Gophers' NCAA berth shows Tubby is worth every cent

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2009 - 11:19 PM

The university offered a lot to attract Smith, but it has paid off in a postseason bid and a packed Williams Arena.

One of the first calls Tubby Smith got congratulating the Gophers men's basketball coach on being selected for the NCAA tournament was from University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, who stuck his neck out a mile and agreed to make Smith one of the highest-paid coaches in the country when he was hired two years ago.

Standing next to Smith and handing him the phone was athletic director Joel Maturi, who convinced Bruininks that hiring Smith was the right move.

The No. 10-seeded Gophers (22-10) didn't get the greatest draw in the East Region in Greensboro, N.C. They play seventh seed Texas (22-11) on Thursday, and if they score a big upset, they most likely would have to face second seed Duke.

"Tubby deserves the credit," Maturi said. "Tubby, I believe, is one of the great coaches in America. I think what I love about him is that he, which is true of all good coaches, gets the best out of each individual young person that plays for him."

Maturi said one reason the Gophers athletic department doesn't have budget problems this year, like many other schools, is that Williams Arena is being filled again because of the performance of the basketball team.

"The Barn is hopping, with a lot of noise and a lot of energy, during this great challenging economic time, and we're all very sensitive to that," Maturi said. "Tubby is worth the money we're paying him, not only in regards to basketball but I think our department, our university and our community. He represents all of us extremely well."

Facility on tap

Smith eventually will get a basketball practice facility.

"He talked about a practice facility when we hired him, and President Bruininks and I mentioned to him that we had a real commitment to doing something for TCF Bank Stadium," Maturi said. "We needed to raise money. At that time it had already been appropriated by the state, so it was a go. We told him in the summer of 2009, we would evaluate where we are and make a decision. And the reality of it is, we've kind of made a decision, we're going to go ahead with this, and now it's back to raising our money."

The facility would be attached to Williams Arena.

"That would save on the cost," Maturi said. "You wouldn't then have to build locker rooms, you wouldn't have to build some of the other amenities that would be necessary if you moved it off-site. I hope we can do something here. We're looking at different blueprints as we speak."

In addition, Smith will get a bonus for getting the team into the NCAA tournament, a bonus that grows if the team advances.

"We have a bonus policy for all of our coaches," Maturi said. "Some are particular to their contract. And others are the department bonus policy. So assistant coaches will receive something, too."

Top attraction

The first- and second-round Midwest Regional games being held at the Metrodome on Friday and Sunday got an attraction when No. 14 North Dakota State was assigned to play defending champion Kansas in its first NCAA tournament game. The Jayhawks have sophomore center Cole Aldrich, the former Bloomington Jefferson star, who averages 14.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Grant stood firm

There was a time when some people were pushing for the removal of Lee Smith as the Eden Prairie boys' hockey coach.

Mike Grant, who does as good a job as the school's athletic director as he does as the football coach, told the critics that as long as he was the school's AD, Smith would be the hockey coach. Smith kept his job, and Saturday night the Eagles won the Class 2A hockey championship.

"These guys were fantastic hockey players," Smith said. "But not only that, they are incredible students. They had a GPA of 3.76 and they were the state champion for grade-point average, too."

Recruiting cooperation

There already was lot of competition for the Gophers in recruiting of Cretin- Derham Hall football and basketball star Seantrel Henderson before Rivals.com declared him the No. 1 recruit in the country for the Class of 2010. This ranking will only add to the competition.

However, one advantage for the Gophers is football coach Tim Brewster has told Henderson he can play basketball as well as football, and this is something a lot of football coaches will not allow. Brewster and Tubby Smith are going to be joint recruiting on any athlete who is good enough to play both.

The Gophers will have one next year in Bryant Allen. Allen scored 32 points for Maplewood (Mo.) Richmond Heights in its 73-58 Missouri Class 3A boys' basketball state quarterfinal victory over Charleston on Saturday. Allen helped his Blue Devils come back by scoring 20 points, including six three-pointers, in the second quarter.

Maplewood is 28-3 and is playing for its second consecutive state championship next weekend. Allen, a wide receiver, is expected to play basketball for the Gophers after football season is over.

Jottings

It shows you what control agents have on players when Joe Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro, is able to persuade Mauer to have his ailing back examined in Shapiro's hometown of Baltimore, when you have a number of great physicians here and at Mayo Clinic, 90 miles away. Shapiro did the same thing with the late Kirby Puckett when he had career-ending glaucoma in his right eye in 1996. Even though the Twins brass keep on issuing optimistic reports about the physical condition of Mauer, one has to be concerned because the problem has lingered. Mauer has had his share of physical problems.

Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia, who has sarcoidosis, an inflammation that put pressure on a nerve on the left side of his face, recently said: "I'm actually starting to feel a little better. I think some of the steroids are starting to work and I'm getting a little more feeling back in my face, which is good. Again, it's a process that takes time. I went back about three, four weeks ago, and I don't go back until mid-April. We'll continue every Monday morning getting my steroid IV, and hopefully by mid-April that will be the end of it."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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