Want proof that Gophers coach Tubby Smith has relaxed this season, that he’s having fun and enjoying this personable squad?

Here you go:

Andre Hollins often calls his own plays.

Think about that for a minute. Smith – a notoriously hands-on coach, as I wrote in today’s Star Tribune – has to an extent, given Hollins, a sophomore, the reins to run the team.

Now, it helps that Hollins has been very hands-on himself in trying to fully understand what Smith wants in his offense, talking with the coach about situational decisions and studying the plays.

But the fact of the matter is the coach hasn’t given such leeway simply because of Hollins and his hard work and improvement. Smith trusts the entire team in a way he visibly didn’t a year ago. That, no doubt, contributes greatly to what those who have been around Smith for many years say has been his most relaxed persona at Minnesota.

It’s clear that he truly likes this team. Not only does he trust their athletic and on-court ability, but he believes in them as human beings. That’s why he gave Trevor Mbakwe a last-and-final-this-is-really-the-last chance – he’s part of this team. That’s why he gushes about the team’s character and chemistry, every chance he gets. That’s why he now allows media to go into the locker rooms after games, for the first time in his tenure. That’s why he’ll linger after interviews, to answer any last questions.

And that’s why Smith has stepped back a bit, loosened the reins and let the Gophers play their game.

The result is a more confident team, a smarter team and seemingly, a happier Smith.

Minnesota seems to be thriving in that environment, with the roster of players stepping up its game almost all the way across. Experience matters plenty, but so does the learning atmosphere, and this one seems as interactive and open-minded as any.

Is this new Tubby a factor in this team’s excellent 2012-13 play? Or is this attitude of his the result of this team, allowing him to ease up on the controls a little more with every win? Either way, it contributes to a squad and coach that is more fun to watch, more interesting to talk to, more fun to be around.

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