Gold in the Barn moves to new location

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

What’s up, everyone?

Gold in the Barn has moved to a new location on the Star Tribune’s website.

This is the new URL for the new Gold in the Barn blog: http://www.startribune.com/blogs/Gold_in_the_Barn.html.

The blog has a different look and it’s on a new server. You’ll have to register on StarTribune.com to leave comments on blog posts.

The good thing about the switch is that I’ll be able to post video and photos, something that will be really helpful when the team begins to travel.

Be sure to update your RSS.

See ya there!

Tubby Smith: Rodney Williams “might be a candidate for a redshirt”

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

What’s up, everyone?

In July, I had an opportunity to speak with Tubby Smith, who’s rarely available during the hectic summer months. We talked recruiting. We talked about next season’s expectations. We talked about the challenge of distributing playing time to a lot of talented guys.

What were you seeking when you signed the new recruiting class?

Smith: “Well, I was looking for some toughness, some more physical play and some depth. … We lost guys with experience.

“I thought that getting a kid like Trevor Mbakwe … he can bring that physicality to us. I thought both Royce [White] and Rodney [Williams] because they’re such talented players, wing players, [match] our style of play as well. … We get to do more defensively. That’s one of the things. … I think we found that in Justin Cobbs as well.”

Can this team make a run at a Big Ten crown? 

Smith: “Obviously, Michigan State is the cream of the crop because they have so many returning players and the player of the year [Kalin Lucas] coming back, but I think that we should be a very competitive team. … So now, we’ve got to set our sights and our goals high. My expectations are improvement and for us to be better. So yes, the bar is set higher.”

You’re bringing in some talented forwards to a team that already has a lot of them. How will you handle playing time?

Smith: “It seems that way and it always seems that way, but again, guys have gotta step up and be productive and that’s yet to be seen. … A guy like [White] is probably physically ready to contribute. A guy like [Williams] probably [has] got a ways to go. He’s gotta get stronger. A kid like [Mbakwe] can step in and contribute right away. … Having said that I don’t think we had anybody average more than 25 minutes a game [last season]. So the competition will be there for the minutes.

“As they compete that will bring out the best in everybody. You never have too many players. All those guys should have a significant impact.”

Would you ever hesitate to start a freshman point guard? 

Smith: “I’ve started freshmen before and certainly, I started two last year. … In the past I have done that. If [Cobbs] wins that starting position, yes.

“His neck and his shoulders … he’s a thick guy and he doesn’t mind the contact.”

With so many wings and small forwards, have you thought about redshirting Rodney Williams? 

Smith: “We just got him eligible today. … He got it done, but there shouldn’t have been that type of issue.

“He might be a candidate for a [redshirt]. It depends on how he’s coming along and where he’s at academically.”

How will Bryant Allen contribute after the football season? 

Smith: “I’ve had players do that. [We'll] see where he is [after the football season]. … He’s got to do a lot of things. That’s pretty demanding, football and basketball.”

-A source close to the Gophers told me that Cory Joseph’s unofficial recruiting trip to Minnesota went well. Joseph, a five-star Rivals.com recruit and the brother of Gophers sophomore guard Devoe Joseph, is a highly ranked point guard from Findlay Prep (Nev.).

His AAU coach, Ro Russell, told me that Cory’s mom is the one that the Gophers have to impress. She’s a very important part of the process.

-Minnesota officials published a Q&A with juco transfer Trevor Mbakwe on GopherSports.com Tuesday. Mbakwe, who has been accused of assaulting a woman in Miami and is awaiting an Aug. 26 court date, talks about the upcoming season, Howard Pulley summer league and the impact he believes he can have next season.

Is this a sign that the Gophers have some inside information about Mbakwe’s fate? Gophers spokesman Matt Slieter said that people shouldn’t read anything into the decision to post the Mbakwe Q&A. Slieter said he just picked one of the Q&A’s that have been completed for all of the basketball recruits and put it on the website, as scheduled.

-Former Hopkins center Anthony Diloreto gained a new lease of life and his basketball career when a court recently granted him a deferred judgment, after he was charged in a northern Wisconsin bank robbery last summer. If he stays out of trouble for the next year, the bank robbery and firearms-related charges will be dropped. His attorney, Eric Nelson, last week prosecutors amended their complaint to charge Diloreto instead with robbery and possession of burglarious tools, a felony to which he also pleaded guilty. Sentencing for that is in October.

