By Myron Medcalf
Scan the rosters for the Howard Pulley pro-am league, which commenced Monday at the Salvation Army in downtown St. Paul, and you’ll find that 90 percent of Minnesota’s players have a team.The four incoming players will join eight Gophers veterans in an attempt to build early chemistry for what could be a special season.
There’s only one problem: the squad’s top scorer, Lawrence Westbrook (12.6 ppg last season), isn’t on a team, even though league founder Rene Pulley told me that he might play this summer.
Westbrook’s father, Larry, told me that his son returned home to Arizona after the culmination of the school year. Father and son took a trip in May to work out for a week with renowned basketball trainer and former NBA player/coach John Lucas and a number of former and current pro players, including Chris Wilcox (New York Knicks), Jai Lucas (Texas) and Damon Stoudamire (former NBA ROY with the Toronto Raptors) in Houston.
While there, Larry Westbrook said his son competed against current Washington Wizards and former Timberwolves guard Mike James, who has a home in Houston. According to dad, James won the majority of the one-on-one competitions but “Lawrence beat him as well.”
Westbrook has utilized the summer to prepare for potential pro tryouts after the upcoming season. The biggest knock against Westbrook will be his 6-0 frame. Larry Westbrook, however, feels like his son has proven himself against high level competition this summer. He’s expected to participate in a summer league at Arizona State, which will feature numerous players who have played professional basketball overseas.
He won’t participate in the Howard Pulley league with his teammates, but that doesn’t bother Tubby Smith, Larry Westbrook said. Westbrook hasn’t played basketball in June, choosing instead to rest his knees, which were plagued by tendinitis last season. Westbrook is working out and hoping to get down to about 190 pounds, after entering the summer at close to 210 pounds, his dad said.
It sounds like Westbrook has been trying to diversify his game, which will help both the Gophers and his pro aspirations. Westbrook is also just taking some time to relax at home. He’s been away from AZ since his senior year in high school, when he attended Winchendon Prep.
Although Westbrook won’t be around for a chunk of the summer, his father told me that he’s focused on bringing the Gophers more W’s next season. He’s also on pace to graduate in December.
-For the last two years, Royce White and Rodney Williams have both been recognized as must-haves for Tubby Smith. They were clearly the two most college-ready prospects in the state from a physical/athletic perspective last season.
Now, we have to wait and see if they’re mature enough to make the transition academically, socially and mentally.
Williams enrolled in the U of M’s summer school program after trying for months and months to get the necessary ACT score to qualify. Academics have been his Achilles’ heel. That’s why there’s been a lot of concern about his current and future status with the Gophers.
White is an intelligent kid that hasn’t always made the best decisions. But he’s a teenager. And he’s grown, especially since his junior year at De La Salle. Still, White has to balance school/basketball/family/friends, while competing in the Big Ten and staying level-headed about his dream to play in the NBA one day. Balancing has been a challenge for him for a variety of reasons.
It’s easy to look at Williams/White and expect the worse. But I really think they’re just two teenagers who have to grow up. Most do. Williams and White will have to also if they want to stay in Smith’s system. And by enrolling in summer school and committing to Minnesota’s offseason program, they’re on their way.
Things could be a lot worse.
They didn’t benefit financially from an Internet documentary about their basketball careers. Or get money from shoe companies. Or refuse to give their transcripts to schools interested in them. Or commit NCAA violations … during an official recruiting trip. And they’re not awaiting a trial related to sexual assault charges. Those are some of allegations facing high school All-American Lance Stephenson. And it’s the reason that the super recruit hasn’t found a school, even though he’s ranked as one of the top players in the 2009 class by most recruiting services.
Stephenson is one of the greatest players in NYC history, and new Florida International coach Isaiah Thomas might avoid him.
When I read about guys like Stephenson, it puts a lot of perspective on the way I view guys who are considered “red flags.” Most of these “red flags” have academic issues or problems with their attitudes. A lot of times, those issues can be remedied with good coaching and a willingness to learn. Other times, they’re just tolerated and outgrown. But some coaches won’t hesitate to get rid of a player who won’t change.
White and Williams may eventually fall into any one of those categories. But it’s a lot easier to envision those two local products maturing throughout their careers at the U than it is to think about Stephenson somehow avoiding controversy in the coming year.