The Gophers have their first Canadian basketball player in a long time in Devoe Joseph, who is from Ajax, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. The last was Leo Rautins, the coach of the Canadian national team, who played one season, 1978-79, before transferring to Syracuse, where he played well enough to become a first-round draft choice for the 76ers.

Joseph, who is shining as a freshman, put on a great show Saturday when he hit seven of eight three-pointers and scored 23 points in the second half in the loss to Penn State.

Devoe, who never played hockey, the big sport in Canada, recalled hitting eight three-point shots in more than one game and also scoring a high of 58 points in one game against Barry Central in Barry, Ontario.

"No, I never played hockey. Both my parents played basketball," Joseph said. "My brothers and sisters played basketball. My dad played overseas for a bit. A couple of teams. My mother played university basketball in Canada at Lethbridge."

A two-time member of the Canadian World Junior National team, the 6-3 sharp-shooting guard led the team in scoring both times. Joseph was one of the final cuts on Canadian Olympic team.

'Sky's the limit'

Gophers coach Tubby Smith said that "The sky is the limit for [Joseph]. He is one of the most active, aggressive, athletic guards we have. He probably is our most athletic guard, when I think about it. He can run for days. You put him on the track, he can run like the wind. He's got great jumping ability and good basketball IQ."

Smith said that one of Joseph's strengths is his patience.

"He likes to practice. He loves playing. ... He just wants to be on the court," Smith said. "He's one of these guys, I know he cares. He's competitive. He wants to be out there as much as he can, and he has been. I think he's averaging 20 minutes a game. That's pretty good for anybody. Especially a freshman."

Smith was more of a combo guard in high school, but his primary role with the Gophers is to back up starting point guard Al Nolen.

"Probably, it's tough, we want to keep him at the point guard," Smith said. "We just don't have a real backup point guard. That's a reason he doesn't get those opportunities. I said earlier, I think he's been very patient, knowing that's not his true position."

Smith was familiar with the Joseph family before he came to Minnesota.

"His father worked with a guy named Simeon Mars, who was one of my assistant coaches at Kentucky, when I took over behind Rick Pitino," Smith said. "His dad had been an assistant at Eastern Commerce [a high school in Toronto] where Jamaal Magliore, who plays in the NBA now, went to school. His dad coached Jamaal Magloire." Magliore played for Smith at Kentucky.

"When I got here, [Joseph's] name was on the recruiting scouting service list. The Minnesota people had the right people on their list. So, we saw that and called up and re-acquainted ourselves, because we had met years ago when he was just a kid."

Joseph's brother, Cory, is sophomore at Findlay College Prep School in Henderson, Nev., where he is good enough that the Gophers have been scouting him with assistant coach Saul Smith, Tubby's son.

There was a time before school started that there was some question whether Devoe was going to be a Gopher. Fortunately, things worked out, and if this young man stays four years, he is going to win a lot of honors and help the Gophers win a lot of games.

Honor scholars

Gophers athletes who have done well in the classroom were honored Monday night at the 20th Annual Scholar Awards Ceremony.

The top honor, the Outstanding Achievement Award, given to the man and woman who excelled in academics, athletics, leadership and volunteering, went to Gabriele Anderson, who competed in the women's cross-country and track teams, and men's basketball player Jamal Abu-Shamala.

The top five women scholar-athletes were: Jade Beattie, gymnastics; Heather Dorniden, track/cross-country; Erica Niemiec, rowing; Jennifer Shaughnessy, swimming and diving; and Elizabeth Yetzer, track/cross-country. The top men were: Dino Bilankov, tennis: Rick Furseth, track; Matt Nohelty, baseball; Michael Torcia, track/cross-country; and Jeffrey Tow-Arnett, football.

What was interesting is that the football program has been criticized in the past for its academic performance, yet had 29 players with grade-point averages of 3.0 or more to make the All-Big Ten Academic team, tops in the conference.

Sam Jacobson, who played basketball for coach Clem Haskins from 1995 to '98, was honored for coming back to school and graduating this last semester.

Jottings

Former Gophers assistant coach Gordy Shaw was named the offensive line coach of Hawaii on Wednesday. Shaw, who spent 14 seasons as a Gophers assistant, spent the 2008 season as the offensive coordinator at South Dakota. ... Former Gophers offensive coordinator Mitch Browning, who was on the Syracuse staff that was fired, is now on coach Lane Kiffin's staff at Tennessee.

Trevor Mbakwe, the former St. Bernard's and Marquette basketball star who is now playing at Dade Community College, was national junior college player of the week last week. Mbakwe has signed with Minnesota. ... Gophers backup point guard Kevin Payton, who was suspended for academic reasons, is back in good standing and took part in practice Wednesday -- but won't make the trip for tonight's game at Michigan.

Steve Loney, the former Gophers and Vikings line coach, was retained as the line coach of the St. Louis Rams. And ex-Vikings assistant coach Charlie Baggett, who was with the University of Washington staff last season, has joined the Rams staff.

St. Croix Lutheran senior Chris Breuer, the son of former Gophers and Timberwolves center Randy Breuer, made his 1,000th career point Tuesday. The 6-5 Breuer scored 22 in the Crusaders' 68-65 victory over St. Anthony. Randy Breuer, who spent 11 seasons in the NBA, is an assistant coach for St. Croix Lutheran.

Among the 43 pitchers who were looking for a spot on a major-league roster as of last week were former Gophers Kerry Ligtenberg, Jim Brower and Craig Molldrem.

Ex-Vikings receiver Troy Walters has been named offensive coordinator at Indiana State. A Vikings fifth-round draft pick in 2000, Walters will also be quarterbacks and wide receivers coach under coach Trent Miles.

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