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.

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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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Cincinnati - M. Latos 6:05 PM
Baltimore - B. Norris
Boston - J. Kelly 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - S. Greene
Detroit - K. Lobstein 6:05 PM
Cleveland - C. Carrasco
NY Mets - J. Niese 6:10 PM
Miami - B. Penny
Philadelphia - K. Kendrick 6:10 PM
Atlanta - M. Minor
Toronto - R. Dickey 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Hellickson
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - J. Arrieta
LA Angels - C. Wilson 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Peacock
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi 7:10 PM
Minnesota - T. Milone
Texas - D. Holland 7:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Guthrie
Pittsburgh - J. Locke 7:15 PM
St. Louis - A. Wainwright
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
Colorado - J. Lyles
Seattle - J. Paxton 9:05 PM
Oakland - S. Gray
Washington - D. Fister 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw
Arizona - W. Miley 9:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Louisville 31
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Minnesota 9:00 PM
Phoenix
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2014 season     
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