For Tubby Smith, recruiting is 'the lifeblood of a program'

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO   , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2012 - 6:11 AM

Few elite recruits have chosen the Gophers under Tubby Smith. Attracting an upcoming regional star or two would enhance that reputation.

hide

Tubby Smith

Photo: Anna Reed, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Top recruit Tyus Jones last week whittled down a massive list of schools pursuing him to eight colleges that remain in the game. The list, unveiled on Twitter, read like a conversation about the most prominent programs in basketball: Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State, Baylor ...

And Minnesota.

It's hard to say whether Jones, the Apple Valley point guard ranked by some recruiting services as the nation's top player in the Class of 2014, is serious about the Gophers or whether he is soothing local egos before he eventually picks a different school.

"They're one of the first schools that started recruiting me, and I like what they're doing over there," Jones said last week. "So that's why they're still one of my final schools I'm looking at."

For Tubby Smith -- a coach seeking the players to help the Gophers leap into college basketball's elite and one who calls recruiting "the lifeblood of a program" -- getting Jones would equal winning the lottery.

In 2007, Minnesota hired Smith -- who won a national title at Kentucky in 1998 -- to help turn the program around. To an extent, that has happened. The Gophers have twice made the NCAA tournament under Smith after going only once in the eight years before he arrived. And this year's team is perhaps the most promising one of his tenure.

But while Smith has landed some nice players, his legacy at the U also has been defined by transfers, disappointments and a failure to recruit (or keep) enough game-changing players such as Jones. National signing day is Wednesday, and the Gophers are expected to add 6-5 wing Alvin Ellis and 6-8 forward Alex Foster, both from Chicago. Neither is listed among Rivals.com's top 150 recruits nationally.

"When we talk about recruiting, I look back on what could have been, what should have been and you say, 'Well, have we done a good job?'" Smith said. "I think we've done some good things, but ... the retention is important as anything, as important as development. You've got to have men. You've got to have them available to you."

Therein lies his defining challenge and opportunity. With six highly regarded recruits in the classes of 2014 and 2015 playing in Minnesota or Wisconsin, the Gophers have a convenient opportunity to author transformation -- or compound the struggles with the biggest misses yet.

Initial hype

The first class to sign after Smith's hiring included Ralph Sampson III and Devoe Joseph, both ranked in Rivals.com's top 100. Minnesota's recruiting class of 2009 -- Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe (who transferred from Miami Dade CC), Justin Cobbs and Royce White -- was ranked No. 24 in the country.

"Coming into it, we were all excited," said Williams, ranked by Rivals as the No. 100 recruit in 2009. "We thought we had a really good future. But it didn't work out."

And after that, nabbing top players didn't happen as easily. While rankings aren't perfect, they are a good barometer of perceived talent. From 2010 to 2013, the recruiting classes haven't breached the top 30, and the Gophers haven't grabbed any players in the Rivals.com top 100 (though Mo Walker, Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman were all in the top 125).

As such, recruiting success in the upcoming years is critical to the program. In addition to Jones -- ESPN's No. 1 overall recruit for 2014 -- Minnesota is also home to Cooper 6-4 guard Rashad Vaughn (Rivals No. 12) and DeLaSalle 6-7 forward Reid Travis (Rivals No. 41), who graduate in the same year. DeLaSalle guard Jarvis Johnson, Grand Rapids center Alex Illikainen and Rice Lake (Wis.) center Henry Ellenson, the brother of Gophers freshman Wally Ellenson, have all made a major splash as 2015 recruits.

Changing perceptions

Getting those recruits, however, will mean turning the tide. Recruiting analysts say top players often don't view Minnesota as a top program despite its Big Ten status and Smith's past accomplishments.

"Minnesota isn't really on the radar of four and five-star recruits," said Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com. "The reputation of their assistants, and even Tubby [is] they're not really ace recruiters."

Jones said he has a good relationship with Smith and his staff. Ryan James of Rivals.com points out that Gophers assistant Vince Taylor has built some solid relationships with players, but that overall the efforts have been inconsistent.

"Too often I hear people say, 'I haven't heard as much from Minnesota as I used to,'" James said. "As a staff, they definitely need to put more time into continuing to get after kids."

Smith assessed overall recruiting during his tenure thusly: "I think we've done a good job. We haven't done a super job -- we've missed out on some players."

When kids do visit the University of Minnesota, they see a big-time campus and a pair of vibrant cities. The facilities, on the other hand, don't make the cut. Minnesota and Northwestern are the only Big Ten programs without a basketball practice facility. At a school already fighting a cold-weather perception, that can be a deal-breaker.

"There's no question, it's an arms race," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Facilities are impressionable."

Smith has campaigned for a practice facility, and new AD Norwood Teague says it is a priority. For now, though, the Gophers practice and play at Williams Arena.

Self-inflicted wounds

The Gophers also have contributed to their own recruiting problems. Before the season started, Saul Smith -- an assistant coach and Tubby's son -- was arrested for drunken driving.

"I already know coaches are using that [against Minnesota]," James said, "which is unfortunate. But that's the game of recruiting."

And the Gophers authored a bit of an embarrassment when, after getting a verbal commitment from junior college big man Daniel Edozie in September, they backed out a couple of weeks later after watching him play at a tournament in Texas.

"The assistant coach fell in love with him and the head coach didn't," said Edozie's AAU coach, Donley Minor. "And at the last second, the head coach decided he didn't want to give him a scholarship."

A team source said programs typically meet as a staff before extending an offer to avoid such confusion.

Winning, however, can help overcome recruiting obstacles. A strong showing by the Gophers this season could influence some of the best of the Class of 2014 and 2015 to choose Minnesota.

James said he thinks the Gophers have made the best inroads with Vaughn, who has become close to Taylor. Even then, though, convincing Vaughn and his peers to stay home isn't an easy task.

"It's a different society," said Nebraska coach Tim Miles of the so-called home-state advantage. "These guys all grew up with the Internet, with e-mail and text and all those things. ... The recruiting game, I don't believe, is the same. All the same, we're expected to keep our local talent local."

Whether the Gophers can do that will have a major impact on Smith's recruiting legacy and the program's future.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Carolina 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago
Arizona 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pm30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 am
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

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Gophers do against Michigan?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close