Sunday, August 10, 2008

A New Home And Partner

This will be the last post in PJS history. (Tears).

We're ready to launch a new Web site dedicated to Minnesota Gophers sports. It's www.thedailygopher.com.

While I'm pleased to be shedding the aesthetically-challenged Blogger platform, what I'm most excited about is the partnerships that will be on display at www.thedailygopher.com. I'm teaming with Tom from Gopher Nation, who in my opinion does a downright fantastic job covering the Gophers. I believe our differing approaches will bode well for the reader. We have different strengths, weaknesses and writing styles.

The new site will be on the SBN platform. That means we'll be joining talented bloggers like A Sea of Blue, Black Shoe Diaries, Black Heart/Gold Pants, Burnt Orange Nation, and many others, including The Daily Norseman (one of my stops for Vikings coverage). Combine that with our friendships with the Big Ten Bloggers Group, and we should be able to bring our readers the best college sports coverage from around the blogosphere.

The SBN sites allow for tremendous reader interaction with the site, giving you the ability to create your own posts or add video, links or other items you'd like to share with the Gophers community.

We hope you'll join us at www.thedailygopher.com, because Tom and I are both looking forward to analyzing, opining, and even reporting a little on the Gophers at our new site. We've been looking forward to this all summer and it's finally here. Hope to see you over at The Daily Gopher shortly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dominic Jones Is A Number

Excellent article today by the Star Tribune's Rochelle Olson on life in prison through the eyes of former Minnesota Gophers defensive back Dominic Jones.

Choice quote from the lede: "Number 00425759. That's my number," Jones said. "My name now is Inmate. It's not Dominic Jones."

I highly recommend you read the entire article. Great reporting by Ms. Olson.

In this case, I believe the punishment fits the crime (though I could argue it could have been more harsh), but I do have one question. Does reducing one's existence to a serial number work towards rehabilitation?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

So, How Did Brewster Fare On Media Day?

Well, Tim Brewster is what he is. There's clearly no changing him. Even after a year of snarky comments from fans, columnists, bloggers and opponents, our young ball coach remains the bundle of unbridled optimism he was all year last year.

When Brewster took the podium at Big Ten media day this week, looking rather sharp I might add, Brewster promptly said he had "tremendous optimism" and was "excited." I smiled after hearing his comments, because, well, this is Tim Brewster he is who we thought he was:.

"All in all I couldn't be more excited as we stand here today with the 2008 season getting ready to start," Brewster said.

I'm not going to pick on Brewster for the optimism anymore, but I still don't like the expectations he puts on his players or his position that talent is all that matters and schemes aren't as important.

Anyway, here are some highlights of his speech, followed by video of his address to the media.

*** He admitted the team defense was horrible, and suggested that his highly-ranked recruiting class could shore up some defensive weaknesses.

"We went about correcting that situation," he said.

The defense wasn't just bad last season, it was an embarrassment. Even an OK defense in 2008 would be a huge improvement.

*** Brewster "couldn't be more excited" about having Adam Weber back as the starting quarterback. I disagree with this and don't think this job should be handed to Weber, but I'll talk more about that at a later time.

*** Brewster believes Eric Decker will be one of the top receivers in the country. Not the Big Ten. The NCAA. I like Decker. He's a very nice receiver. But I really wish Brewster wouldn't put that type of expectations on his players. Harold Howell comes to mind.

*** Apparently one of Brewster's favorite things to say to his players is "If you really love football, football will love you back."

*** Asked how style and schemes would change to improves his defense, Brewster instead talked about talent and athleticism. This tells me that Brewster didn't think there were any Xs and Os issues in 2007. Were there talent issues? Yes. Athleticism issues especially at linebacker? You bet. But I would rather see Brewster take a balanced approach here and not state publicly that he is simply relying on talent and "hungrier players."

*** Brewster compared MarQueis Gray to Vince Young. Again, I wish Brewster wouldn't put these types of comparisons out there!!! It only creates unfair expectations.




*** Rivals' Tom Dienhart gives Brewster the "Most Inspirational" award for Big Ten media day. I can't disagree, but think Brewster should also have been in the running for Best Dressed. Dienhart wrote: "His passion and fire had this writer ready to run through the buffet line with gusto. Brewster should be a general."

*** John Lemon and Lindsey Willhite of The Daily Herald have a brief in their media day recap titled "Brewster enthusiastic." I guess that's better than whatever the opposite might be.

*** Before he faced the Big Ten media, Charley Walters asked Brewster what he thought about being picked by the media, and just about everyone with a pen, to finish last in the conference. Brewster doesn't think the media knows what it's talking about: "The writers, they don't have any clue, truly, about these kids. So basically what they're doing is basing their prognostication off of last year."

*** ESPN's Adam Rittenberg put together a nice post on Brewster's strategic decision to add experienced talent that can help right away by concentrating on the JUCO ranks. After talking to Brewster, Rittenberg writes Tramaine Brock will start at safety, Traye Simmons at corner back, Rex Sharpe at linebacker and Cedric McKinley will get some time on the Gophers' defensive line.

*** WNUR noted Brewster's bone-headed comment of the day. In the video above if you watch it, Brewster states "“you need to take 2 steps backward to take one step forward." Ooops. The WNUR staff also felt as if Brewster was "yelling" at them, and suggested motivational speaking for a future endeavor for Brewster. I'm not sure that's funny anymore.

(CLARIFICATION: Upon further review, and as noted by a commenter, Brewster actually said "You need to take two steps backward to take one big step forward.")

*** Instead of making fun of Brewster's optimism or energy, Jeff Rice of the Centre Daily Times reported on the Gophers' highly ranked recruiting class.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Royce White v. Damien Johnson

Royce White, who we're all excited to be donning maroon and gold come fall 2009, has given the punditocracy another reason to question his maturity.

In an item I didn't see until it was pointed out to me today, it's reported that White had a little altercation with Damian Johnson during a summer league game. Now, White insists it was simply competitive sparring. But the funny business got him ejected.

This Star Tribune blog post by Myron Medcalf (after burying the lede) informs us that White was tossed for trash talking and throwing a ball at Johnson's back when he was turned away. Yeah, that's not cool, considering Johnson was arguably the Gophers' MVP last season and was easily the player who grew the most under Tubby Smith. Show some respect, Royce!

Medcalf also decides to paraphrase Tubby Smith second hand. Here's the paragraph that made the editor in me cringe:

Tubby Smith was upset and befuddled when he learned about White’s verbal
sparring session with his future teammate. During a conversation with a
colleague, Smith questioned White’s immaturity.
I believe Tubby would be questioning White's "maturity," and this incident might give credence to those who suggest White is "immature." Whatever.

This little note proves two things to us: 1) Royce White hasn't learned a microscope is on him and 2) the Star Tribune isn't going to save us from another year of questionable reporting and grammar from pup reporter Myron Medcalf.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tollackson Update

Blogging continues to be sparse, but there is a good reason. I swear! Should have an announcement in the coming days/weeks that I think many of you will like.

Meantime, check out this article from the Chaska Herald that was sent in by a reader that updates everyone on the status of graduated center Spencer Tollackson. He's going to play pro ball in Europe. Good for him. He wasn't the greatest of centers to grace the Williams Arena floor talent-wise, but he played up to his potential, IMO, and gave us all he had.

Congratulations, Spencer.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Playing Catch Up.... Again

OK, everyone needs to scold me. Each week I intend to get back into the swing of things here and then either life or the day job keeps me away. I will admit some summertime (read: off season) boredom.

Nonetheless, I'm still here. And a new site is still in the works as I promised months ago. For today, let's catch up again on what has been going on in Gopher Nation.

*** Larry Vought of Kentucky's Scout site sat down with Tubby Smith for a five part interview that is available at the following links and does NOT require subscription.

Part 1: Tubby talks about leaving UK, the reception he received in Minnesota, and Tubby was asked the tired question of the Minnesota weather.

