In his first full year at the University of Minnesota, Smith changed the culture of college basketball and the players bought in from the beginning. Winning 20 games was even more proof that hiring Smith was the greatest coaching hire in U of MN history.
Moving into the 2008-09 season, the natural step in this Smith revolution is higher expectations. Minnesota is the new “it pick” in the Big Ten with many experts picking them in the top third of the league and making the NCAA Tournament.
With a good core of returning players with; sophomore guards Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber, juniors forward Damian Johnson, and guard Lawrence Westbrook, the Gophers had added a talented recruiting class that adds quality depth, something lacking in previous seasons.
Record: 20-14 (8-10 in Big Ten)
Key Players Out:
Lawrence McKenzie, Guard (11.8 ppg and 2.6 apg)
Dan Coleman, Forward/Center (11.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg)
Spencer Tollackson, Forward/Center (9.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg)
Key Returning Players:
Al Nolen, Guard Soph. (4.3 ppg, 1.9 steals pg, and 3.5 assist pg)
Blake Hoffarber, Guard Soph. (8.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, and 42% 3 point shooting)
Damian Johnson, Forward Jr. (7.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 1.4 blocks pg)
Lawrence Westbrook, Guard Jr. (8.5 ppg, 1.9 steals pg, and 3.5 assist pg)
Key Players In:
Devron Bostick, Guard Fr. 6-5 210 Racine, Wis./Southwestern Illinois CC
Devoe Joseph, Guard Fr. 6-3 170 Ajax, Ontario, Canada/Pickering
Colton Iverson, Forward Fr. 6-10 235 Yankton, S.D./Yankton
Ralph Sampson III, Forward Fr. 6-11 220 Duluth, Ga./Northview
Paul Carter, Forward So. 6’8” 195 Little Rock, Ar./Missouri State-West Plains JC
The only player returning from last season that is over 6'7" is the 6’9” center Jonathan Williams. While he is a senior, he has not been off the bench to often, averaging only 13.1 minutes and 3.0 points per game.
Johnson is the most experienced and athletic forward on the squad. While only standing 6’7”, Johnson averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.7 steals per game, saw most of his minutes last season at power forward. Incoming sophomore Carter, who is an athletic slasher with a decent perimeter game, will have a hard time finding time and but if he is on the court, it will be at PF.
Sampson, Iverson, Williams, and Johnson will be competing for the PF and C starting spots.
If Hoffarber never makes another basket in his life, he would still be a Minnesota basketball legend. As a sophomore in high school, Hoffarber hit a last second shot while sitting on the three-point line, not only did it send the state championship game into a second overtime - which his team went onto win - he also won an ESPY. In his first season in college, he again hit an important last second shot in the Big Ten tourney that won the game for the Gophers—click here to see both highlighted on ESPN.
Last season saw Hoffarber receive more playing time than many expected, as he was used mostly as a 3-point specialist. But he needs to expand his game of the dribble if he wants to see more playing time. Bostick will come in a provide help in scoring and could potentially make the starting line-up at SF.
Joseph will add even more outside shooting plus the ability to get to the rim but majority of his minutes - at least early in the year - will be off the bench. Junior Jamal Abu-Shamla contributed 13.1 minutes and 3.4 point a game last year, but might be hard-pressed to get off the bench unless he improved his game while playing the Jordon National team, if he did, he will add depth at SF.
G Nolen, SG Westbrook, SF Bostick, PF Johnson, C Sampson III
FIRST OFF THE BENCH
G Hoffarber,G Joseph, F/C Iverson, F Abu-Shamla, C Williams, F Carter
Check out my preview of the Duke Blue Devils: