This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's 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."
Coach Tubby Smith said today on the first Big Ten coaches conference call that he and his staff would be making a decision "soon" on whether to use a redshirt for freshman Wally Ellenson.
Ellenson broke a bone in his left hand prior to the Gophers’ preseason slate. The freshman’s cast came off a couple of weeks ago and he has been practicing and traveling with the team.
“I’m going to talk to him today probably and come up with something definitive and move on,” Smith said.
The Gophers have already decided to redshirt their other freshman, forward Charles Buggs, who showed good potential in the preseason, but who still has plenty of growing and bulking to do.
Ellenson, who plays on the wing, could hypothetically help the Gophers with shooting – which has improved from a year ago but is still inconsistent at times. But the struggle would be finding a place for the Wisconsin native to play. One option would be for him to take minutes from Julian Welch, who is meant to be one of the Gophers’ sharp shooters but has been in a slump for most of the year. Smith played Welch 17 minutes in Minnesota’s win over USC, however, and Welch played perhaps his best game of the year -- suggesting that the coach is willing to work with the senior.
Daniel Edozie – the recruit that committed to Minnesota earlier this fall – has now signed with Iowa State.
Edozie visited Minnesota in September and verbally committed shortly thereafter. But when the Gophers’ coaching staff went to watch the 6-8, 239-pound forward in person, at a tournament in Texas, they didn’t like what they saw and encouraged Edozie to de-commit, according to a team source and Edozie’s AAU coach Donley Minor.
The sophomore at Tyler Junior College (Texas) is averaging 10.1 points and 8.1 rebounds through 10 games this season.
Iowa State recruited Edozie some when he was still in high school, but the California native wanted to go to a junior college to develop. He visited Iowa State shortly after de-committing to Minnesota.
Iowa State big forward Anthony Booker will graduate after the season, and the Cyclones will need to replace his presence on the court.
As his first official week as Gophers athletic director draws to a close, Norwood Teague has made an important hire. The U of M announced David Benedict -- who worked under Teague at Virginia Commonwealth and has been serving as the school's interim AD since Teague's departure -- is following his boss and will be the executive associate AD at Minnesota.
Benedict, who like Teague has a background in fundraising, is expected to begin his new role at Minnesota on July 9.
“David is a star,” Teague said in a press release. “I have a long working relationship with him and he is a superior person and a great addition to our staff. I want to emphasize that David is an addition to our staff. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there and he will be a key element in this process. This is a great move for Gopher Athletics and a great move for him. I could not be more excited that David has agreed to join us.”
Benedict previously worked as an associate AD at Arizona State and Long Beach State. He has a bachelor's degree from Southern Utah, where he played football, and a master's in sports management from New Mexico Highlands.
Head coach Tubby Smith said at his season-ending news conference last week that he wouldn't be surprised to see a player (or players) transfer.
That was proven to be true Monday when it was announced Chip Armelin, a player many fans speculated might leave the program, has asked for and will be officially granted a release from his scholarship by the University of Minnesota. He will stay on campus through the spring semester.
“Chip has been a valuable part of our program for the past two seasons,” Smith said. “He has done everything we have asked of him and we are grateful for his contributions to this program on and off of the court. We are sad that he has elected to leave but certainly want to wish him the very best.”
It is unknown where Armelin will wind up, though it could be closer to his native Louisiana; he can use a redshirt season next year and have two seasons of eligibility left after that.
Armelin, a sophomore guard, averaged 5.2 points in 38 games this season, all as a reserve. The left-hander had his moments as a spark off the bench and scored a career-high 20 points in the regular-season finale against Nebraska. But his playing time severely decreased in the postseason. He played just 19 minutes combined in the Gophers' four NIT victories, scoring only two points in the tournament.
Unlike other transfers in recent seasons -- Royce White, Devoe Joseph and Justin Cobbs, to name a few -- Armelin's departure could be a net gain for Minnesota.
The news means the Gophers have a scholarship available for Trevor Mbakwe, if he chooses to take it. Mbakwe, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility, has been leaning toward coming back. Smith said Thursday he had been told by Mbakwe that he plans to return, and on Sunday night Mbakwe sent out the cryptic but perhaps noteworthy tweet, "Unfinished Business. I can't go out like this."
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