Gopher Men's Hoops Hosts Media Day The University of Minnesota men's basketball program played host to the local media today at Williams Arena for its annual Media Day.
The University of Minnesota men's basketball team held its annual media day press conference, today (Oct. 16), at Williams Arena on the U of M campus. Gophers Head Coach Tubby Smith, as well as the entire roster, took questions from the Minnesota media.
Opening Statement... "Good morning everyone. I want to thank you all for being here and hopefully get a chance to answer most of your questions today. We're really excited to open up our third season here, there's a lot of hoopla, a lot of excitement around this year's team and this coming season. Every time you start the season it's exciting to work with a new group of kids and we have a great group of guys. "
Handing the rotation, with new talent and the new players... "A rotation never comes into my mind, to be honest with you. That's just the way I coach. Guys earn their time by performing in practice, and off the court. I think that we've got enough talent and enough dept - and we had that last year, that's why we were able to win 22 games, there were a lot of interchangeable and very versatile players and I think we've recruited some very versatile players and that's going to make a difference for us. Looking back at least year's season, losing Jamal Abu-Shamala and Travis Busch and Kevin Payton and Jonathon Williams, we had a lot of experience that we lost and all those kids had three and four years of experience. So I'll be evaluating them everyday to get an opportunity to be in that rotation."
Strengths of the team... "Athleticism. Again, I think we got more athletic through recruiting, and that was one of the things we were trying to do. Our strength and condition program, we've done a good job there, in the offseason and in the summer. And it looks like everybody's stronger. We do a good job within our strength program and certainly guys put in a lot of valuable, hard work there."
The role of walk-on Dominique Dawson... "Dominique is a kid that's learning, and he'll probably redshirt this year because he has a lot to learn. He's rather raw, but he's a very hard working kid. A kid that's probably had to overcome some things and I think his eagerness to be a part of our program makes him attractive to us. As far as what he can contribute. So he's a guy that we know, that I know, cause I watched him play probably as much as anybody last year cause my son was one of the assistant coaches there so that was a big help as well."
On having a physical team... "Probably so, we were pretty physical last year. I would say a guy like Jonathon Williams when he was healthy was probably as physical as anybody that I had the good fortune to coach; unfortunately, he had to surgery last year. Travis Busch at his size was probably more physical than anybody on the team. We bring some more size in with Trevor Mbakwe, Royce White and even down to Justin Cobbs and then you see guys like Rodney Williams who has been in the weight room and has done a good job getting strong as well. Again, they still have to gain that experience to know how to use that strength and their athleticism."
On experience gained from last year's NCAA tournament... "I hope they realize that at the end of the season, not just NCAA but the Big Ten Tournament, we ran into Michigan State who beat us pretty soundly and prior to that we lost to Michigan. Really down the stretch we struggled but were able to get into the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully our guys realize and took away from those games that we have to get better, get stronger, we have to play smarter and improve in a lot of areas.
I thought shooting was one of the things we need to improve on because we really did not shoot the ball well from the outside. I think we may have but I'm not sure how much we helped ourselves there. But I think a guy like Justin (Cobbs) will. We helped ourselves in that they have a year or two to get better and work on their weakness. One of them is rebounding because we were soundly beat on the boards by Michigan State and Texas. Those are things I hope they take away. I hope they took away that we tasted post-season play at the NCAA level. Now what do we have to do to go deeper into the NCAA tournament? "
On importance of team chemistry this season... "Iit is always important if you are going to have a team and this team is going to reach its potential. You want them to like each other, to appreciate each other's strength and weakness and I think the chemistry seems to be there. With the things I've heard our players say in individual meetings and team group meetings, you can kind of recognize that they do appreciate one another.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have a lot of local players that have known each other for years and they have spent a lot of time with returning players, playing in program this summer or just coming to games all last year. You know we took a guy like Rodney (Williams) and Royce (White) and Trevor(Mbakwe). They have competed against each other for a long time and I think that is a big help, as well as the reception that guys like Justin (Cobbs), a quality kid, as well as the other returning players are good people."
Which one of the recruits is most ready to play? I think Trevor Mbakwe is just an experienced guy with quite a few games underneath his belt at the college level. That alone puts him ahead of guys like Royce (White) and Rodney (Williams) and I think we need that physical presence inside. That is one of the reasons I recruited a guy like Trevor (Mbakwe)."
How can Royce help with the physical presence inside? "He can because he is very strong and athletic. That's why we signed them - Royce and Trevor - because they bring some needed help, all though Colton (Iverson) is about as physical a player as I've ever been around and he uses his body well. Ralph (Sampson III) has gotten stronger. When you look at a guy like Damien (Johnson), I think Damien and even Paul (Carter). Paul (Carter) has gotten stronger but they just don't have the physical bodies that Royce (White) and Trevor (Mbakwe) have."
How do think the seniors will handle their leadership roles? "That's always a challenge to make sure to get internal leadership within the team. Damien (Johnson) and Lawrence (Westbrook) set the standard because of what both of those guys have done. I think Damien started every game last year, Lawrence has started every game but maybe two and they been through it. Now it's their third year with me in the program so they understand how hard they have had to work and they've paid their dues.
I think that they have been a big help in the chemistry aspect, when you talk about our guys liking each other they know they are going to have to compete against each other. Certainly Lawrence (Westbrook) understands that Devoe (Joseph) and Blake (Hoffarber) and all of the perimeter guys have to earn their time. They led the way by setting an example of how hard they had to work. That's why they have been elevated to be our leaders and co-captains."
What are you looking for out of Al Nolan? "I want Al (Nolan) to be himself. He's got to lead the team; he's got to be that guy because he is going to have the ball in his hands quite a bit. Make better decisions, pushing it up the court either with the dribble or the pass. I think that's one of the areas he going to need, be able to balance his ability to go left and right. He is one of the best defenders on the ball so he will get better there. Take care of the basketball, pushing and transition; get a little bit more innovative and creative in transition. I think that is something we have to have from Al(Nolan)."