Part 2: Tubby discusses Rajon Rando and the post UK successes of his former players.

Part 3: Tubby discusses his son Saul's progress as a coach.

Part 4: Tubby talks about the differences, or lack thereof, in recruiting in Minny as opposed to UK. He also weighs in on camps recruiting young kids.

Part 5: Tubby tells Vought he "never thinks about retiring." Good to hear!

(HT-A Sea of Blue)

*** Interesting that this week Lute Olson of Arizona comes out and says he will no longer recruit one-and-done players. I'd agree with that perspective if all coaches were on board. As it is, they aren't. In this ESPN piece, Jim Boeheim said "Are you crazy?" when asked if he would follow suit. Our Orlando Tubby Smith? He says "Even it is for one year, they can do a lot for you." I understand Lute here, but see no reason why Tubby should put unnecessary restrictions on the Gophers until the entire college basketball community puts a stop to this practice. How about doing what college baseball does? If you don't go directly from high school to minor league baseball, you have to play at least three seasons of collegiate ball?

*** Chris Diggs' UK blog at the Louisville Courier-Journal asks why Billy Gillispie was savaged for "cradle robbing" when he received a verbal commitment from 8th grade 15-year-old Michael Avery, while Billy Donovan was praised for his recruitment of 9th grade 15-year-old Austin Rivers (son of Doc).

Like the Avery recruitment, I tend to think the Rivers recruitment is a bit of a stretch. But there is one obvious difference. Rivers is in his freshman year of high school. Avery wasn't.

But perhaps one other reason the reaction to the Avery commitment was much more harsh, is the different perceptions of Gillispie and Donovan. Like it or not, Donovan exudes class. Gillispie, in my opinion, comes off as crass. It might not be accurate or fair, but it doesn't mean that personal reputations of coaches doesn't play into the reactions of the punditry in cases like this.

Ken Howlett at A Sea of Blue is also up in arms over the differing takes on recruitment.

*** Excited about Tubby Smith's sophomore season? I am. Incoming JUCO swingman Devron Bostick continues to rack up the accolades. Already the recipient of the National Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year award, this week Bostick was named the David Rowlands Male Student Athlete of the Year. For Southwestern Illinois College, Bostick put up 18.2 points and five rebounds per game.

And he's made quite the splash in the Howard Pulley summer league, teaming up with my favorite Gopher Damian Johnson. Per Rivals (subscription), Bostick is sticking it from beyond the arc, against competition like Troy Bell and Kammron Taylor. Against those foes, Bostick scored a dominant 38 points. Rivals suggests he is explosive enough to help the Gophers from day one. Good news!

*** One area where the commenters on the forums are worried concerns Devoe Joseph. The last we reported here, Devoe was going to be on campus this summer, skip the Canadian Nationals and get to school and start working out at the U. Devoe won't be here until the fall now, according to Sid Hartman, who called the development a "blow" to Tubby Smith. It's not ideal. It'd be great of Devoe was playing ball alongside Johnson and Bostick or Sampson and Iverson.

*** KSTP TV has a nice update on Sam Maresh, where the Champlain Park linebacker, talks about dealing with having heart surgery. He wants to come back and play. And also a great move by Tim Brewster here. At the end of the story it is noted that Brewster "has promised Maresh that he will be the one to carry the school's flag as the team runs out of the tunnel in their new stadium in 2009, whether he's wearing street clothes or football pads."

That's all for today. Have a good weekend everyone!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Playing Catch Up

The holiday weekend, and a mini hiatus beforehand, has left a lot of catching up to do for those who come here to follow Gophers sports. Here are some of the "need to knows" from the last week or so.

Hope everyone had a relaxing 4th of July weekend.

*** Per Twin Cities Boys Hoops we learn of Scout's updated 2009 high school basketball rankings. Minnesota commit Royce White is ranked #32, up from #38. Rodney Williams drops from #45 to # 57.

