Today is senior day at Williams Arena. Coach Tubby Smith said on Friday that he plans to start all of his seniors: Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams, Julian Welch and Andre Ingram.
Trevor Mbakwe has been here before, honored at last year’s senior day in dress clothes because the Gophers didn’t know whether he’d be back. It’s been a long collegiate career for the Gophers’ sixth-year senior, who missed a year first for a suspension due to legal proceedings and then last year to a torn ACL.
For Rodney Williams, it’s gone by quickly, even if the memories amount to a lot.
“It didn’t really hit me yet. I’m sure it will hit me right when they’re bringing our parents out,” the senior said on Friday. “I didn’t think it would come so fast. All the time you hear people say that these are going to be four of the fastest years of your life but you never really believe until it happens to you. They were right.”
At the same time, a lot has happened. Williams came in with a recruiting class that included Royce White, Justin Cobbs and Mbakwe, who was a transfer. Only one – the latter, and the one who wasn’t supposed to be – is still at Minnesota. The Gophers made the NCAA tournament his first season, charged through the NIT last year, brought the fans gleeful moments and bitter disappointments – words that could describe moments of Williams’ career as well.
“For me, it’s been a long four years,” Williams said, his eyes watering just a little. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, but it’s always good to be here in front of our home crowd, and I’m going to miss it.”
Williams was the only senior made available at yesterday’s media access. But from Smith and teammates, some other thoughts on the emotional day:
Andre Hollins: “It just shows how quick the season has come. I was thinking about it broader – I’m almost a junior in college. Time is going by fast, and I just want to cherish these last games I have with these guys. They’re a great group of guys, the seniors, and I know they’ve put in a lot of hard work and we don’t want to let all their hard work be a waste.” Hollins said he gave up a lot of the tickets he gets for games so that the seniors could bring more of their friends and family.
Austin Hollins: “We’re definitely going to miss those guys. Rodney has been here since I’ve been here, Trevor as well. It’s going to be a big night. We want to go out and get the win, not just for us as a team, but for the seniors that will be here. It’s going to be special.”
Smith: “It’s good to have three seniors from the area – Andre Ingram, Rodney and Trevor … I hope they can play well. I hope they have a memorable game for them and for the fans. That’s always a bittersweet type thing, when you have senior day. But this has been a good group to coach. Rodney has done a lot of good things here at the University of Minnesota. He should get his degree, Trevor’s working on his master's. That’s what you come to school for, to get an education, and hopefully they’ll leave here better people because of it.”
- Asked whether he would be giving two-time senior Trevor Mbakwe another senior gift, Smith joked: “I don’t know. He’s been around forever. He should be giving us a gift. Well I guess he has, he’s given us his presence here and another win would be a good gift for us, for Gopher fans and everyone else.”
- Smith on whether Williams or Mbakwe could play at the next level: “In the right situation –there’s only a few jobs in the NBA or professionally. So we really try to get our guys to understand that – you’ve got to do it academically, you’ve got to be ready for a career after basketball. Nobody realizes that more than Trevor – I hope, having two knee surgeries and what he’s gone through.”
- Smith complimented Williams for what he has done at the ‘U,’ saying the senior has improved each year, but he also gave a hint of disappointment as well: “He got started early on in his career,” Smith said. “His first few games as a freshman, I remember were outstanding and then he sort of hit the wall. But he’s really developed his game. He’s had to make some sacrifices about playing inside, where, next level, he’s probably going to have to play on the wing.”
- Smith said he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking with NBA scouts about Mbakwe and Williams, except to try to promote them as individuals. “I just know the kid and I give him perspective about who they are off the court, what they do around campus, how they are in the community – just the type of individual they are and that they can be an asset to their program and not be a high-maintenance type person. I think that’s one thing NBA scouts are looking at – because they can see the skill set and they can see the weaknesses. But I’m hearing good things about both of them.”
Other notes on today’s game:
- Rodney Williams will likely be wearing the sleeve over his left shoulder again, but he said the tweaked shoulder is feeling good.
- Williams will be playing in his 128th career game, tied with Jamal Abu-Shamala for third most.
- Penn State’s win over No. 4 Michigan on Wednesday was the highest ranked opponent the Nittany Lions have ever beaten at home.
- The Gophers will want to focus on perimeter D today. Penn State has connected on 43.2 percent of their attempts from 3-point range in three of their last four games. They’ve made 32 threes in that time.
- Expect a shorter bench and lots of Maverick Ahanmisi at point guard today – two changes Smith made in Tuesday’s game and seemed to like.
*Watch today’s game on Big Ten Network.
*Listen to today’s game live on 1500-a.m.
*In today’s Star Tribune: After an up-and-down season, Gophers are looking for smooth sailing.
*This week’s college basketball insider: Giving out the major awards.
*On the blog: Player/Smith notes
*On the blog: Can the Gophers keep up the changes they made Tuesday against Indiana?
*More on the matchup here.