Practice facility tops list as Smith lobbies for resources

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2011 - 12:51 AM

The Gophers coach said the true gauge of the university's commitment to men's basketball will come down to dollars and cents, an issue he's carried to school officials.

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Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith rarely speaks to the media after the season.

But he said he decided to talk this week because he wants to get the disappointing finish to 2010-11 out of his system and focus on his team's future.

To build the program he envisions, Smith said, he will need additional resources, including the practice facility that tops his wish list.

"I think there's a lot of room for improvement in areas and we've come across some that we're discussing with people on campus and that's where it ought to stay," Smith said. "I'd like to see something done to help basketball. We've done our part. We need to get that done because there really hasn't been anything done for basketball since I've been here in a major way. ... I think it's just the times. You had the financial economic struggles. But I think the university as well as the economy is starting to move in a different direction."

During a 30-minute interview with the Star Tribune on Wednesday, Smith said he is addressing his concerns about resources for his program with school officials. Other than naming the practice facility as a need, however, Smith didn't address any other specifics.

But he made it clear that he expects the school to make a greater commitment to the program going forward.

"[It's] kind of like the NASCAR. You want to win? You better put some money in there," he said. "You got to [have] the right engine, you got the right people running it, you've got to have the right pit crew. You'd better be changing and looking to evaluate every day. You've got to have that because you're competing. You're competing against everybody else."

The Gophers were the 17th-most-valuable program in the country last year, according to Forbes magazine. The publication estimated the Gophers' worth at $13.5 million, which included the $9 million profit it recorded that year. The school also spent $176,177 on men's basketball recruiting, the 17th-largest sum among public schools, according to Bloomberg News.

But Kentucky, Smith's former employer, topped the list by spending nearly $500,000 on recruiting in 2010. The Wildcats have a practice facility. And Smith flew on private jets when he recruited players during his decade-long tenure at the school.

Minnesota's proposed $15 million practice facility still looks like a fantasy, as the school's fundraisers continue to pursue major donations. Smith flies commercially on recruiting trips. And the Gophers' home venue, Williams Arena, is more than 80 years old.

But Smith said he plans to stay, despite perennial rumors projecting his departure to schools with the kind of facilities and resources he wants at Minnesota.

"There are some things I'm really not going to talk about publicly. And I think they need to be addressed internally around the university. But that's a given, and I think they're in the process of doing [that]," he said. "Obviously, we've got a new president coming on board. ... He'll try to mesh his goals and his vision of what athletics [should be] and what his expectations are. We still are a department, an arm of the university, not really the university, although we are a pretty good window to the university."

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi did not respond to a request to comment on Smith's statements Wednesday. But in an interview last week, Maturi said Gophers men's basketball needs new resources, especially a practice facility. But he also said greater investments don't always result in better performances.

"I think it's proven that there's dollars and a commitment to a program [that's] certainly proven to help when you talk about facilities and getting the right coaches and the right staff and those things. But I think you also can point to several programs that have all of those things and haven't won. So there are no guarantees," Maturi said. "I think you'd better be careful with that statement of more money is going to result in more success. I don't necessarily feel that that's the answer, and yet there does need to be the commitment for the right things to be successful, including us having a basketball practice facility."

Note

Junior college players Julian Welch (Yuba College in California) and Andre Ingram (Butler County Community College in Kansas) signed national letters of intent Wednesday, the first day of the late signing period, and will join the team next season.

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