*** Incoming freshman guard Devoe Joseph will be on campus shortly, according to Sid Hartman, as he will not be playing with the Canadian National Team in Olympic qualifying games as some had expected. That should leave Paul Carter as the only incoming player to not be on campus or en route. Carter has some classwork to finish reportedly.

*** Marcus Fuller of the PiPress chronicles Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson playing on the same team together in the Howard Pulley summer league. On the floor at the same time together, Iverson played the center position and Sampson the power forward position. Both players seem to like their respective positions. Iverson is a tad stronger (6'11, 250, compared to Sampson's 6'11, 235) and Sampson is known as more of a finesse player. Good article from Fuller.

*** Charley Walters also reports from the Howard Pulley summer league. He quotes former Gophers guard Terry Kunze as calling Devron Bostick "the real deal," and the recruit that will be the team's "top player." A common thread among Fuller's report, and Walters' convo with Kunze is the thought that Sampson needs to either get "stronger" or "more assertive."

*** Something called The Gopher Wagon is touring the state of Minnesota with Joel Maturi.

*** Ohio State blog From the Mind of Minnich suggests Brewster's Gophers will be the "dregs of th Big Ten," and wonders if the Mason firing/Brewster hiring reminds us of the song "Big Yellow Taxi."

*** The Realests offer a Minnesota football preview. If you don't like potshots at Brewster, don't click on the link).

*** In a thorough Big Ten preview, the blog Putting up Bricks pegs the Gophers at 3-9 in 2008. Hey, a two game improvement wouldn't be bad!

*** In this set of Sid jottings, we learn that Joel Maturi is still after Texas for a football home and home and that former Minnesota wide receiver Ernie Wheelright has signed a free agent rookie contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Regarding the Texas home and home, this would be great if it is a few years down the road (and it would be). The Gophers need a couple more highly touted recruiting classes to not get laughed out of the stadium.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Randomness Explains Why The NBA Has Been Dead To Me

I guess it began around the time it became clear the Timberwolves weren't going to be able to put together sustained success with Kevin Garnett. But, now that I think about it, the NBA has been relatively dead to me for quite some time.

I think the tipping point came when Latrell Sprewell, in one of those never-forget moments made the absurd statement, after turning down a contract that wasn't to his liking, that he had to feed his family. That struck the sports world as one of the most arrogant comments ever uttered by a multi-million dollar professional ball player. For me, I looked at my own family. My father worked in construction and later at the Ford plant in St. Paul. My mother worked in a school kitchen. They had to worry about feeding their blue-collar family.

While Sprewell's arrogance likely pushed me over the edge, I had thought since childhood the college basketball game was the superior game. College basketball is predicated on teamwork. NBA is predicated on one-on-one isolation's. Having been a student of basketball, the former to me has been more appealing.

In watching the NBA draft last night, Dick Vitale went on a rant that made a lot of sense to me. The NBA's decision to force high school players into one year of college ball is hurting the college game, and giving me another reason to look at the pros with disdain. I don't begrudge LeBron James, Kevin Garnett or any other uber-talent from taking the money when they can. But, as Vitale said, forcing some of these talents into the college game is a detriment to the game many of us love. Many of these one-and-doners don't want to be in college. They don't care about academics. Pretty soon, won't some of these kids go to Europe for the early money, not to mention the appreciating Euro versus the depreciating dollar?

Vitale's suggestion was that players could come to the NBA out of high school should there talent merit that. But if they choose college, they ought to stay for at least three years. Baseball forces its amateurs to do the exact same thing.

So it was that I watched the NBA draft last night, hoping to see the Wolves make the right pick. They did, and later traded it (I'm not going to rant about this). But what stuck out to anybody watching was the shear number of college freshman that comprised the first 15 or so picks. This can't be good for anybody.

And it makes me, someone who is having trouble coming back to the NBA, less likely to return. But if I had three years to get to know OJ Mayo at USC or Kevin Love at UCLA, I might be more inclined to follow their careers at the pro level. Those extra years seemed to serve Tim Duncan well.

