Tubby's deal will be a boost to recruiting

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2012 - 11:52 PM

The extension should help reassure potential players of the coach's intent to remain at the U.

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Gophers coach Tubby Smith received a contract extension through the 2016-17 season.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith got his wish, but he didn't get a raise.

Smith said Tuesday that his contract extension will keep his pay the same: $1.75 million a year in base salary plus supplemental compensation throughout the life of the new deal, which added three years to the two remaining on his previous contract, keeping him with the Gophers through the 2016-17 season. Other terms of the contract, including his buyout, are yet unknown because they haven't been released by the university. Regardless, the extension was near the top of Smith's wish list.

"It's just one less thing people can use against you. You know, that's what happens in recruiting," Smith said. "I can genuinely say, 'Look fellas, I'm here.' For kids we sign this year or next year, I'll be here. Nobody knows whether you'll be here for certain or not because a lot of things can happen. But you expect to be here because you have a contract extension."

Smith declined to get into the specifics of what held up the extension -- which had been anticipated for more than a year -- but noted that administration changes have played a role. Athletic director Norwood Teague had been in his new job only a month when the extension was announced Monday, showing a clear sign of commitment, for now, on the part of the new regime.

"We've had our issues as far as winning or losing, so we haven't reached our potential, we just haven't done it," Smith said. "An extension is just another weapon we have in our arsenal to recruit."

A new deal now becomes one less thing to worry about going into a season filled with expectations. A young Gophers team found its stride at the end of last season using a guard-heavy offense, reached the NIT championship game and finished the season 23-15. Also returning to that lineup will be big men Trevor Mbakwe, who is still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in November, and Mo Walker, who is returning from right knee surgery and a broken left foot.

Smith said Walker, a 6-10, 289-pound redshirt sophomore, broke a bone in his left foot in the final practice of last season. The day before the NIT final against Stanford, the Gophers were doing a walk-through, when Walker took a soft lob near the basket and came down hard on Elliott Eliason's foot.

Walker had surgery on the foot in May and has rehabbed completely, Smith said. Walker's right knee -- on which he had reconstructive surgery after the 2010-11 season -- is also completely healed and the big man is running and playing to full contact, Smith said.

"He's going to be a real key for us because he's very talented," Smith said of Walker. "If we can just get him healthy, now we do have the size and the bulk that we have. We like the way Elliott plays. We like the way Andre Ingram is healthy. We've got Oto [Osenieks] back. So we've got some size and some beef that we planned to have."

Mbakwe has not practiced yet, but his recovery is on schedule, according to his doctors and trainers, Smith said.

"They say he's doing well and he's right where they want him to be," Smith said. When asked whether Mbakwe would be ready to start at the beginning of the season, Smith said: "I would think so."

Still, Smith emphasized that Mbakwe is a bonus -- after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility in March and the 6-8 forward announced about one month later he would return to the Gophers -- and not someone the team was relying on for success. Mbakwe averaged 14 points and 9.1 rebounds in seven games before his injury.

"Obviously, Trevor has been with us for two years, and we had one of the worst seasons we've ever had his junior year," Smith said. "Even though he led the league in rebounding, it was still a tough, tough year for us as a team. ... He'll certainly add some depth to our program but we weren't expecting Trevor back anyway, he was a senior last year. So we recruited as if he wasn't going to be here this year to start with. So we feel comfortable and excited about the guys we have returning."

Smith also said he and Teague have continued to discuss the possibility of a new practice facility, something long desired by the Gophers coach. Right now, it's only conversation.

"He knows that's something we need," Smith said. "And [they] did it at VCU, so he understands how important that is."

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