Smith ponders Gophers basketball team's travails

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2012 - 9:50 AM

Tubby Smith defended differing punishment for Saul Smith and Trevor Mbakwe.


Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith speaks at Big Ten media day.

Photo: Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

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CHICAGO - Through a 33-year coaching career, Gophers coach Tubby Smith has learned to never utter the phrase, "Things can't get worse."

They always can, of course.

Still, when Smith's son, Gophers assistant coach Saul Smith, was arrested for drunken driving the morning after the coach's star player, Trevor Mbakwe, wrapped up a probation violation hearing triggered by the same offense, the veteran coach couldn't help but at least think the forbidden phrase.

This didn't happen, Smith said Thursday at Big Ten media day regarding what he thought immediately after finding out about his son's charge. What else could go wrong?

"It couldn't have been worse," Smith said of the timing. "Trevor just got back from Florida Saturday morning. He hadn't even gotten back yet. ... I was just so disappointed. What can you say? What can you do? There's nothing you can do ... It's just like the wind knocked you off your feet."

Chorus of criticism

In the span of a week, the hype of a promising Gophers season was completely blanketed by talk of legal issues. News of Mbakwe's drunken driving arrest and probation violation was first reported at Gophers media day Oct. 12, and it monopolized the news cycle until his hearing in Florida. Right after his case was settled, Saul Smith was arrested.

The side-by-side cases have provided plenty of opportunity for criticism from Gophers fans, who don't understand why Mbakwe -- who also has been on probation for felony battery and violating a restraining order -- is with the team to start the year, while Saul Smith, a first-time offender, isn't. Smith said his son is expected to be a role model for the players and thus is assessed in a different way.

The coach suspended Mbakwe from team activities for an undisclosed length of time after Mbakwe's July drunken-driving arrest. But while Mbakwe is expected to play in Minnesota's first exhibition game Thursday, Saul Smith has been put on unpaid, administrative leave -- although Tubby Smith did say he expects him to be coaching at some point this season. Saul Smith's salary is $91,755 a year, according to the U of M.

"It's a higher standard," said Smith, who allowed athletic director Norwood Teague to lead the decision-making process on Saul Smith's punishment because he is "a parent first." Teague said Monday he was not sure whether Smith will remain suspended until his Dec. 3 court date, though he reiterated the suspension is "indefinite." He said the university is still evaluating the situation.

Mbakwe's punishment was previously kept confidential, but Smith on Thursday said it involved requiring the forward to do community service, attend Alcoholics Anonymous and see a psychologist. Those initiatives, which Smith said were necessary for Mbakwe to get reinstated with the team, greatly helped Mbakwe in court last week, with the judge agreeing to two additional years of probation rather than jail time.

"Can you imagine if he hadn't done anything? He would be in jail, probably," Smith said.

Character measured

Smith's empathy and willingness to work with Mbakwe despite his legal problems comes from his core belief that Mbakwe, despite his mistakes, is well-intentioned.

"Is he a good person? Yeah, he's a good person. Is he a man of character? Yeah, he's a man of character. But he made a mistake," Smith said. "Lord knows the things I've done that, thank God, were never publicized."

Fellow forward Rodney Williams said the team, which is fighting the perception that the legal battles are an on-court distraction, agrees wholeheartedly.

"We all know the kind of guy Trevor is, and we're behind him 100 percent," Williams said.

Even so, Smith knows the criticism will come. In 33 years, he's developed the belief that he needs to stick to his gut in handling such issues.

"I didn't last all these years in this business doing stupid stuff," he said. "I lasted this long because I do the right things by people. And I let my record speak for myself. ... People are going to think what they think."

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St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 3
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 12 FINAL
Seattle - LP: E. Ramirez 4
Washington - D. Fister 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - K. Kendrick
Tampa Bay - D. Smyly 6:05 PM
Baltimore - K. Gausman
Boston - J. Kelly 6:07 PM
Toronto - M. Stroman
NY Yankees - S. Greene 6:08 PM
Detroit - D. Price
Atlanta - J. Teheran 6:10 PM
NY Mets - Z. Wheeler
Chicago Cubs - J. Turner 6:10 PM
Cincinnati - M. Latos
Cleveland - C. Kluber 7:10 PM
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi
Minnesota - P. Hughes 7:10 PM
Kansas City - L. Hendriks
Oakland - D. Pomeranz 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Peacock
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 8:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw 8:40 PM
Arizona - W. Miley
Miami - H. Alvarez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - H. Santiago
Colorado - F. Morales 9:15 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:02 PM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
D.C. 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pm
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




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