Malik Smith stepping in as a leader of Gophers basketball team

Jace Frederick

New Gophers head basketball coach Richard Pitino often tells his players to "ask Malik" when they have questions about the coach's style or mannerisms, he said before the team's fifth summer practice on Tuesday.

Transfer guard Malik Smith, who played under Pitino at Florida International University last season and had his transfer waiver to allow him to play this season approved Wednesday, has served as a liason between Pitino and the rest of the team.

"Malik will give you a feel for what type of coach I am," Pitino said he tells his players. "How to deal with me. What to do, what not to do."

Pitino said while senior guard Austin Hollins is a leader by example, he was still looking for a vocal leader. 

Leadership was something former Gophers coach Tubby Smith stressed having a lack of last season, especially during the team's tough stretches, but it never appeared as though any players stepped into the role.

Pitino said Malik Smith was probably the vocal leader to this point, but only because of his grasp of the system.

"He’s comfortable right now," Pitino said. "He knows what he’s talking about. I want to give the other guys the benefit of the doubt.”

Smith, a six-foot-two-inch guard who will be a senior this season, said he's a vocal player.

"I think I’ve always been a leader at every level," he said, "but that definitely comes along with knowing the system and telling guys what they should be doing, where they should be on the court in certain situations.”

Smith's familiarity with Pitino shined through on Tuesday and he described the coaches' mannerisms. 

Smith said while Pitino has a mean side, he has a playful side as well. He said Pitino could be a comedian if he wanted to.

Both sides of the coach are evident during film sessions.

"If you do something bad on film, he’ll tell you about it," Smith said "but [he'll] also make a joke about it to lighten things, so it’s not all screaming at you.”