This is Amelia Rayno's second season on the Gophers' basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
Malik Smith, a 6-2, 170-pound guard originally from Boston, Mass. verbally committed to new Gophers coach Richard Pitino on Wednesday morning. Smith played for Pitino last season at Florida International, where the senior-to-be averaged 14.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game. Smith is Pitino's third commit (all guards) at Minnesota. Here is Smith on a number of subjects:
I know you had several other schools interested in you -- was it a tough decision to choose Minnesota in the end?
It wasn't tough at all. When I think about playing with coach Pitino again, it seemed like an easy transition coming from FIU and already playing in the system and already knowing the tendencies and him seeing my tendencies. So once I knew he was interested, I pretty much knew I was going to go.
When did he reach out to you?
Maybe about 2 or 3 weeks ago ... I just wanted to see all the schools that were interested and then compare each situation.
What originally drew you to playing for him?
He's a demanding coach, he's going to get the best out of you. His system works with anybody -- I think his system works with anybody. It's very up-tempo, fast-paced, a lot of pressing, a lot of shots and it's proven to work. Last year, we were picked to be (number) 11 out of 12 teams in the Sun Belt and we ended up being fourth I think and going to the conference championship game. So I'm sure he knows what he's doing and I think he'll do it again and turn things around at Minnesota.
What was last year like? The team had so many different players from all over the place, a new coach -- how was it trying to find chemistry?
The experience was good. Coach Pitino, he's not just recruiting good players, he's recruiting good people. So when I got there, I saw that everybody was good guys and everybody got along fine, so that made the transition easy. And then coach Pitino is going to make you work hard, so that wasn't a problem.
Was it a project to get everyone on same page with new system, etc?
It was just us getting used to the system. It was rough at first. The first couple scrimmages. But once we got used to pressing and knowing what coach wants, it was easy.
Did you just condition all the time to get in shape to do that?
A lot of conditioning with our strength and conditioning coach. And then on top of that, practice is just all up and down, up and down, up and down. So he's going to get us in shape in Minnesota. And I believe it's going to work out fine.
Do you feel like that's going to be one of your roles, already knowing the system, to help get guys transitioned?
Definitely. I think I'll be able to lead by example with plays, talking to guys, helping them understand it faster -- rather than coach having to tell everybody, I can help tell people what to do on the court.
Have you played mostly at the 2 or at point in your career?
Yeah, some of both, but at FIU, I played mostly 2 because we had a backup at the point guard position, we had about three point guards.
Do you have a preference in that regard or one that you feel more comfortable with? No, no preference. Whatever coach Pitino wants me to do, I'll do.
You haven't been to Minnesota yet, have you? No -- I think I'll be visiting up there in about 2 weeks, they said.
Have you talked to Pitino much about your role yet? No, we haven't gotten into it yet. We talk often, but we haven't gotten into depth about any of that.
How do you feel about playing in the Big Ten? That should be a pretty big adjustment.
I mean, yeah. It's a bigger stage, probably a lot better players. But my main thing is coming to Minnesota and trying to fit in and do what I can do to help the team win.
Are you close with Rakeem Buckles? Yeah definitely. Rakeem is my guy.
Are you going to be angling for him to join you at Minnesota now?
Haha, yeah, definitely. I'm going text him tonight and be like 'Rakeem ... let's make it happen."
It looks like Alex Foster has stayed loyal to former Gophers coach Tubby Smith.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Foster gave a verbal commitment to Smith a second time on Wednesday morning, this time at Texas Tech, where the head coach landed after being fired from Minnesota in March.
The 6-8 Foster decommitted after reportedly being told by the new Gophers staff that they wanted to move in a different direction. Foster was one of two recruits Smith had originally landed at Minnesota for the 2013-14 class. The other, Alvin Ellis, is now at Michigan State. Without Foster, the Gophers are lacking any incoming forwards in the current recruiting class.
New Gophers coach Richard Pitino has gotten three commitments in just more than a month's time.
Hours after news of Joe Coleman asking for his release late Tuesday evening, one of Pitino's former players at Florida International decided to jump on board.
Around 9:00 on Wednesday morning, guard Malik Smith tweeted the news, which he had been alluding to for days.
Smith will be eligible to play next season, a team source confirmed.
The guard played for Pitino last year at FIU, averaging 14.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 33.1 minutes a game. The 6-2, 170-pound junior, who has one year of eligibility left, is from Boston originally.
