Busch will get his first opportunity with Gophers in tonight’s exhibition

After watching from the sidelines for two years, Busch will get back on the floor.

Zach Eisendrath

Don’t tell Travis Busch exhibition games don’t count.

When the Minnesota men’s basketball team opens its preseason slate tonight against Minnesota State at Williams Arena, the Gophers’ redshirt sophomore small forward will be arguably the most anxious player on the court.

While his teammates are anxious to play their first game after 17 grueling practices under coach Tubby Smith, Busch is looking forward to playing his first collegiate game in nearly two years.

The Mounds View native has been waiting patiently to return to the court since his freshman season at Cal Poly in 2005 was cut short four games into the year when he suffered a season-ending foot injury.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Busch was forced to sit out all of last season and watch from the bench as the Gophers suffered a program-worst 22 losses, something he said was not easy to sit back and watch.

“I wish I could have done something to help out,” he said.

Now Busch will get his wish. After being strained both physically and mentally over the course of the last 22 months, Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award winner in 2005 will finally make his Gophers debut.

“I haven’t played for awhile, but I’m ready. It’s been way too long since I’ve played a game,” he said.

“I feel like I should be kind of nervous, but I don’t think I’m going to be because I’m so ready to play. I feel more prepared because this coaching staff has prepared us well.”

Smith era set to begin

Coach Tubby Smith said he will use the Gophers’ two preseason games to evaluate his roster, with hopes of settling on some sort of nine or 10 man rotation.

Smith also said he wants to see his team execute the fundamentals of the game, and even borrowed a line from legendary NBA coach Larry Brown, saying he wants to see his team “play the right way.”

But don’t get him wrong – the Gophers’ first-year coach wants his team to win its exhibition games.

“It’s a prelude to the season but it’s not necessarily a dress rehearsal, because these teams are coming in to win and we are going to play to win as well.”

Smith said his team should not take the Mavericks lightly. He was quick to point out Minnesota State 6-foot-10-inch center Atila Santos, who played two years of Division 1 basketball at Northern Iowa.

“They are always one of the top teams in Division II, so we have to come ready to play,” he said.

Forgetting the past

No player from last year’s squad has mentioned the Winona State loss from last year’s exhibition season. And it will likely stay that way, all season. With a new coach, a new system and a new overall attitude, senior guard Lawrence McKenzie said the team is trying to forget that memory and just focus on the future.

“As far as last year, I’m not thinking about any of those games, I’m not even remembering that season. It’s used as fuel, but other than that I’m looking ahead, taking one game at a time.”

Abu-Shamala out

Junior forward Jamal Abu-Shamala will miss tonight’s game and his status for the Gophers’ season opener against Army on Nov. 10 is still up in the air after cutting open his shooting hand while washing dishes, resulting in six stitches.

Junior guard Ryan Saunders, still recovering from a shoulder injury, is also unavailable to play, Smith said.

Smith off roster

Junior forward Brandon Smith’s days with the Gophers are over.

Smith did not practice with the team on Wednesday and press release later in the day announced he would be leaving the program.

“Brandon has been working hard in practice and I believe he could have played an integral role for the Golden Gophers this season,” said Gophers’ head coach Tubby Smith. “I know that Brandon will land on his feet and go on to help the next university he attends. We wish him the best of luck.”