Even before Rodney Williams stepped on the court at Minnesota, people knew that he was a great athlete. He has proven that with his high vertical leaps and spectacular dunks. But now in his junior season, Williams has shown that there is more to his game than pure athleticism. He has gained confidence, taken on a leadership role, and excelled on the court.
Following Trevor Mbakwe's ACL tear, Williams shifted from the wing to the power forward position. With this change, his impact on the game skyrocketed. Williams's average playing time prior to Mbakwe's injury was 26.0 minutes per game. In the three games so far without Mbakwe, Williams played an average of 10 more minutes. His scoring almost doubled (from 7.7 to 14.7 points per game), and his rebounding increased by five (from 2.7 to 7.7 rpg).
Williams has grown into a leadership role for the Gophers.
"I get a lot of mismatches because I can use my speed to get around the bigger guys," Williams said. "So I'm liking the four right now."
Scoring and rebounding are just the beginning of Williams's contributions. His post-Mbakwe blocks (1.0 to 3.3) and steals (1.6 to 2.3) averages have also increased. Head coach Tubby Smith also said Williams has been leading the team in deflections.
"I'm impressed with his defense, blocking shots--the total package," Smith said. "He's been outstanding. He can influence the game, not just by his athleticism, but by being a poised player, a smart player--staying out of foul trouble, knowing when to pass, knowing when to shoot. He's actually directing guys and communicating. He's really become a real leader."
With the success he has had in recent games, Williams has drawn comparisons to former Gopher forward Damian Johnson, who led the team in blocks for three years, and in both blocks and steals as a senior in 2009-10, while also averaging 9.9 ppg and 4.3 rpg. Williams has the potential to be as good as or even better than Johnson.
"He's a better athlete than Damian," Smith said. "And he's understanding how big of an impact he can have on a game at both ends of the court. That's why I think he's blossoming the way he is."
The University of Minnesota campus has changed a lot since 1972, the year the "Iron Five" led Minnesota to a Big Ten basketball title and an NCAA Tournament berth. But Williams Arena still sits right there in the same place, and that is where the team united again to be honored for the 40th anniversary of their conference championship.
One of the Minnesota's greatest athletes, Dave Winfield returned to campus for the '71-'72 anniversary celebration.
The recognition ceremony took place at halftime of the current Gophers' game against USC on Saturday, Dec. 3. But the festivities started well before game time. The team members had a dinner together, where they caught up and rehashed memories from their time together at the "U". They also ate breakfast with the Golden Dunkers club.
Saturday afternoon, they signed autographs in the concourse before the game started, with some longtime fans bringing items from the 1971-72 season to be signed. At halftime, the team was introduced on the court and presented with plaques commemorating the 40th anniversary of their accomplishments as the fans in attendance at the Barn gave them a nice ovation. The 1971-72 Gophers appreciated the warm reception.
"The way the University of Minnesota honored us, feted us, presented us to the fans--it was great," said Dave Winfield, one of the U's most distinguished athletes. "A lot of love, a lot of support. There were people that told me they've been fans for 65 years, and that we were some of their favorites. So, it's great to know that we've had an impact."
After the game, the alumni joined the 2011-12 Gophers in the locker room to chat, offer congratulations, and impart some wisdom to their younger counterparts. Both generations of Gophers enjoyed this opportunity to connect.
Jim Brewer said he was thrilled so many fans acknowledged the impact the '71-'72 team had on the university.
Meeting with the current team and hearing fans voice their appreciation was a special experience for the Big Ten champions. But another important aspect of the weekend was the chance for them to simply spend time with each other. Some of the players had not seen each other for decades. Even after so much time apart, they still share the bond that comes from overcoming obstacles and succeeding together.
"These are the guys that I know I can depend on to be straight with me and tell me the truth," Jim Brewer said. "It's really great to be among friends, because those are the people who you've shared some kind of happiness, some kind of success with. I think that really says it all."
A testament to both their time on the basketball roster and their time in the classroom at Minnesota, the Gophers' success has continued off the court since their incredible 1972 season.
"What was enlightening to me, and a good thing to see, was that everyone who played here did well in life," Winfield said. "They're making major contributions. And that's important, because it shows what we learned at this school, the experiences that we had at this institution."
Golden Gopher Head Coach Tubby Smith will be heading out of town following his team's matchup with Appalachian State for a special evening at his alma mater, High Point University in North Carolina.
Coach Smith will be honored Wednesday evening when the Panthers take on Wake Forest in what will be "Tubby Smith Night".
Gophersports.com hopes to secure video and photos of the event.
Congratulations Coach Smith!
The release below is courtesy of High Point University's Communications Director Jon Litchfield.
