up,âÄù junior forward Kevin Payton said. âÄúThis year we have a group that knows the system, so I think itâÄôll be more fast-paced. And we have some kids that learn really quick, so I think itâÄôs going to click quicker.âÄù Point guard Al Nolen added, âÄúCoach Smith wants to play a real athletic, up and down game, so he went out and recruited, I think, five of the most athletic guys in the country.âÄù Nolen, a sophomore, will be âÄúrunning the show at point,âÄù this season, Smith said. Sparsely recruited out of high school, Nolen led the Gophers in assists (116) and steals (64) last year at a position that, in SmithâÄôs offense, doesnâÄôt demand much scoring. Westbrook and sophomore Blake Hoffarber will get some time at point guard, too, Smith said, along with incoming freshman and shooting guard Devoe Joseph . Joseph might be SmithâÄôs most coveted commitment in 2008, being named Canadian High School Player of the Year three times . Rated as the 10th best shooting guard in the 2008 class by Rivals.com, he turned down offers from Texas, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and even Kansa s, the 2008 National Champions. The 2008 class has no true point guard, but Joseph, Hoffarber and Westbrook will help fill the role until the highly-touted Justin Cobbs shows up next year. âÄú[Devoe]âÄôs really not a point guard, but he can be that for us,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThatâÄôs what heâÄôs going to have to do for us this year to help make that transition.âÄù But perhaps the most important part of SmithâÄôs 2008 class comes below the basket. Carter, Iverson and Sampson will likely all get playing time at either center or power forward, after two of the GophersâÄô top three rebounders (Coleman and Tollackson) graduated last year . The 6-foot-11 Sampson, rated the 12th best high school center in the country by Rivals.com , is two inches taller than any player on last seasonâÄôs team while Iverson , also taller than any 2007-2008 Gopher, averaged more than 12 rebounds per game in his senior year . Smith described Sampson as âÄúa face-the-basket, shoot the jumper guy,âÄù and Iverson as the opposite. Smith said the post position will have five interchangeable parts: Iverson, Sampson, Carter, senior Jonathan Williams and junior Damian Johnson . âÄúWeâÄôll be better defensively because theyâÄôll have taller targets to shoot over.âÄù Smith said. âÄúAnd weâÄôll be tougher to guard inside because weâÄôll be able to have a real threat inside to score.âÄù They will have time to get acclimated, too, as the Gophers open their year with three games against non-Division I schools , and have a generally favorable nonconference schedule . With the exception of their Dec. 20 game against Louisville , which advanced to the Elite Eight as a No. 3 seed , they will not play a single team that made the NCAA Tournament last year . They play just two other schools from a major conference, Virginia and Georgia State, and both games are at home . âÄúWe try to build our schedule and program that way,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThereâÄôs a certain way you build your program. You donâÄôt throw them under the bus or into the fire, you bring them along so they can learn and grow.âÄù But in order to get good players to grow, the Gophers have found out under Smith, someone needs to get them there in the first place.