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Gophers Roster: 3 NBA First Rounders

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October 24, 2012

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Tubby Smith told Sports Headliners he has three potential NBA first round draft choices on his roster in senior forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, and sophomore point guard Andre Hollins.

Hollins is from Memphis while Mbakwe and Williams are Minnesota natives, and to Smith they are examples of the quality high school players produced in the state.  While Smith can’t talk about individuals who are current Minnesota high school prospects because of NCAA rules, it’s no secret he’s impressed with the top players.

If the Gophers could consistently enroll the best Minnesota high schoolers, would Smith compete for Big Ten titles?  “Absolutely.  I think that we could,” he answered.

Smith left the University of Kentucky to take the Gophers job in 2007 and he’s known about the quality of high school talent in Minnesota for many years.  “I was very impressed from day one—even before I got here.  The quality of coaching is just outstanding.  The high school coaches are outstanding, because that’s where you develop them (the players).  The (state) AAU program is second to none around the country.”

New athletic director Norwood Teague gave Smith a contract extension last summer.  In five seasons under Smith the Gophers have yet to contend for a Big Ten title and Minnesota’s best record in league play is 9-9.  The last two seasons have been major disappointments with injuries and player transfers impacting results.

Does Smith feel more pressure heading into the 2012-13 season that begins a week from Thursday with a home exhibition game against Minnesota State, Mankato?  “There’s always pressure,” he said.  “I don’t ever feel more pressure or less pressure, to be honest with you.  We had a tough two years.  We’re 12 and 24 in two years in the Big Ten.  Nobody expected that. …”

Worth Noting

MarQueis Gray wasn’t expected to practice yesterday but he plans to play wide receiver in Minnesota’s game at home against Purdue on Saturday.  Freshman Philip Nelson will make his second start at quarterback.  Left tackle Ed Olson, probably Minnesota’s best offensive lineman, is still injured and won’t play Saturday, coach Jerry Kill said.

Nelson took a solid hit from Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland last Saturday.  “My knee, it did kind of buckle in a little different way,” Nelson said yesterday.  “The trainers they took care of me.  I am feeling great and I am going to go to practice just like normal.”

Michael Floyd saw James Onwualu, the Cretin-Derham Hall receiver who has verbally committed to Notre Dame, at the Irish’s game against Miami in Chicago earlier this month.  Floyd, a Notre Dame and Cretin-Derham Hall alum, gave Onwualu “words of encouragement” and told him to “stay on top of things” as he makes the transition from high school to college.

The Gophers wanted Onwualu but it looks like he will reject Minnesota just like past high profile Cretin-Derham Hall players including Floyd and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson who chose Miami for college.  “Everyone has different choices why they chose their school,” Floyd said.  “Nothing against Minnesota.  It’s a great school, but sometimes you just don’t want to stay home.”

The Bucs team (2-5) that plays at Mall of America Field tomorrow night against the Vikings (5-2) is led by NFL rookie head coach Greg Schiano.  He’s been criticized this season for overly aggressive coaching.

The surprising Vikings record is attributed to various factors including unselfishness by the players.  “You can’t be egotistical around this team,” defensive end Brian Robison said.  “It has to be all about the team, not about yourself because bottom line is you gotta play good as an individual, but collectively is when you start winning those ball games.  That’s what we’ve been preaching forever is just playing good team ball.”

The back part of the defense has improved this season, partly because of rookie safety Harrison Smith who ran an interception back for a touchdown on Sunday against the Cardinals.

“He’s a tremendous athlete back there for us,” Robison said.  “The things you see he does, helps our defense tremendously.  If he can keep playing the way he is playing, the sky’s the limit for us.”

Steve LaCroix, the Vikings vice president of sales and marketing, said a survey regarding personal seat licensing for the team’s new downtown stadium will begin soon and be completed by year’s end.  Such licensing means fans pay fees beyond the cost of tickets for specific seat locations.

LaCroix said the Vikings will play at Mall of America Field next year but eventually will host some games at TCF Bank Stadium during the construction phase of the new stadium.  TCF Bank Stadium, with a capacity of 50,806, isn’t large enough to accommodate all the Vikings season ticket holders, about 52,000.  LaCroix said seats will be added in the “plaza” end of the Gophers stadium.

The Vikings will play a home game in London next year, September 29, at Wembley Stadium against the Steelers.  The Vikings have season ticket holders from England, although LaCroix didn’t know the exact number.  “We’re going to them,” he said.

LaCroix is in the unusual position of marketing Vikings football in four stadiums—Mall ofAmerica Field, TCF Bank Stadium, the new downtown stadium and Wembley Stadium.

The October 22 issue of Sports Illustrated refers to Chris Kluwe as the “NFL’s nerdiest player” and offers this headline on a feature story: “The Vikings’ punter is a troll rogue named Loate.”

Vikings Jamarca Sanford and Jasper Brinkley are scheduled to greet fans at the Taste of the NFL Mid-season Rally next Tuesday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Bar Abilene in Uptown.  The event is free and open to the public with attendees encouraged to make donations to support Minnesota’s Second Harvest Heartland Foodbank.

David Jones will speak to the C.O.R.E.S. group at a noon luncheon on Thursday, November 8 in Bloomington.  Jones is known for his presentations on historical figures and will talk to C.O.R.E.S. about factors influencing ongoing discussion and debate of President John Kennedy’s assassination.  Anyone interested in further information can contact Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net.

Other C.O.R.E.S. programs will be with Dave Mona, January 10; Ted Mondale, March 14; and Norwood Teague, May 9.

The Big Ten Network (BTN.com) will stream live news conferences beginning at 8 a.m. tomorrow of the 24 men’s and women’s basketball coaches from the Big Ten basketball media day in Chicago.

Former Hopkins High School All-American Royce White is averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in two preseason games for the Rockets.  He’s averaging 14 minutes per game.

Ex-Timberwolves players on the Jazz coaching staff are head coach Tyrone Corbin and assistant Sidney Lowe.

Rachel Banham, the Gophers guard who was Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, was cleared yesterday to participate in full practices.  In July doctors had discovered a blood clot in her lung.

Since being traded during the 2011 season by the Twins to the Tigers, Delmon Young has four home runs and nine RBIs in 32 at bats in two American League Championship Series.  The Tigers open the World Series at San Francisco against the Giants tonight.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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