*** Tim Brewster's prized in state recruit Sam Maresh underwent heart surgery Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. No one knows if Maresh will play ball again, but he certainly has his sights set on it. Our best wishes go out to Maresh, his family and our hopes is for a speedy recovery.

*** Tom at Gopher Nation has a poll ongoing asking for your honest opinion about Tim Brewster, Glen Mason and the coaching situation with the football program. Share your opinion here.

*** Victoria's Secret and Goldy aren't friends. Shame.

*** The Big Ten Bloggers teamed up for more fearless predictions. I didn't have time to put significant thought into them, so I passed. But our friends who live and die with Northwestern, Lake the Posts, has the results here.

*** I'm getting some criticism from UK quarters for the most recent guest post I authored at 10,000 Takes. The point I was trying to make was that in the NABC's decision to try and put an end to kiddy-recruitment, Tubby Smith (president of NABC) looks good, while Billy Gillispie (who for right or wrong is the current face of kiddy-recruitment) doesn't look as good. I suggested Tubby might be getting some enjoyment out of this. I shouldn't have applied motives to Tubby, but I do believe Tubby looks like a statesman here and Gillispie looks like he lost a recruiting tactic some see as questionable. Tru at A Sea of Blue is right here, I could have done better.

That's it for now. Have a great weekend. The in-laws are coming to town here. Yikes!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Your New Gophers: Keanon Cooper

PJS Note: In an effort to prepare you for the myriad new faces on Tim Brewster's 2008Golden Gophers, we're going to methodically brief you on each newcomer. To Brewster's credit the Gophers compiled their best recruiting class in recent memory (17th best in the country by Rivals' rankings).

Your New Gophers: Keanon Cooper

There is no question that one of Minnesota's two primary weaknesses last season was in the secondary. This is nothing new for Minnesota, as the Gophers have traditionally struggled to stop high-flying, spread offense teams. But with Tim Brewster installing the spread offense himself, moving away from the ball control offense under Glen Mason, the secondary needs to be that much better. The quicker the Gophers score, the more possessions the opponent is going to have to exploit a beleaguered secondary. Brewster knew this and addressed it with his 2008 recruiting class.

One newcomer who could have an immediate impact is Dallas Skyline safety Keanon Cooper, a 6' 190 pound athlete who could have went to a number of programs including Michigan, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Miami or Kansas.

But the biggest obstacle in Minnesota's way for Cooper was Texas Tech, where he originally committed. But Cooper decided to drop that commitment and join three of his high school friends who had also committed to the University. We'll get to Cooper's classmates at a later date, but this should indicate one reason why Cooper picked the Gophers.

Cooper is ranked as Rivals' 24th best safety in the country (though he also could be played at outside linebacker, where a lack of quickness was another weakness for the Gophers), and was one of two Gophers to make the site's Big Ten Signing Day Dream Team, the other being quarterback Marqueis Gray.

Academically, Cooper seems to be anything but a problem child, having finished in the top quarter of his senior class. He's described by his coach as an "outstanding student" and "a relentless player."

ESPN.Com's Football Recruiting Blog called Cooper perhaps "the most versatile defensive prospect in this class." By versatile, ESPN means exactly that. They go on to praise him for wreaking havoc at safety, linebacker and even defensive end. That to me sounds versatile! So, while Cooper is listed as a safety, don't be surprised if he is used in all sorts of places. It's up to new defensive coordinator Ted Roof to put him in position to succeed. Let's hope Roof gets creative.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brewster's Touted Class Could Be OK After All

The Star Tribune's Sid Hartman continues to keep us posted on the status of Tim Brewster's incoming recruiting class. Sid previously reported that some incoming recruits might be at jeopardy of failing to meet the admissions office's academic criteria. Now, Sid reports that all seems to be going well.

According to Sid, Brewster indicated one or two recruits might not qualify academically. Most recruits are either enrolled for summer school or are expected to be on campus within weeks. Taking out those recruits, that leaves "Traye Simmons, Tim McGee, Vince Hill and Spencer Reeves -- who have schoolwork to complete before they can be admitted."