High Point University will honor 1973 alum Orlando "Tubby" Smith during
halftime of the HPU men's basketball team's game against Wake Forest on
Wednesday night at the Millis Center. Smith scored 1,589 points during
his four seasons at HPU and went on to become a national champion head
Wednesday's game has been designated "Tubby Smith Night" and High Point
University will unveil a banner in his honor at halftime. It will be the
first time HPU has ever hosted an ACC opponent in men's basketball.
Smith played at High Point University from 1969-73, playing under coach
J.D. Barnett his junior year and Jerry Steele his senior year. Barnett
later became head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University and hired
Smith as his assistant coach, giving Smith his first collegiate coaching
An honorable mention high school All-American out of Great Mills in
Maryland, Smith made an immediate impact for the Panthers, averaging
13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds his freshman year. He began his sophomore
year after having surgery on his wrist during the offseason, but still
managed 12.6 points per game.
Smith was one of HPU's top scoring threats his junior and senior
seasons, averaging 16.4 points on 45.9 percent shooting in 1971-72 and
averaging 17.3 points 49.2 percent shooting along with 5.2 rebounds in
Along with his well-known basketball exploits, Smith was an outstanding
sprinter for High Point's track & field team and helped HPU to three
conference championships. He was a member of HPU's record-setting
440-yard relay team.
Smith went on to become one of the top college basketball coaches in the
nation with head coaching stops at Tulsa (1991-95), Georgia (1995-97)
and Kentucky (1997-2007) before being named the University of
Minnesota's head coach in 2007.
In his first four seasons at Minnesota, Smith's teams won 80 games - the
most of any coach's first four years in the history of Minnesota
basketball. Smith's wins at Minnesota include five over top-10 teams,
the Gophers' first-ever trip to the Big Ten championship game and
consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in program history.
Minnesota is 8-1 this season, most recently getting wins over Virginia
Tech and Southern California.
Smith spent 10 highly-successful seasons at Kentucky, leading the
Wildcats to the 1998 NCAA Championship, four Elite Eight appearances,
six Sweet Sixteen appearances, five SEC regular season titles and five
SEC tournament titles. His teams went 263-83, averaging over 26 wins per
Smith was named National Coach of the Year and SEC Coach of the Year in
1998, 2003 and 2005. He has sent 19 players to the NBA during his
With the honor, Smith joins Steele, HPU's all-time winningest coach,
along with all-time leading scorer Gene Littles, career point-per-game
leader Danny Sewell and women's all-time leading scorer Karen Curtis
McConico as HPU greats with banners in the Millis Center.
Appalachian State head coach Jason Capel was still in high school the last time Tubby Smith faced the Mountaineers, an 85-67 win for Smith's Georgia Bulldogs in 1996. But Tuesday's matchup between Smith and Capel's teams is not the first time the two coaches have been each other's opponents. Early in the 2001-02 season, when Smith was the head coach at Kentucky and Capel was a senior guard for North Carolina, Smith's Wildcat's defeated Capel's Tar Heels, 79-59.
Smith's connections with the Capel family actually extend back another generation. He coached against Jason's father, Jeff Capel Jr., at both the high school and collegiate level. Smith and Capel's teams met many times on the North Carolina high school circuit.
Smith has connections to the Mountaineers' coaching staff.
"Appalachian State's head coach Jason Capel is the head of a promising young coaching staff," Smith said. "Jason's father Jeff and I have history that goes back to our high school coaching days. I was at Hoke County High School in Raeford, N.C. and he was at Pinecrest High School in Pinehurst, N.C."
The stakes were high in Jeff Capel Jr. and Smith's only collegiate meeting: It was the Second Round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament. Smith's Tulsa team came away with a 64-52 victory over Capel's Old Dominion team. Capel Jr. was the head coach of the Monarchs from 1994-2001.
"We have also had sons that have played against each other in college ball and are now coaching college basketball so there is definitely history and a lot of similarities," Smith said. "Kellen Sampson is on Jason's staff, and his father (Kelvin) and I go way back, so there are plenty of familiar faces and familiar places."
Kellen Sampson, who played for Oklahoma from 2003-07, played for Jason Capel's older brother, Jeff Capel III, for one season. Jeff coached at Virginia Commonwealth (2002-06) before taking the helm at Oklahoma (2006-11), and is now an assistant at his alma mater, Duke. Kelvin Sampson and Smith coached against each other on multiple occasions while Sampson was at Indiana.
The 1971-72 Golden Gopher basketball team brought home the program's first Big Ten title since the 1936-37 season. Led down the stretch by a starting lineup known as the "Iron Five," Minnesota qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Gopher basketball program will commemorate the 40th anniversary of this Big Ten championship team at halftime of Minnesota's game against USC on Saturday.
