Last summer, it looked like the Gophers men's basketball team had everything figured out.

A nationally ranked recruiting class equipped with a bunch of ready-now prospects was set to join a Gophers team that brought back its top nine scorers after an NCAA tournament appearance.

We all know the academic, legal and maturity issues that disrupted that group's potential.

But the Gophers are in the middle of another make-or-break offseason.

If everything works in their favor, they'll have one of the top teams in the Big Ten entering the 2010-2011 season. But that's far from a guarantee.

Paul Carter's decision to transfer so he can be closer to his 14-year-old sister Bria, who has cancer, is certainly commendable. But losing Carter will hurt the Gophers on and off the floor.

When the Gophers were going through a tough stretch during the Big Ten season, both players and coaches said Carter maintained his confidence even though he was dealing with a tough family situation.

Carter's father, Ronald Carter, said his son began to think about transferring in February. After learning about his sister's condition in January, Carter began communicating with her multiple times each day, his father said.

Bria is scheduled to undergo another round of chemotherapy later this month. A surgical procedure to remove all or part of her femur bone will follow, her father said. And then, she might have to go through three more months of chemo after that.

Ronald Carter said his son's bond with his teammates and Gophers supporters led to "second thoughts" about his decision. But Carter ultimately chose to move closer to his younger sister, who lives in Chicago. His father said that there were other "considerations" in his son's decision, but he didn't elaborate.

"He said, 'Daddy, I can play basketball anywhere,'" Ronald Carter said his son told him. "This is a life-threatening situation."

Carter will consider DePaul, Chicago State, Loyola University and University of Illinois-Chicago, his father said. He's scheduled to graduate with a degree in communications from the University of Minnesota in May.  

The Gophers will miss him.

His scholarship and absence, however, will open up opportunities for other players.

I think Rodney Williams has a chance to transform his game over the summer. He has so many natural tools that he occasionally displayed his freshman year. But I believe the pace of the college game and the challenge of playing within a system that contrasts the run-and-gun ball he played at Robbinsdale Cooper affected his growth. But even as a freshman, he was one of the best athletes in the country.

He's special. Now, he has to work extremely hard in the weight room, develop a more consistent jump shot and learn more about the game. The Gophers will need his versatility, one of Carter's best assets.

Trevor Mbakwe has the size (6-8, 250 pounds) and skills to make an immediate impact. He's scheduled to go to trial to face a felony assault charge in Miami June 7. He can help the Gophers in a variety of ways if he gets through his legal situation.

The Gophers hope to recruit new talent, too.

If he likes what he sees during his visit, Mo Walker will likely commit to the Gophers this weekend, he said earlier this week. The Canadian power forward who led Brewster Academy (N.H.) to a national prep shool title said he admires Tubby Smith because the Gophers coach didn't make a bunch of false promises and wanted to get to know him as a person.

Walker is a 6-10, 270 pound post player who has struggled with his conditioning in high school. But he'll have a chance to work with a very good strength and conditioning coach (Cal Dietz) if he joins the program.

Oto Osenieks, a 6-9, 210-pound forward from Carbondale Prep in Illinois, is also expected to visit the Gophers.

The Gophers have already signed Elliott Eliason (Chadron, Neb.) and Austin Hollins (Germantown, Tenn.), who were both considered potential redshirts when they signed their letters of intent in the fall. But the Gophers might need both players, depending on what happens to their roster in the offseason.

Eliason and Hollins will be teammates in the Jack Jones Shootout, an all-star game, in Memphis Saturday. You can see the game at http://gohssn.com/ at 11:30 a.m. central time.

Smith is searching for more forwards with the kind of the size and athleticism the Gophers will need to compete for a Big Ten title. But his top target is obviously Cory Joseph, one of best point guards in the country. Think Bobby Jackson, the 2010 edition.

Ro Russell, Joseph's AAU coach, told me that the Findlay Prep senior has already selected a school but the people with knowledge of his choice are "sworn to secrecy." Devoe Joseph's strong finish at the end of the year raised Minnesota's stock in his brother's eyes, Russell said.

But Russell, who coached Joseph and Walker on his Grassroots Canada AAU squad, said talk of a "package deal" with the two players is innaccurate. He said Joseph is more intererested in playing with his brother than Walker. But I'm sure Joseph will be more interested in the Gophers if his friend Walker picks the school.

Here's my take on the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Gophers entering the 2010-11 season.

2010-11 Best-Case Scenario (The Gophers get every recruit on their wish list, Mbakwe is found not guilty of felony assault in Miami, White rejoins the program, Al Nolen gets back on track academically.) 

Projected Starters

PG Cory Joseph

SG Devoe Joseph

G/F Blake Hoffarber

PF Trevor Mbakwe

C Colton Iverson

Top Reserves

PF Maurice Walker

F Royce White

PG Al Nolen

SF Rodney Williams

C Ralph Sampson III

SG Austin Hollins

Redshirt

C Elliott Eliason

2010-11 Worst-Case Scenario (Mbakwe's legal troubles keep him out of action for the second consecutive season, top Gophers recruits sign elsewhere, White doesn't return, Nolen's academic issues continue.)

Projected Starters

PG Justin Cobbs

SG Devoe Joseph

G/F Blake Hoffarber

F Rodney Williams

C Colton Iverson

Top Reserves

SG Austin Hollins

PF Maurice Walker

C Ralph Sampson III

C Elliott Eliason

-Butler, Pitt, Louisville, New Mexico and Purdue recently announced extensions for their head coaches. Seems like a fitting time for the Gophers to announce an extension with Smith, right? Especially with the late signing period beginning Wednesday.

"We will announce if an extension is signed," Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said earlier this week. "[It's] in the hands of the lawyers. Sorry, I cannot get into details. I am not concerned about timing. Tubby has 4 years left on initial contract and we are committed to him and he to the Gophers."

-Former Gophers shooting guard Lawrence Westbrook is in Portsmouth, Va., competing in the Portsmouth Invite, an event for under-the-radar NBA prospects hoping to audition their services for pro teams.

Westbrook, playing for Portsmouth Partnership, went 4-for-7 and scored eight points in 23 minutes during his team's 104-85 win over Cherry, Bekaert & Holland Thursday. His team faces Roger Brown's Friday night.

-Blake Hoffarber earned Big Ten all-academic team honors for the second consecutive season earlier this week.

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Trevor Mbakwe's trial to begin June 7

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Video: Cory Joseph talks Gophers, Tubby Smith