Multiple colleges have already started calling for the 7-0, 225-pound center. I never saw him play in high school. Everything I’ve heard, however, suggests that he was a good but not great player. So how did he go from a midmajor recruit who’d signed with Cal Poly to a guy who has been pursued by Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, St. Louis, Utah State, Utah and Temple?

“Like with a lot of bigs, as they grow, it takes so long for them to develop,” said Marquise Watts, director of Net Gain Sports, an AAU program Diloreto played for this summer. “He’s gotten more fluid and athletic. His athleticism has picked up.”

-Former Benilde-St. Margaret’s forward Armond Battle was dismissed from Tulsa Tuesday for violating team rules. The 6-7 redshirt freshman forward missed last season with a ruptured Achilles. Battle, along with former Mr. Basketball Jordan Taylor, led Benilde to a 3A state title in 2008.

-Rick Pitino is in a bad situation, after news of a 2003 affair with a woman accused of attempting to extort him broke Tuesday night. A lot of people wonder if Pitino will be penalized or terminated by Louisville. His employment contract specifically states that he can be fired for “disparaging media publicity” caused by “willful misconduct that could objectively be anticipated to bring Employee into public disripute or scandal.”

-Nebraska prep standout Elliott Eliason, a 6-11, 235-pound forward, took an unofficial visit to Minnesota Tuesday. But the Gophers, who have offered Eliason a scholarship, aren’t the front-runners for the 2010 talent. He’s also received scholarship offers from Colorado State, Nebraska, Creighton and Washington State, according to rivals.com.

Highly ranked recruit Cory Joseph in town, but will he pick Minnesota?

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Findlay Prep (Nev.) guard Cory Joseph took a recruiting trip to the University of Minnesota Monday, according to his AAU coach, Ro Russell, and a source close to Gophers men’s basketball. The Canadian prep helped Findlay win the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational in April. He’s expected to remain in town for a few days.

Joseph, a five-star point guard on Rivals.com, is the brother of current Gophers sophomore guard Devoe Joseph. He’s at the top of Minnesota’s wish list for the 2010 recruiting class. It obviously helps that his brother is part of the program, however, the younger Joseph wants to go to a school that offers him an opportunity to contribute as a freshman, according to Russell. Joseph’s coach believes that Minnesota will be in the mix for his services.

“Well, every since they recruited Devoe and Devoe’s there and Coach [Tubby] Smith got involved with Devoe’s family, [Cory] has some familiarity with the program,” Russell said Monday. “That’s why he’s up there. To meet the people, to see the campus.  He has interest in them.”

But the Gophers have a bunch of point guards. Al Nolen will have a year left after next season. Incoming freshman Justin Cobbs will have three. Football/basketball recruit Bryant Allen is supposed to be in the mix, too, once the football season ends.

Joseph might be better than all three of those guys, but there’s still a large competitive pool at that spot. How will that affect his decision?

“He’d like to go somewhere where he can step in and play right away,” Russell said.

Louisville, Memphis, Ohio State, Cal, UNLV, Texas, UConn, Florida, Kansas, Syracuse, Marquette and Villanova have either offered Joseph a full ride or expressed interest in him. So he definitely has a long list of options.

Although Devoe has expressed a desire to play with his younger brother, he hasn’t pressured him one way or another, Russell said.

Brothers always feel that they can possibly go to school and play together if the situation fits. …  Each wants to have a great opportunity on his own … if the situation works.”

-The Minnesota Timberwolves have reportedly hired former Lakers assistant and player Kurt Rambis as their new head coach. They never contacted Smith about their opening. Interesting.

-Joel Maturi said Monday that he hasn’t spoken to Smith about restructuring his contract since last spring. Also, university officials are still trying to pinpoint a location and design for a new practice facility.

-ESPN’s Andy Katz writes about Ralph Sampson III and the pressure he faces as the son of a legend.

Weekend Notebook: Rodney Williams NOT Minnesota’s top jumper

Friday, August 7th, 2009

What’s up, everybody?

I talked to some people close to Gophers basketball Friday. Here’s what I learned:

Myth No. 1: Super dunker and freshman forward Rodney Williams has the highest vertical leap on Minnesota’s squad.

False. While Williams recently soared to a 40-inch vertical in front of team trainers, junior college transfer Trevor Mbakwe topped him with a 42-inch leap, the best mark on the squad.

