Owner Zygi Wilf said the Vikings probably won't sign any high-level free agents for the 2009 season, after the team spent $81 million in contracts for three players (Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams and Thomas Tapeh) in the first two days of free agency last year.

"We are going to have to concentrate on the draft," Wilf said. "That's the long-term solution.

"We're going to have to draft well. That's what our whole staff is concentrating on. Last year we were successful and got some good players in free agency. This year there wasn't as many.

"We went after T.J. [Houshmand- zadeh] pretty good. We didn't hold back on that. [But] you can't get caught up in a bidding war."

A year ago, the Vikings might have gone into a bidding war for Houshmandzadeh, the wide receiver who signed with Seattle. But this year, the plan has changed.

Wilf was asked about losing center Matt Birk as a free agent to Baltimore.

"He wanted to move on," Wilf said. "He wanted a change of pace. It wasn't a matter of money when it came to Birk. He wanted to try and spread his wings with another organization and see how it is.

"I'm very confident in the young kid we have [John Sullivan]. I think he is a leader and a very smart player. I think he'll do very well. We're confident in his ability to step up. We are confident in the front line. There are a lot of good players in the draft. We have to focus on the draft."

So you won't sign any more expensive free agents?

"I don't think there are any more big-money players out there," Wilf said. "I don't see any. There aren't as many players this year. We made some additions.

"We are going to improve through the draft. That is where you have to ultimately improve."

Were you ever in the running for Denver quarterback Jay Cutler?

"We're happy with the quarterback that we got," Wilf said.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings try to trade for a high-rated right tackle, a position where they need help. With Birk gone, it is all the more important to improve the offensive line, especially at right tackle.

Talent here to win

Tubby Smith is confident there is enough talent in this area for the Gophers men's basketball team to recruit with the best, as good as it was in Kentucky. He believes he will have an outstanding team next year, one that can contend for the Big Ten title.

"We're going to be involved in the best players," Smith said. "The one thing about Kentucky, you have to recruit nationally. And you can, because Kentucky is a nationally recognized team, the winningest team in the history of college basketball.

"And [in] Minnesota, we've got enough talent here that we really shouldn't have to go far to recruit. I think we've pretty much established that by signing guys like Trevor Mbakwe, he's from here. Royce White. Rodney Williams. Local players. Not to mention, we'll have six to eight guys on our team from Minnesota. You look at Al Nolen, Blake Hoffarber, Travis Busch. And then you have ... a Colton Iverson, who's not far from here [Yankton, S.D.]. Devoe Joseph, who knew me. We've known each other. That's how recruiting works.

"When you compare the two [Minnesota and Kentucky] ... first, you've got to beat the people in our league. We want to be able to compete with the people in the Top 25. We've been in the Top 25 this year. And eventually we need to remain there and be one of the best teams in the country."

Smith says without question he can win here, and he cited Mbakwe -- a former Henry Sibley and St. Bernard's star who went to Marquette and then Miami Dade Community College -- as an example of an incoming player who can help the Gophers compete.

"Marquette is having an excellent year. I can't imagine what they'd be like with him," Smith said. "He's a guy, we really don't have anybody in our program like Trevor. He plays a lot like ... Blake Griffin. I was watching him diving yesterday in the game and they had highlights on him. He's probably the No. 1 player in the country, from Oklahoma. He plays with such a passion. And Trevor does the same thing. He plays with that type of toughness. And that's [something] that we like right now. He's a special player. Again, he's very mature, a very serious-minded player."

Smith is confident the young players on this year's team will improve.

"That's one of the things that we were hoping, that we would grow and get better," Smith said. "Being tougher. Being men. I said that from last year to this year, you've got to keep getting better. Ralph [Sampson III] is getting there. Colton is there. Colton is as tough as there is. Travis Busch is there. Knowing how to be tough.

"Setting a good, solid screen, to me, is being tough. Being in the right spot. Making the right decisions. Fighting through fatigue. Busch? He's a guy that gives you that hustle. He can raise the level of intensity on the court, because he plays with such reckless abandon."

The Gophers will be one of the favorites for the Big Ten title next year, and they will be ranked high nationally, too.


According to nbadraft.net, Kansas center Cole Aldrich of Bloomington is projected as the Timberwolves' top selection with the No. 6 pick in the 2010 draft. The 6-11, 245-pound sophomore is averaging 14.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game for the Jayhawks (25-7). Bob Knight believes Aldrich will be a good pro and is a big player with unlimited potential. ... The website has the Timberwolves taking two Wake Forest players -- sophomore guard Jeff Teague (No. 6) and sophomore forward James Johnson (No. 18) -- with their top two selections this year.

One of the players Vikings football coach Brad Childress was impressed with at a recent pro workout was former Gophers defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg. "He's a million-miles-per-hour motor guy," Childress said. "If he doesn't get picked, I would love to have him. He's a later-round guy or free agent. ... I thought he was the most valuable player on their defense this year."

Rex Sanders, grandson of former Vikings running back Dave Osborn, is an outstanding lacrosse player for Eastview who was highly recruited by Dartmouth, Princeton, Denver and Navy but has committed to play for Johns Hopkins. He was contacted by Johns Hopkins on Sept. 1 of last year, the first day recruits can be contacted. Sanders is also an outstanding running back for Eastview.

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