Gophers take court with many questions looming

Off-court issues leave the Gophers without two of their top recruits.

Marco LaNave

Finally, the focus will be on the court for the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team. Since the beginning of the week, three players on the roster âÄî including two members of the teamâÄôs highly-regarded recruiting class âÄî have been removed from the lineup for Thursday nightâÄôs exhibition against Minnesota-Duluth at Williams Arena. On Monday, Athletics Director Joel Maturi announced that junior-college transfer forward Trevor Mbakwe will not be allowed to dress for any games until his aggravated battery felony charge in Miami-Dade County (Fla.) is resolved. On Tuesday, Gophers head coach Tubby Smith announced the indefinite suspensions of senior guard Devron Bostick, who was the junior college player of the year two seasons ago, and true freshman forward Royce White, who was MinnesotaâÄôs Mr. Basketball and the 19th-ranked player in the 2009 recruiting class, according to White was cited for misdemeanor theft and assault after a shoplifting incident at the MacyâÄôs in the Mall of America on Oct. 13, according to a Bloomington police report. Smith said he would not comment on the reasons for the suspensions, other than violations of team policies. âÄúNobody wants to start the year in this type of atmosphere, but it is the start; itâÄôs not the end,âÄù Smith said. âÄúHopefully we wonâÄôt have to deal with [disciplinary action] again.âÄù On Thursday night, the No. 25 Gophers will have just two members of the 24th-ranked recruiting class, according to Rivals. True freshmen forward Rodney Williams and point guard Justin Cobbs will play for the Gophers for the first time at Williams Arena. Sophomore center and forward Ralph Sampson III said that exhibition matchups help the freshmen players get used to the decision making and emotions that are different in games than in practice. In last seasonâÄôs first exhibition, Sampson started at forward, played 19 minutes and had 2 points, four rebounds, and a blocked shot in the GophersâÄô 88-80 win over St. Cloud State. âÄúI was very nervous the first game coming out, and that first game kind of introduced me to a taste of what college basketball is like and a level that I needed to push myself in order to compete in [Big Ten] and NCAA play,âÄù said Sampson, who came off the bench in an exhibition against Northern State three days later and scored 12 points in 14 minutes. Sampson started 24 games for the Gophers last season, and averaged 20.8 minutes, 6.3 points, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He was second on the team with 50 blocked shots (Damian Johnson had 60). After going up against the 6-foot-11-inch Sampson in practice the past few weeks, senior forward Damian Johnson, who missed both exhibitions and the first three games of last season because of a broken left hand, said he was getting a little tired of clashing with Sampson and the other Minnesota post players. âÄú[Thursday is] a great opportunity âĦ to bang around with some other guys,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúI think itâÄôs going to be great.âÄù