Myth No. 2: The Gophers will definitely start Ralph Sampson III or Colton Iverson next season.

Maybe. Iverson and Sampson will still play key roles in next season’s rotation. But this lineup has been considered by Gophers coaches and could give Minnesota the kind of dominate athleticism they’ve sought in recent years, according to multiple sources close to the team: G Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, F Damian Johnson, F Royce White and F Trevor Mbakwe.

Myth No. 3: Royce White will battle Trevor Mbakwe for the starting power forward spot.

Not necessarily. White, a freshman forward and last year’s Mr. Basketball in the state of Minnesota, is the strongest player on the team. And at 6-8, 245 or so, he’s probably the biggest, too. All signs point to him playing a lot at the four-spot.

But he’s managed to wow coaches with his versatility over the summer. And right now, I’m hearing that White might end up battling Damian Johnson for the small forward spot because of what he can offer defensively. He’s viewed as a guy who can guard opponents on the perimeter and help out in the paint because of his strength.  Paul Carter will also be in that mix.

-St. Paul Johnson’s Estan Tyler has created a lot of hype for himself this summer with a number of standout performances for former Timberwolves guard Chris Carr’s 43 Hoops 16U squad. One Gophers coach says he’s the top player in the state. The 6-0 junior guard averaged 10.6 points per game for Johnson last season. He told rivals.com that Northern Iowa, Iowa, Iowa State, Wichita State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame are all interested in his services.

-The Gophers are still looking for legitimate dancing partners in the 2010/2011 classes. They’re on a number of top 10 lists.

Alex Kirk, a 6-11, 230-pound center from New Mexico, has about a dozen or more offers on the table. He had a strong performance at the Sabes Invitational in May at Bloomington Jefferson. And he continued to shine throughout the summer. Gophers coaches followed him closely and really like the fluid big man’s ability. Kirk has family in the state and told Rivals.com that he’s still considering the Gophers.

“We have heard from the Gophers since we came back from Orlando and they were watching Alex’s games down in Orlando,” Kirk’s father, Alan, told the website. “I know Alex appreciated that and I think Minnesota is still in Alex’s thoughts.”

Kansas prep point guard Trevor Relerford, a two-star player on rivals.com, also said recently that Minnesota is one of his finalists. He has seven scholarship offers from DI programs. He’s a Gold in the Barn finalist, too. I love the way this kid plays. He’s quick, aggressive at the rim and doesn’t back down from anyone, even though he’s 5-11.

-The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors is considering a recommendation that would make schools more responsible for assessing the academic aptitude of basketball recruits during the summer and placing them in summer school classes when necessary.

-Gophers fans I talk to sometimes suggest that Tubby Smith is probably too old to make another major coaching move. Some seem to think that schools favor the young, up-and-comers over veterans like Smith. What they fail to realize is that in a one-and-done recruiting climate, name recognition is a wonderful quality for any coach and it often supersedes age.

Former Detroit Pistons great Isaiah Thomas has somehow lured the No. 23 player in the class of 2010, according to rivals.com, to Florida International, where Thomas became head coach in April. Dominique Ferguson, a 6-8 power forward who will play for Hargrave Military Academy this season, took an unofficial visit to FIU Thursday. By Friday, he’d committed to Thomas and the Golden Panthers.  Kentucky, Arizona, Florida, Duke, Connecticut, Tennessee and Alabama were all interested in Ferguson. But a lackluster summer hurt his stock.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe, this guy isn’t that good, especially if those schools backed off. ESPN ranks him as the No. 8 player in the country. And it’s clear that top programs wanted him. Plus, he had other options. But he committed to a team that plays in the Sun Belt Conference. A team that’s won 34 games over the last three seasons.

Every FIU recruit says the same thing: “I’m here because of Thomas.” Don’t underestimate the power and draw of name recognition in college basketball.

-Nothing new on the Harrison Barnes front. He still has Minnesota on his list of finalists. This is what it comes down to for Barnes. He’s a very smart kid. He’s also a very good basketball player with legit NBA potential.

If his goal is to get the most exposure, then a school like Minnesota will have trouble competing against North Carolina, Duke and Kansas for his services. If he wants an opportunity to shine for a few years and then, make the leap to the NBA, then Minnesota certainly presents that opportunity.

Gophers not going to Madison, Illinois not coming to Williams Arena this season

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

What’s up, everybody?

