What's up, Gophers fans?
The men's basketball team met with local media Friday morning, hours before the season kicks off with "Tubby's Tipoff" at Williams Arena Friday night.
A few highlights ...
-Rodney Williams Jr. suffered a concussion during a scramble for a loose ball in a pickup basketball game a few weeks ago. Tubby Smith said the sophomore collided with junior guard Devoe Joseph and has been held out of workouts for the last two weeks. Williams will suit up tonight, but Smith said he will not participate in any events, including the dunk contest.
-Trevor Mbakwe did not attend the media session. Gophers officials said he had class. Spokesman Matt Slieter told me recently that Mbakwe will not comment about the felony assault case that forced him to miss last season. Makes sense.
-Al Nolen said sitting out last season because of his academic issues was "one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life." He said he's ready to go academically and physically.
-If the season started today, Austin Hollins would start at small forward if Rodney Williams couldn't go, Smith said. He called Hollins, a freshman guard/forward who is the son of Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, the most "consistent" player, in terms of effort, thus far.
-Mo Walker has lost about 20 pounds and he's added a lot of muscle since joining the Gophers over the summer, he told me. He's listed at 320, but he clearly looks like he's in better shape than he was at the end of his high school career. Smith said he expects the freshman center to give the Gophers a strong contribution off the bench. Early prediction: Gophers fans and supporters will love the Big Man. Really laid back, funny, cool personality. Add that to his size and he'll quickly become a crowd favorite.
-Devoe Joseph said the Gophers should enter the season with a chip on their collective shoulder because few pundits have singled out players for their preseason Big Ten all-conference teams. I think Joseph will eventually hit the radar. If he builds on last season's performance down the stretch, he'll have a shot at a number of individual honors.
-Blake Hoffarber on starting his fourth season: "It all went by so fast."
-Oto Osenieks, a freshman forward from Latvia, said he will redshirt this year, after the NCAA granted him a partial qualification over the summer. The former Illinois prep standout was in limbo for months as the NCAA reviewed his appeal to play this season.
-Speaking of redshirts ... Smith said he expects freshmen Walker, Elliott Eliason, Maverick Ahanmisi, Chip Armelin and Austin Hollins to play this year. Osenieks and transfer Chris Halvorsen will sit out the year. (Update: A source close to the program says the Gophers haven't made a decision about redshirting Eliason).
-Eliason, who earned player of the year honors in Nebraska last year, said he's excited that the Cornhuskers are joining the Big Ten next year. One concern? He hopes he's not booed by fans and treated like a "villain" when he makes a trip to Lincoln for Minnesota's first road game at Nebraska.
-Armelin, a 6-3 guard from Sulphur, La., said he's already cold. No surprise. This might be ... Armelin, who played football during his senior year of high school, said he's been thinking more and more about suiting up for the Gophers football team. Smith took on Bryant Allen last year. Maybe he'll let the football program borrow Armelin.
-Williams said he's not caught up in the NBA buzz surrounding him because he's too focused on the season and his schoolwork. Smith said the sophomore wing can develop into an NBA-level player but said it's too early to make that assessment. Williams said he worked on his ballhandling over the summer and hopes to become a more aggressive player this year.
-Colton Iverson said he hopes to become a more agile player this season. But along with working on his footwork, Iverson said he's improved mentally compared to last year. He said he got down on himself a lot last year after tough games. This season, however, he's ready to assert himself as more of a leader on and off the floor, he said.
-Ralph Sampson III said he wants to have more fun this year. At times, he was too serious and didn't always play with the right emotional level in his first two years, he said. But he said he performed better when he played with more emotion. Smith expects Sampson to be ready to play the kind of intense basketball required of successful post players in the Big Ten. How's this for motivation, Ralph? "He has a chance to be one of the best players in the country," Smith told reporters Friday.
-Smith said the Boston Celtics have the best chance to upset the Miami Heat in the playoffs during the upcoming NBA season. He said the Celtics have lacked a player with Shaquille O'Neal's power and size. And he said he likes the way Doc Rivers coaches. Plus, he coached Rajon Rondo in college, so he's admittedly biased.