Last year was a long and trying year for Minnesota Gopher Coach Tubby Smith.
Al Nolen, Devoe Joseph and Maurice Walker were supposed to play prominent roles for Minnesota last year.
However, the trio of players saw very limited action in Maroon and Gold as injuries limited the playing time of Nolen and Walker, and Joseph's decision to transfer.
Instead of having two experienced point guards in Nolen and Joseph, the Gophers were left without a true point guard on the roster.
Sharpshooting three-point specialist Blake Hoffarber had to adjust his game to play the point guard position.
Hoffarber was a wonderful soldier taking on the responsibility, but he simply was unable to consistently push the ball or put significant pressure on the opposing team’s point guard.
As a result, Minnesota’s up-tempo offense that feeds off of constant full-court defensive pressure was reduced to a slow stagnant half-court offense.
Minnesota managed to average just 63.7 points in Big Ten play and shot less than 30 percent from beyond the arc.
The short-handed Gophers limped to the finish line losing 10 of their last 11 games and fell short of receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
What occurred on the court last year clearly weighed on Coach Smith. However, basketball wasn’t the only thing on Coach Smith’s mind last year.
Coach Smith was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year.
Fortunately, Coach Smith was diagnosed early and it appears that he will make a full recovery.
In responding to questions from reporters during Big Ten Media Day concerning his health, Coach Smith seemed to be someone who was taking the time to truly appreciate how blessed he has been to coach basketball. According to Amelia Rayno, the coach had this to say:
“It’s like, ‘You know what Tubby? You’ve had it pretty good for a long time. And maybe you need to take heed and show some more appreciation.’”
Coach Smith added, “And show more—I don’t know. Show more passion, maybe, to the get the job done. Not that it was lacking, but maybe it was a wakeup call, because sometime you can get caught in a rut. You’re in the business for 30—this is my 39th year—and all of sudden you go, ‘I better get energized,’ Because you can get the wind knocked out of you. It’s like taking a blow when you hear the word cancer. So you start feeling a little bit down, you feel sorry for yourself. So you’ve got to overcome that.”
I had the opportunity to briefly talk with Coach Smith at a celebration event for local Twin-Cities sports promoter and civic activist Kwame McDonald a couple of weeks ago.
In speaking with Coach Smith, he clearly appears to be appreciating the work before him and living in the moment.
Coach Smith has been good to Gopher fans and there is no doubt he will continue to be good to Gopher fans. However, Gopher fans are likely to see a different side of Coach Smith this season.
Coach Smith is energized and ready to return this season to his full-court, non-stop pressure defense style of play.
The Gophers basketball squad has reloaded this year with several athletic players who can rise to the challenge of playing man-to-man full court defense.
Gopher fans are likely to see some more smiles from Coach Smith this year as this year could be special for Minnesota.