Gophers spokesman Matt Slieter confirmed Tuesday that the Gophers will only face Wisconsin and Illinois once this season. The Badgers will travel to Williams Arena and Minnesota will go to Champaign, Ill., for the lone meeting in both matchups.

Minnesota faced both schools two times last season, ending significant losing streaks against Illinois and the Badgers. Although the opportunity to take on Iowa and Indiana twice could boost Minnesota’s conference win total, the team would have a better strength of schedule (potentially) with two matchups against tougher Big Ten teams. Plus, if there’s another tight race for the Big Dance among Big Ten squads, those single matchups against the Badgers and Illinois may prove to be significant for a Gophers team with a good chance to earn a solid seed in next season’s NCAA tournament.

-Lawrence Westbrook on his 35-pound weight loss: “[I] played last season at about 220. When I got home, I started working out and I lost 35 pounds. … I’m ready to play.” That means he’s at about 185 pounds right now. Wow, especially for a guy that’s so stocky.

-The 76 Classic released its bracket/schedule Tuesday. The Gophers will take on Butler at 7:30 p.m. (CST) Nov. 26 on ESPN2. If they get past Butler, they’ll face the winner of the UCLA-Portland game. What an opportunity for the Gophers to test themselves on a national stage during the nonconference season.

-Slieter said the Gophers will release their complete schedule Monday. No surprises are anticipated. The 76 Classic and the ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup against Miami have already been announced. They’ll face the usual suspects in Big Ten play. I’m sure Tubby Smith hopes that his team won’t have to play five road games in a month again.

Time, justice system will determine the outcome of Trevor Mbakwe’s felony battery case

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

What’s up? I’m back.

I’ve been gone for nearly a month now on an extended stay-cation. I took some time off to hang out with family, friends and an assortment of challenging golf courses, while gaining a greater appreciation for stay-at-home parents after a three-week stint at home with my toddler. Wow, she has a ton of energy. How do you do it, full-time moms?

I read your blog comments, criticisms, praises and “Dude, where are you?”emails, but I really wanted to take advantage of my time off – for once – and just chill out for awhile.

But I made time to go to Howard Pulley pro-am games and watch all of the new Gophers basketball players compete. I talked to coaches, parents and players. I scoured the Internet for college basketball info/news, while my 14-month-old daughter attempted to utilize my new laptop as a personal punching bag.

It was a smooth break. But just when I thought everything was calm, news broke last week about a felony assault charge against top recruit Trevor Mbakwe.

Let me just say this: Mbakwe, like any American in any other criminal case, is innocent until proven guilty. That said there’s nothing good about this right now. The buzz surrounding Minnesota basketball hasn’t been this high in years. The fact that the status of the top recruit in the top recruiting class of Tubby Smith’s tenure is in jeopardy at least for the next couple of weeks doesn’t help Gophers supporters focus on the potential positives of the upcoming season.

I don’t know how many of his teammates even knew anything about his situation. I asked Royce White about it last week, and he said he didn’t know Mbakwe was dealing with anything.

Smith didn’t allow Gophers players to do interviews during the final games in the Howard Pulley league late last week.

I’ve spoken with multiple Gophers coaches. They believe that their guy isn’t involved. They’re very hopeful but also realistic about the possibility that things could go the other way, even as they support Mbakwe.

I think we’ll know soon what really happened that night and whether Mbakwe was involved. He has an Aug. 26 court date in Miami. I’ve spoken with multiple people connected to Mbakwe, and I can tell you that there are those who believe he’s 100 percent innocent and those who believe he may be involved. Regardless, it’s up to the justice system now.

But losing Mbakwe would put a huge dent in Minnesota’s potentially stellar lineup, but more importantly, it would seriously damage the young man’s life. In the end, however, he may be completely exonerated.

Here are a few things to note from the police report related to the felony battery charge against Mbakwe:

The assault victim described her assailant as a 6-6, 190-pound black man with a thin build. She suffered a laceration on her left eyelid after the suspect allegedly punched her in the face two times. When officers arrived, she refused to allow them to transport her to a hospital, choosing instead to go on her own. The police report lists her injuries as minor. (We know, however, that the woman suffered a ruptured sinus and fractured cheekbone.)

