He's back. Kind of.
Minnesota freshman forward Royce White attended Gophers practice for the first time in weeks Thursday morning, according to his grandfather, Frank White. White has not played a game this year after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and theft in December in connection with an October Mall of America incident and being named a possible suspect in the theft of a laptop in November.
White's legal status is still up in the air, as a result of the laptop case. Minneapolis city spokesman Matt Laible told reporters a few weeks ago that the city attorney's office had received the laptop case and planned to review it for possible charges. But that never happened.
"As the [university police] [were] passing it to us, an additional investigative matter came up, so they’re completing some further investigation and they’ll submit the case to us shortly," Laible said Thursday. Once the city attorney's office receives White's case, it will be about a month any decision is made, Laible said.
Until Thursday, White hadn't participated in any team activities as a result of his indefinite suspension.
But Tubby Smith met with White and one of his mentors before Tuesday's win over Penn State, according to his grandfather.
He said both sides discussed his situation and moved in the "right direction."
White's grandfather hopes Smith will allow the first-year man to travel with the team to Iowa Saturday.
While White announced that he was leaving college basketball and the Gophers a few weeks ago via YouTube, the team hasn’t stopped reaching out to him.
Smith obviously hasn’t cut ties with the freshman forward and has repeatedly told reporters that he’s still suspended indefinitely. And a few other sources close to the team told me that he’s always hoped that the former Hopkins star would make some changes and put himself in a position to return to the program.
Some former players have reached out to him, too.
From Patrick Reusse’s AM1500 blog:
[Randy] Carter and [Arriel] McDonald and a couple other ex-Gophers who live here have reached out to Royce White, the troubled Gophers' freshman who remains on suspension.
"Royce is an intelligent young man and an outstanding talent,'' McDonald said. "I think he's feeling overwhelmed right now. We're trying to get him to step back, take a look at all he has going for him and take advantage of that.
"We all deserve another chance, especially an 18, 19-year-old kid. I truly believe Royce is going to be OK.''
-Some postgame thoughts on Tuesday's game.
I would’ve written this Wednesday, but after oral surgery and a series of post-op medications, I didn’t think that was a good idea.
I’m still a little woozy, so I apologize if this doesn’t make much sense. (My critics will tell you that none of my stuff makes sense.)
While Wednesday’s a blur, the funny gas didn’t erase my memories of Minnesota’s75-70 must-win over Penn State Tuesday night at Williams Arena.
The Barn goes crazy during conference play. The noise picks up. The energy level increases and the Gophers feed off of it.
They’ll need plenty of fan support in January, when they’ll play an extremely difficult stretch.
That’s why you can’t underestimate the value of Tuesday’s game. Sure, it’s the first one, 17 more to go. But if this Gophers team is going to get back to the NCAA tournament, they can’t afford many (any?) losses at home.
How about Lawrence Westbrook? He’s gutsy. Fearless. And when the game’s on the line, he’s the guy who always wants the ball in his hands. He took over when the Gophers needed him to take over.
That 11-point stretch in three minutes killed Penn State’s momentum in the second half. Basketball’s not an individual sport, but it helps to have a guy who wants to be the best player on the floor every night. Westbrook had no intentions of allowing Talor Battle, one of the top point guards in the country, to outplay him on his home floor.
Blake Hoffarber faced the first team in about a month that tried to limit him outside and actually had the perimeter defenders to do it. It’s a good sign the he continued to shoot and find open space. I’ll take a 3-for-7 mark from the three-point line. He didn’t make a good adjustment to Big Ten defenses a year ago. He looks far more comfortable this season.
Al Nolen was a good game manager (six points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals and one turnover). Gotta love it when a starting point guard sports the same haircut (mini-mohawk) on the night he faces one of his toughest rivals, who also rocks the mini-mohawk.
Now for the problems …
Entering Tuesday’s game, Penn State was in the bottom-half of the Big Ten in rebounding. But the Nittany Lions grabbed 33 to Minnesota’s 28. Andrew Jones grabbed a team-high eight boards for Penn State.
Ralph Sampson III? Two. Nolen outrebounded Colton Iverson and Sampson (four boards total) combined. That can’t happen with a pair of 6-11 big men on the floor.
While Sampson’s four blocks were impressive, he has to show the same kind of intensity on the glass. Penn State wasn’t good enough to find more ways to capitalize on its second-chance opportunities. But I guarantee most teams in this league have the talent to make Minnesota pay for its rebounding problems.
This is when you begin to notice how much the Gophers miss without White and Trevor Mbakwe on the floor. Earlier this week, Tubby Smith said he recruited the duo because he needed more wide bodies. But the Gophers have to a find a way to get more active on the boards without those guys.
They also have to maintain defensive intensity after halftime. Penn State shot 37.5 percent in the first half, 61.5 percent in the second. That’s why Smith pulled his starters two minutes into the second half. They’d lost some of their hustle and only desperation, created by Penn State’s rally, helped them regain it.
They’ll have to come out tough at Iowa Saturday. Iowa gave Purdue fits for more than 30 minutes Tuesday. No guarantees in this league.