Jim Brewer is one of 10 players expected to be at the ceremony.
The celebration will start with an autograph session before the game. Team members who are present will sign autographs from 12:15 to 12:45 in the concourse. At halftime, the players, managers, assistant coach Bill Klucas, and head coach Bill Musselman's son Max will be introduced on the court as they receive 40th anniversary plaques.
The 1971-72 Gophers finished the season with an 11-3 record, just ahead of Ohio State (10-4). Clyde Turner was the team's leading scorer, averaging 18.6 points per game. Also in the "Iron Five" lineup were Dave Winfield, Jim Brewer, Keith Young, and Bob Nix. Turner, Winfield, and Brewer are expected to be in attendance at the ceremony, along with seven other players.
Look back on Gophersports.com after the game for video and photos of the team reunion. Until then, check out the photo gallery above.
Quincy Lewis was born in Little Rock, Ark., but he has found a home in Minnesota. The former Golden Gopher forward remains heavily involved with his alma mater, currently working with the Golden Gopher Fund. He enjoyed seeing his fellow alumni at Gopher All-Star Friday Night on Oct. 14. That is where Gophersports.com caught up with him for the video found above.
Lewis was a 1999 All-Big Ten selection.
Lewis finished his career (1995-99) in sixth place on Minnesota's all-time scoring list. His senior year scoring average of 23.1 points per game helped him reach a career total of 1,614 points. He earned All-Big Ten honors that season after leading the conference in scoring, in addition to leading the Gophers in three-point field goals, free throws, and steals.
After graduation, Lewis played four seasons in the NBA with the Jazz and the Timberwolves. He also spent six years playing in Europe. He has been working with the Golden Gopher Fund since summer of 2010, and is working on his Master's degree in sport management.
"Barnstorming with Grimm" is a new weekly video feature to help people get to know Williams Arena better. In these features, radio play-by-play man Mike Grimm offers a glimpse behind the scenes at "The Barn," and an update of what's going on with the team.
This week, Grimm takes a look at the Williams Arena Club Room. Located on the third level of the Barn, the Club Room is a place where donors can socialize and get something to eat, before or during the game.
Last week's video about the Barnlofts appeared only on Facebook and Twitter, but it is also posted below. From now on, each episode will be posted in a blog entry as well as on our social media pages.
After graduating from Hopkins High School, Jeff Hagen walked on to the Gopher basketball team in fall of 2000. He originally planned to redshirt his freshman year, but ended up playing in 26 of Minnesota's 32 games. Rick Rickert and Jerry Holman joined the team the following year, allowing Hagen to take a redshirt as a sophomore.
Hagen was named All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2005.
Hard work put in during his redshirt year and beyond paid off for Hagen. He averaged just over four points per game in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, and then jumped into the starting lineup as a senior on the Gophers' NCAA Tournament-bound team. Starting in 30 of 32 games he played in the 2004-05 season, Hagen averaged 11.2 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention acclaim for his efforts.
When his time with the Gophers was done, Hagen played for a few years in the NBDL before being sidelined by injury. He came back to his alma mater in October for All-Star Friday Night, where Gophersports.com caught up with him to find out what he is doing now.
Willie Burton came to the University of Minnesota from Detroit, and left as a Golden Gopher legend. He led Minnesota to the Sweet Sixteen as a junior, and then to the Elite Eight as a senior in 1990. He holds the second-highest career point total in Gopher history with 1,800.
Burton's scoring average increased every year. He averaged 8.7 points per game as a freshman, and 19.3 as a senior. He boasted a field goal completion rate of 51.1 percent. A lot of Burton's points came from the line, as he holds the school record for free throws made (426).
Following his career at Minnesota, Burton spent eight years in the NBA. He played for the Heat, 76ers, Hawks, Spurs, and Hornets. His 1990-91 performance earned him second-team All-Rookie honors.
Burton was inducted into the "M" Club Hall of Fame in 2010. More recently, he was back on campus for All-Star Friday Night in October, where he took some time to talk about what he is up to now.
Former Minnesota guard Voshon Leonard was one of several alumni who appeared at the Gophers' All-Star Friday Night event on Oct. 14. He received a warm reception from the fans in attendance as he participated in the three-point contest and alumni scrimmage.
The Detroit native played for Minnesota from 1991-95. He was a great scorer, and officially finished his Gopher career with 1,097 points, now 27th in school history. He was a sniper from behind the three-point line, making 137 triples to rank seventh in Gopher history.
Lenard went on to play in the NBA, with the Heat, Nuggets, Raptors, and Trailblazers. He averaged 11.9 ppg during his 11-year career, and also won the 2004 All-Star Weekend Three-Point Shootout.
Look for more video Q&A sessions with Gopher alumni and current players throughout the season.