Smith represents Pitino's third commitment -- all guards -- since the new Minnesota coach took over. Pitino has had de-commitments from the two recruits already on board from Tubby Smith's class -- Alvin Ellis (now at Michigan State) and Alex Foster (who reportedly was told the team was going in a different direction). If Coleman indeed transfers -- official word could come today -- the Gophers will still have two scholarships remaining.
Smith would likely be available immediately by way of the NCAA waiver that allows student-athletes to transfer if their current institution is banned from postseason play. It looks as if FIU, due to dismal academic scores (recorded mostly under the tenure of former coach Isiah Thomas) will lose those privileges.
Here is the full exception, taken straight from the NCAA bylaws:
On the recommendation of the Committee on Athletics Certification for a student-athlete who transfers to
a member institution to continue the student-athlete’s opportunity for full participation in a sport because
the student-athlete’s original institution, per Bylaw 22.3.3, is placed in a membership category that would
preclude the institution’s team in that sport from participating in postseason competition during all of the
remaining seasons of the student-athlete’s eligibility.
(Adopted: 1/16/93 effective 1/1/94)
The Gophers basketball squad will be one player lighter than expected next season.
A team source confirmed on Tuesday night that guard Joe Coleman has asked for his release from Minnesota following a coaching change that saw Richard Pitino replace Tubby Smith, the man who recruited the junior-to-be.
The Gophers confirmed the news officially on Wednesday in a news release.
“Joe Coleman has made the decision to leave the Golden Gopher basketball program. We wish him the very best in the future,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said in a statement. “We appreciate the contributions he has given the program the last two years.”
The Minneapolis native, who averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 26.3 minutes a game last season as a sophomore, is the first to transfer under Pitino's watch. For a team that is relatively thin coming into the 2013-14 season, this is not necessarily good news, although Pitino has been stocking up on backcourt players since taking over in April.
Tthe Gophers' guard corps includes Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, reserve Maverick Ahanmisi and incoming recruits Daquein McNeil, Dre Mathieu and Malik Smith -- the last of whom committed on Wednesday. With Coleman gone, the Gophers no longer have any Minnesotans on the roster (Chris Halvorsen is graduating and isn't expected back, either), after boasting four last season.
Pitino and the staff had said previously that they didn't expect any transfers, but such occurrances are not uncommon following a coaching change.
UPDATE: King's former high school coach, Mark Gerber, said that King has not contacted or been contacted by any schools at this time and that his primary focus right now is finishing up final exams.
It’s no secret that the Gophers are a little short on big men for next season.
While the Gophers have some options in Elliott Eliason, Charles Buggs and Mo Walker, other than the first listed, there are a lot of unknowns that go along with those possibilities. We’ve only seen Buggs play in a pair of exhibitions – even if he looked promising at times, the sample size and competition is not enough to make any assumptions. We simply don’t know what to expect from Walker, who officially returned from a knee injury last year, but didn’t play much, and was largely inconsistent.
Is new Gophers coach Richard Pitino still searching for players to root the frontcourt? I think he is, and there is a good chance Minnesota will sign at least one for next season (the Gophers have two scholarships remaining).
One possibility is 6-9 Joey King, who averaged 6.9 points and 2.9 rebounds last year at Drake, as a freshman. King, who graduated from suburban Eastview High School, announced that he would leave the program.
King, as an undergrad transfer, would normally have to sit out a season due to NCAA rules, but it’s possible (without knowing the extent of King’s situation) that the Gophers could seek a hardship waiver for the Minnesotan so he could play right away. King has told other media outlets that he is looking to play closer to home.
Another name that is gaining a bit of steam is 6-6 Josh Davis (from my home town of Raleigh, N.C., in other news), who is seeking a transfer from Tulane. As a graduate, he would also be eligible to play right away. Davis is reportedly getting interest from a number of schools, including San Diego State, Gonzaga, NC State, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Iowa State. Davis, who averaged over 17 points and 10 rebounds a game last season, was the only Conference USA player to average a double-double.
Otherwise, Minnesota is keeping its focus on Rakeem Buckles, who I think is the most likely big man to wind up at Minnesota next season. If he comes, he will need to be granted an NCAA waiver, so that could be the hold up with any news there. Tarik Black, on the other hand, is still on the market, but highly unlikely considering the competition for his services.
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