Coach’s criticism? Gophs say they’re better for it
In consecutive question-and-answer sessions, Minnesota coach
Tubby Smith has lamented what he’s called a lack of maturity on the
court this season.
When the losing streak reached four games in a defeat at home to
Illinois this week, Smith sternly criticized the performance of
four of his eight regulars and the team’s overall mentality. He
even labeled his current group ”boys” and last season’s seniors
”men” while wondering whether the players respect his system and
This time, after Saturday’s practice, Smith reiterated his
desire for more consistency, toughness and production, but softened
”It is what it is. We’ve got to make it happen with what we
have,” Smith said, adding: ”I’ve just got to be more patient. We
just have a young team, an inexperienced team.”
Twice in three days, Smith has praised, arguably in a
revisionist manner, the leadership he had last season from departed
players Damian Johnson, Lawrence Westbrook, Paul Carter and Devron
Bostick. With Al Nolen absent, his broken foot still healing, the
makeup this year isn’t the same.
”I’ve got to realize that. I expect more out of the guys, but
then again I think we’re getting all we can,” Smith said.
Blake Hoffarber, the only other senior beside Nolen, is playing
out of position in place of his buddy at point guard. Smith chided
him for his shot selection after the Illinois game, and Hoffarber
has also struggled with his ball-handling while other teams throw
intense backcourt pressure at him.
Hoffarber, however, said he didn’t take Smith’s critique
”When he says that stuff, some fans might think, ‘Oh, man, he
shouldn’t have said that.’ But I think he’s just trying to build us
up to be better players,” Hoffarber said.
Video review has shown the Gophers (16-8, 5-7 Big Ten) getting
stagnant at times, and Smith is trying to spark some intensity by
creating more ”chippiness” and physical play during practice with
the hope that competitiveness will better carry over to the
”He wants us to get a little – I don’t know if it’s anger, but
– motivation or fire under us to get us working harder and playing
better,” Hoffarber said.
Turnovers have been a big problem for the Gophers, with 35
giveaways over the last two games and an average of 13.8 per game
that ranks second-worst in the Big Ten. The verdict is players have
been too anxious and prone to rushing with the ball.
”It’s kind of like hot potato or popcorn with us,” said junior
forward Ralph Sampson III. ”We’re trying to always hit the open
man and try to get the home run play every time. We just need to
calm down and be patient with it. We all know we can play and we
all know we can make passes. It’s just slowing down and making the
Despite their experience, the Gophers endured a similarly rough
stretch in January and February, though they never lost as many as
four in a row. They used the Big Ten tournament to rally and slip
into the NCAA tournament.
Though Smith and the players raved about stronger chemistry this
season before it began, the depth the Gophers had prior to losing
Nolen, guard Devoe Joseph (transfer) and center Maurice Walker
(knee) has been devastating.
Sampson acknowledged that it’s been harder to play with only
eight guys in the rotation, and with forward Rodney Williams and
center Colton Iverson struggling badly to regain their confidence
and provide some production, Minnesota has never looked more thin
on talent under Smith. He said he’s considering playing walk-on
forward Dominique Dawson some off the bench Sunday at Iowa.
In addition to blaming himself for not being patient enough,
Smith also admitted a mistakes in not making lineup adjustments
more quickly in the process of going from big (with Sampson and
Iverson starting together) to small (with freshman Austin Hollins
in the lineup). He said the coaching staff has been trying to
simplify the offensive playbook and that he hopes his harsh words
after the Illinois game would serve as an encourager.
”When the frustration sets in, you keep teaching certain guys
to do certain things until it gets heard,” Smith said. ”Maybe
that might be a way to inspire or motivate.”
Sampson sure made it sound like he’s listening.
”You’ve got to answer the challenge. You can’t back down from
it. You can’t hide. You have to step into more of a man role and
step your game up,” he said. ”Keep answering and don’t let him
allow you to challenge you the same way again. That’s how you grow
as a person, grow as a man, grow as a player.”