In other Gophers news:

-Based on the team’s incoming and returning talent, junior forward Paul Carter appeared to be the guy who would get left out of the mix heading into the summer. After watching him in Howard Pulley, however, I’m not so sure. He’s bulked up to more than 200 pounds after joining the Gophers as a 6-8, 185-pound juco transfer. And he’s quicker and more agile. It will be hard to keep him off the floor.

-Lawrence Westbrook says that he’s lost 35 pounds this summer, but also added that he’s stronger and faster on a recent Facebook post.

-Tubby Smith hosted an overnight Father-Son camp Friday and Saturday. He tweeted this Monday: “What a great Father/Son camp we had this past weekend. Before you know it school will begin. Go Gophers!”

-Williams Arena will have a new floor next season, but it will also have new basketball hoops, according to Gophers spokesman Matt Slieter. The Gophers will compete on larger, rollaway baskets, a la the Minnesota Timberwolves, during the upcoming season.

Where’s Lawrence Westbrook?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

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.

Gophers newcomers a key part of Howard Pulley summer league

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

For years, Howard Pulley’s pro-am summer league has given basketball fans a chance to see some of the top local players compete in what really amounts to high-level pick up ball.

For Gophers fans, it’s a chance to see the team’s newcomers and returning players compete together in a very laid back atmosphere. The league kicks off Monday night at the Salvation Army in downtown St. Paul and ends in mid-July.

I had my first experience with Howard Pulley last year. I couldn’t attend as many games as I wanted to because of the birth of my daughter. But it was fun to watch a lot of the old school stars and new blood compete together.

It’s no different this year. Minnesota’s newest players (Royce White, Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe, Justin Cobbs and walk-on Dominique Dawson) are all expected to compete in the league.

FYI: Don’t expect every guy to show up every night. Minnesota’s freshmen have summer school, so they’ll probably miss games, but if they show up, it’ll be a lot of fun for spectators. FYI No. 2: Don’t believe the hype. It’s easy for a guy to look good in this kind of setting. The combination of few set plays, a lack of real officiating and a lot of emphasis on entertaining fans creates a setting that can allow guys to look better than they really are.

Travis Busch and Devron Bostick were two of the best players in last summer’s Howard Pulley league. I watched Bostick drop 30-plus and I figured to myself: “Tubby Smith has found a scoring wing with great size … dangerous.” Wrong. Bostick struggled last season when it was time to get in the playbook and utilize real defense. Busch gave the Gophers quality minutes but never really found a place in the rotation and now, he’s on his way to Colorado State, after losing his scholarship.

(Busch will play for El-Amin Fish House in the Howard Pulley summer league.)

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of the players you see in Howard Pulley can really compete. But I learned last summer that you can’t judge players by their performances in a pro-am league, regardless of how good or bad they look.

You can find the Howard Pulley pro-am schedule here.

Current Gophers playing in Howard Pulley league

El-Amin Fish House (Devron Bostick, Paul Carter)

A&A Millwork (Al Nolen, Colton Iverson)

B 2 X (Rodney Williams, Blake Hoffarber, Dominique Dawson … Lawrence Westbrook???)

Errol Carlstrom Playaz (Devoe Joseph, Trevor Mbakwe)

TRP Group (Ralph Sampson III, Justin Cobbs, Damian Johnson)

Hudson Enterprises (Royce White)

-I’m not sure what happened during Sampson’s tryout for the national U19 squad in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week. I talked to him about an hour before he was cut from the squad and he told me he felt like he played well and maintained a good attitude throughout the audition.

“I found a brand new confidence in myself and my game,” he told me last week. “I gained more confidence. … Coming in next season, I feel [it'll be a] completely different story.”

Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis, however, said Sampson “looked bored and out of shape.”

Sampson told me that he struggled with the altitude in Colorado. That may have contributed to his sluggish ways. I’m not surprised that Sampson “looked bored.” That’s just the way he is. He’s on the All-I-Don’t-Look-Like-I-Really-Want-To-Be-Here team. He’s joined by Greg Oden (Portland Trailblazers), Charlie Villanueva (Milwaukee Bucks), Goran Suton (former Michigan State power forward) and Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin).

-A lot of collegiate teams have released their non-conference skeds in recent weeks. Don’t expect news from the Gophers for a few months. Team spokesman Matt Slieter told me that the Gophers will not release their nonconference schedule until the entire slate is booked in August.

