Gophers basketball changing of the guards: Coleman out; Smith in

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2013 - 1:59 PM

Before guard Joe Coleman’s release from the Gophers basketball team was announced, another player already had committed.


Iowa players Aaron White (30) and Anthony Clemmons (5) scramble for a loose ball with Joe Coleman.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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The new-look Gophers men’s basketball program still is changing.

On Wednesday, the University of Minnesota officially announced it has released Joe Coleman from his scholarship just hours after news broke that another player, Malik Smith, had become coach Richard Pitino’s third recruit for the 2013-14 season.

Pitino issued a short statement on Coleman’s departure, which was expected after it was confirmed Tuesday he was seeking his release: “We wish him the very best in the future. We appreciate the contributions he has given the program the last two years.”

Coleman’s plans are unknown.

‘‘After much consideration, I have decided that transferring will be best for me,’’ Coleman said in a text message. ‘‘This was not an easy decision by any means, and is something I have been considering since before Coach Pitino arrived at Minnesota. I wish Coach Pitino, his staff, and my former teammates nothing but the best. I also want to wholeheartedly thank the Minnesota fans, staff, and students for making my first two years of college so unforgettable.’’

Smith, a transfer from Florida International who played there under Pitino, has not officially been announced as a new member of the Gophers, but he tweeted that he committed and reiterated that in a subsequent interview Wednesday.

“Once I knew [Pitino] was interested, I pretty much knew I was going to go,” Smith said.

The two moves offer a glimpse into the type of roster Pitino is assembling for next season and perhaps into the future. The three players that Pitino has commitments from so far — Daquein McNeil and Dre Mathieu have already signed — are either very quick, good shooters or both.

The 6-4 Coleman, a former Hopkins standout, was a top 150 recruit in 2011. But he attempted just 35 three-point shots in his two seasons with the Gophers, making 10 of them (29.6 percent). He also had more turnovers than assists both seasons.

The 6-2 Smith, who spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at two junior colleges, has one year of eligibility left after playing as a junior last season at FIU. He averaged 14.1 points, making 96 of 265 (36.2 percent) of his three-point attempts. Andre Hollins led Minnesota with 81 three-pointers last season, while Austin Hollins had 53. Nobody else made more than 19.

“He’s a demanding coach,” Smith said of Pitino. “He’s going to get the best out of you. … I think his system works with anybody. It’s very up-tempo, fast-paced, a lot of pressing, a lot of shots and it’s proven to work.”

Smith should be eligible to play immediately because of a waiver for players who are transferring from a school that is ineligible for postseason play. Florida International AD Pete Garcia said in April that the school likely will be hit with an NCAA postseason ban in 2013-14 after yet-to-be released academic progress rate scores come out. The school’s APR trouble stems from a period under former coach Isiah Thomas, not Pitino.

That specific waiver would seem to pave the way for another Gophers target at FIU — Rakeem Buckles — to join if he is interested. The 6-7, 215-pound forward is a graduate student with one year of eligibility.

Bringing in Smith and Buckles would help the Gophers short-term while also leaving them loaded with scholarships for the talented class of 2014. The Gophers will automatically have two scholarships available for 2014 with the graduations that year of Austin Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi, and would gain three more with Coleman (a junior-to-be) leaving and both Buckles and Smith only having a single year of eligibility.

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