Tubby Smith phoned University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks on Saturday to inform him there wasn't any truth to the reports he was going to leave the Gophers men's basketball program and take the job as coach at the University of Virginia.

Then on Sunday morning, he phoned the Sports Huddle on WCCO radio to say all the rumors are just that and that he "was very comfortable here and we're having a good time. In fact, I just got back from California, watching Justin Cobbs play yesterday; he lost in the state high school championship game out in California. [Cobbs, a point guard at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, Calif., recently scored 47 points in a game.] So we've been very comfortable."

Get used to these rumors. The Gophers have one of the great basketball coaches in the country, so rumors having him heading any place there is a good head coaching job opening are going to crop up.

Bruininks, who was at the NCAA tournament second-round games Sunday at the Metrodome, was happy to hear the good news.

"We've got the best basketball coach in the country, he is happy here, and we are going to build that basketball pavilion and keep him happy," Bruininks said.

Smith added: "Yes, Dr. Bruininks and [Gophers athletic director] Joel Maturi [and I], we all feel that things are going in the right direction at this point in time. I hope people are pleased with the direction the basketball program is going at this time. We know we've got a lot of work to do, but I think with [almost] everybody returning we should be fine. I plan on being here for a very long time."

Get bigger, stronger

Smith said the Gophers have a chance to be a top-20 team and compete for the Big Ten championship.

"In order to do that, you've got to beat the likes of Michigan State. You've got to compete with the Purdues," Smith said. "Teams that we have not beaten the two years we've been here. So we need to find a way to compete with those teams."

One thing the Gophers need to do is get stronger and more physical, and then Smith thinks they could compete with anybody.

"I think that's something we have to build on for next year," he said. "That we can play with anyone. Our guys understand after the Texas loss we need to get in the weight room and get stronger [to defend against] a guy like Texas' Dexter Pittman, 300 pounds and very physical all the way around. We need to get stronger, and those are areas we need to continue to get better and improve in."

Smith said he will start getting ready for the 2009-2010 season right away.

"We'll meet with each individual player this week," he said. "We've got to get back to academics. It was spring break last week. So they were down in Greensboro playing basketball, they understand they have to do some catching up. We can do individual workouts up until the end of April. We can't have any more than four in the gym at one time, so we work on some skill work and go from there."

Smith dispelled the rumor that he was going to take the Virginia job because his wife, Donna, didn't like living in Minnesota's colder weather.

"It was just people writing; they didn't talk to her," he said. "We're very comfortable here. We enjoyed the winter. I think everybody understands it's part of the season, part of life. That's what she feels as well. We live very close to the university. We can walk to work. Close to downtown. She's very happy.

"The only thing I missed this winter is I didn't go ice fishing. It got too warm before I could get out there."

KU game in future?

Asked if there is any chance of Kansas scheduling the Gophers in the future, Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self said, "We've done some talking."

Kansas is back in the Sweet 16 after beating Dayton 60-43 at the Metrodome, even after the defending national champions had underclassmen such as Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers turn pro after last season.

"He [Chalmers] ... may be the best rookie guard in the game right now," Self said about his former guard, who was drafted by the Timberwolves with the 34th overall pick and then traded to Miami for two second-round picks. "He is averaging 10 points a game, [is on pace to] set the rookie record for steals and is playing at a pretty high level. Probably one of the best 10 rookies in the game."

Self was asked why he left a comfortable job at the University of Illinois to take the Kansas post in 2003. "I coached and went to school there when I was young and I knew it and I knew the tradition and the history," Self said. "Although it is not in my backyard, it is closer to home. And I grew up being a Big Eight [Conference] guy.

"I loved Illinois and I know I upset people when I left, but I think they have done remarkably well with different leadership. And they benefitted from the change also. But the biggest thing is I didn't want to wake up three or four years down the road and think I could have been the head coach at Kansas."

Jottings

Gophers guard/forward Jamal Abu-Shamala said he will travel back to Jordan to play basketball again as soon as he graduates from the university.

Leonard Weaver, the Seattle fullback the Vikings wanted to sign, has signed with the Eagles. ... Former Gophers defensive coordinator and head football coach John Gutekunst has retired from coaching and is running a dry cleaning operation in North Carolina. ... Look for former Vikings quarterback Gus Fre-rotte to sign with the Rams when he and his family return from a vacation.

Gophers sophomore Michael Kvasnicka, the son of former Gophers player and Twins farmhand Jay Kvasnicka, has a 24-game hitting streak dating back to last season. Kvasnicka leads the Gophers (13-6) with a .462 batting average and 24 RBI. Eric Decker, who has one year of football eligibility remaining with the Gophers, is hitting .333 for the baseball team.

NFL owners will consider several rules changes proposed by the Competition Committee. The committee will recommend that when the ball comes loose while throwing, replay can be used to determine whether it's a fumble or an incomplete pass. Under current rules, the play is not reviewable. The committee also wants to eliminate some wedge formations on kick returns.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com