Ralph Sampson III: Leaving school early has “disadvantages and advantages”

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Gophers sophomore center Ralph Sampson III has a great opportunity that could have an effect on his professional future. Sampson, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds last season, is currently trying out for a spot on USA Basketball’s U19 squad with 16 other talented youngsters in Colorado Springs, Colo. The tryouts end Thursday.

For Sampson, it’s a chance to measure himself against other young talents from around the country, he said Tuesday night via phone. And with that come thoughts of what it might take to make it to the NBA.

Sampson said leaving Minnesota prior to his senior year is something he’s pondered, but he understands that entering the draft as an underclassman has “disadvantages and advantages” and that leaving after his senior season would also involve pros and cons.

Sampson said he knows making a national team could help raise his stock.

“It’s definitely a positive,” Sampson said about the opportunity to try out for the national squad. “It’s helping my chances of advancing to the next level.”

I covered a 2004 USA Basketball U21 tryout in New Jersey. NBA scouts lined the gym. At the very least, Sampson, especially if he makes the squad, will have an opportunity to showcase his game for key players at the next level. So a strong outing this week could mean a lot for his future.

The 6-11 Sampson told me Tuesday night that he enjoyed his first round of scrimmages on Day 1 of the tryout. A USA Basketball committee will select 12 players who will travel to New Zealand for the FIBA championships later this month.

“I’ve done pretty well so far,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement.” The son of former NBA/NCAA standout Ralph Sampson Jr. said it “would be an honor” to compete for a national team.

Sampson said he’s spent the summer rebuilding his body. At the end of last season, Sampson weighed 227 pounds on a good day. He said he’s added nearly 20 pounds to his frame since then and now carries 244 pounds. Sampson said he’s also getting more comfortable with his post game, a key for a Gophers team that fell to Texas in the NCAA tournament last season, after the Longhorns dominated Minnesota in the paint.

Gophers basketball newcomers fitting in already

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

A source close to the Gophers told me Tuesday that Minnesota’s freshest faces – Royce White (Hopkins), Justin Cobbs (Bishop Montgomery in Torrance, Calif.), Rodney Williams (Robbinsdale Cooper) and Trevor Mbakwe (Miami Dade C.C.) – have all looked good in pick-up games with their new teammates.

Williams’ athleticism was apparent during a Monday game, when the freshman threw down a bunch of dunks, including a couple that he caught off of the rim. He teamed up with senior Damian Johnson. The two had a lot of fun together and tossed up a bunch of alley-oops to each other.

Cobbs, a freshman point guard, looked good, too, according to the source. Although White didn’t play due to another obligation, the freshman forward has apparently surpassed the expectations of Gophers trainers with his performance in the weight room thus far.

Mbakwe, the 6-8, 240-pound junior college transfer, displayed his strength, his best asset, during the Monday game. He’s expected to start at power forward next season. The source told me that he expects the Gophers to be at the top of the nation’s leaderboards in blocked shots and rebounds.

Also, I’m told that senior Devron Bostick has really fine-tuned his body in the offseason and is in “the best shape of his life.” Entering last season, I think Bostick didn’t fully understand what it would take to excel at the Division I level, especially in a league like the Big Ten. I think it’s a good sign that he’s already re-working his body so he can compete for a spot in next season’s deep rotation.

-I spoke with Travis Busch Monday night about his decision to transfer to Colorado State. Busch said he didn’t want to talk about his options after he lost his Gophers scholarship a few months ago because he wasn’t sure if he’d get an NCAA waiver that now allows him to play at the Division I level next season. The NCAA mandates that players transferring from one Division I school to another have to sit out a year, but Busch took advantage of an NCAA clause that allows players who have graduated with additional eligibility to compete immediately at another institution.

Busch will pursue a master’s degree in business from Colorado State, his third college. He began his career at Cal-Poly before transferring to Minnesota. The Mounds View native said CSU “felt right,” especially since Rams assistant Niko Medved was on former Gophers coach Dan Monson’s staff. Had the waiver fallen through, Busch said he favored Winona State over some of his other Division II options.

With four new players joining the team and two scholarships available at the end of last season, Busch said he figured that he might lose his full ride. But he hoped his hard work would have been enough to help him keep it. He’s excited, however, to move forward with his new team.

-Ralph Sampson III’s try out for the USA Basketball U19 squad commences Tuesday night and culminates Thursday. The 6-11 sophomore center will benefit simply by competing with so many talented youngsters. If he makes the team, he’ll travel to New Zealand later this month to compete for the FIBA championship.