After a young Gophers basketball squad finished the season with a run to the NIT championship game, coach Tubby Smith is really enthusiastic about the fact that a new NCAA rule will enable him to work for two hours each week with his young players who are enrolled in summer school and make them a lot better.
Add to that the fact that senior center Ralph Sampson III could be the only player to leave the team and the possibility that Trevor Mbakwe will not turn pro and take advantage of the sixth year of eligibility the NCAA granted him, and it could make for a great season next year.
Asked about the advantages that being able to work with players over the summer gives the coaching staff, Smith said they were numerous.
"Those are times, development times, you can be 1-on-1 with them, work on their ballhandling, their passing, their shooting, and kids want that, they need it," Smith said. "It will give us access to our players in the summer, which we haven't had. What they'll have is, they'll be able to do eight hours a week that they can lift [weights] and do other stuff, and only two of those eight hours can be used in individual workout sessions.
"So say a kid is having issues, we can find out more about him 1-on-1 as a coach, and he's here in summer school anyway. It's something that coaches have been fighting for for a long time and we appreciate the NCAA understanding how important this is."
Smith believes it will be good not only for his players' athletic development but also their academic development.
"You can help Rodney Williams work on his shot," Smith said. "You can work on the footwork of Andre Hollins and get his lateral quickness better. You can work on some guys. Especially with such a young team and with so many freshmen and we have two freshmen coming in, we have a lot of work to do. I think it's going to be the best thing the NCAA has done in a long time."
Smith said that the Gophers weren't prepared physically when Mbakwe went down earlier in the year.
"In the Big Ten, we didn't really have that real physical presence inside," Smith said. "I think everybody has that and everybody needs that. Look at Michigan State, they had two big bodies. Everybody has to have a big body inside. Wisconsin had a big body. But we'll get [Maurice] Walker back and Mo is playing well. We'll have Oto [Osenieks] back, we'll have Elliott [Eliason] back. We should be fine, with Trevor we'll be much better. That's just a fact.
"Next year, Andre Hollins will be much more mature, he'll be a sophomore and he's a very good point guard who can deliver the ball. Julian [Welch] will be a senior. Maverick Ahanmisi, those guys will be able to handle the point, but I'm really looking forward to putting the ball in Andre Hollins' hands next year."
Smith expects help from his two incoming recruits, as well, saying: "Wally Ellenson [of Rice Lake, Wis.] is a good outside shooter, has a great stroke, excellent shot. We need a three-point shooter. Charles Buggs, the kid from Hargrave Military Academy [in Chatham, Va.], he'll be a big help also. He's athletic, he reminds me of a Damian Johnson, he's active and all over the court. He has an old-school type game, but he's got the athleticism to go along with it. I like him. And he can shoot the outside shot at 6-7."
The way the Gophers finished should give them a lot of confidence. You look back at the fact that they lost five games by five points or fewer and have to imagine that experience will benefit the team next year.
New announcer is 'perfect fit'
The Twins have a new play-by-play announcer this year in Cory Provus, and nobody knows him better than current WCCO radio program director Bob Shomper, who hired Provus in 2007 to be a part of the Cubs Radio Network broadcast team.
Provus was teamed with veteran play-by-play man Pat Hughes and late Hall of Famer Ron Santo in Chicago before moving to Milwaukee to work with legendary Bob Uecker on Brewers radio broadcasts.
Provus hails from Highland Park, Ill., and before joining the Cubs did play-by-play for Alabama-Birmingham.
"Cory is a perfect fit for the Twins," Shomper said. "After his stints with the Cubs and the Brewers, he is primed to a truly great major league play-by-play announcer. He will be a terrific ambassador for the franchise and the state of Minnesota. Cory is one of the most likeable guys in the business. We're lucky to have him."
Good words for Tolliver
Kevin Love is a big supporter of fellow Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver, who has filled in well for injured players in recent weeks after not playing much for a time.
"He stays ready," Love said. "He is the type of guy that continues to work. Just keeps working on his game, whatever the team needs. Whether it is guarding the best players, hitting open shots, getting rebounds, getting extra possessions. He is just a do-it-all guy we have around."
• Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said that sooner or later there will be an NBA rule passed that will prevent college players from turning pro after their first or second year. The problem is the players union would vote for one year, the way it is now, and the owners for two. Once they agree, something will happen.
• Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia doesn’t believe star sophomore Nick Bjugstad, who was drafted in the first round by the Florida Panthers in 2010, will turn pro, even though Florida has a record of getting its top draft choices signed rather than having them stay in school for an extended period.
• Former Twins closer Joe Nathan continues to have some trouble this spring with his new squad, the Texas Rangers. In six innings over six games, Nathan had an 0-3 record with a 12.00 ERA.
• The Gophers traveled 9,330 miles in playing five NIT games, the first three on the road at Philadelphia (La Salle), Miami and Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Middle Tennessee State), before playing the final two in New York. It’s possible the team was a little worn out when it came to the Stanford game, as the Gophers collapsed after playing so well up to that point.
• Trent Lockett, the former Hopkins basketball standout who is expected to leave Arizona State for his senior season because he wants to be closer to his cancer-stricken mother, will likely wind up at Iowa State, where coach Fred Hoiberg has done a great job securing transfers from big schools.
• In the United States Hockey League, Gophers recruit Taylor Cammarata entered Saturday eighth in league scoring with 25 goals and 34 assists in 54 games for Waterloo; on March 23, he had two goals and three assists in a 7-0 victory over Sioux Falls. Goalie Adam Wilcox is 22-18 between Green Bay and Tri-City, his current team.