We previously profiled Hill, a 4-star wide receiver recruit.

It's not good to lose any of these recruits, but at least the list seems to be trimmed dramatically from what some were speculating.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Randomness Thinks About Feeling Bad For Tim Brewster, Reconsiders

Hey Tim Brewster, still enjoying your tenure as head coach at the U?

First, Tim Brewster embarked on a Minnesota worst 1-11 season, which included an NCAA embarrassment of a defense and a loss to North Dakota State. That couldn't have felt good.

To his credit, Brewster dusted him self off and started anew. He put together a heralded Class of 2008, filled with high-level wide receivers and touted quarterbacks. This looked great on paper until the roof started caving in.

First, Brewster was forced to give up on Harold Howell a would-be sophomore out of Florida that was touted to be a return man with the lightning in a bottle quality of a Devin Hester. Howell was horrible, couldn't catch a punt and obviously couldn't find it within him to excel academically. That couldn't have been fun..

Yesterday, Brewster's own son, Clint Brewster, a one-time verbal commit to Illinois, has decided to leave his father's 1-11 football team behind and pursue other options. Homers can spin this by suggesting that the younger Brewster was expendable because the Gophers have depth. Sophomore Adam Weber poised to return as the starter, veteran backup Tony Mortensen remains and two allegedly talented newcomers in JUCO transfer David Pittman and hyped dual-threat quarterback Marqueis Gray are arriving this fall.

But in all honesty, we can't really know what members of Brewster's class of 2008 will ever wear maroon and gold. It has been reported that Brewster's class, which ranks by most any measure in the upper echelon of the Big Ten, may see it's numbers fall after the academics czars at the U have their say. You see, some of these prized recruits can't pass their entrance exams and can't gain admission by other means. Sid Hartman tells us Brewster isn't too happy about this.

I can't imagine he would be.

Yes, it's been a rocky year-plus for Brewster. But, then again, some of us were convinced Brewster was a public relations disaster last year when he allegedly decided to go on an anti-Notre Dame rant and call Charlie Weis a fat slob. Michael Floyd apparently is more concerned about substantive coaching then waistlines.

Enjoying the Tim Brewster era yet? Despite what he'll say, I'd guess he's not either.

*** I read this as Tubby Smith bitch-slapping Billy Gillispie. Nice. Tubby, as president of the NABC, is saying college coaches should chill on the recruitment of pre-pubescent athletes. I totally agree with this.

*** Congratulations if you have Comcast, you will now be able to watch your favorite Big Ten team on cable.

*** Hawkeye State at Black Heart, Gold Pants, chronicled a recent conversation between Tim Brewster and Ron Zook. Classic.

*** Easy target that he is, Tim Brewster is a recruiting machine. He racked up recruit number six for his Class of 2009 recently in Sartell's Nick Rengel. Minnesota was the only BCS major to offer Rengel. However, North Dakota State made an offer, so at least Brewster was able to out maneuver a DII team.

That's it for today. Everyone have a good weekend!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Brewster's Son To Transfer

Via the Star Tribune we learn today that Tim Brewster's son Clint is going to transfer. You'll remember that Clint Brewster was a big "get" for the new football coach. The quarterback recruit had verbally committed to Tim's alma mater, Illinois, but withdrew from that pledge to play for his father.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Clint's decision is hopefully based on the fact that the Gophers have become surprisingly deep at quarterback. Sophomore Adam Weber is poised to lead the Gophers under center for the second year of Minnesota's attempt to install the spread coast offense. And Coach Brewster's big get during this recruiting season was MarQueis Gray, a quarterback that is hyped to be a perfect fit for the spread coast. The Gophers are also bringing in JUCO quarterback David Pittman, though it has been speculated he would play a position other than quarterback.

However, losing any 4-star player isn't good. Adding in that it is the coaches son leads me to two thoughts.

1) This might show me that Tim Brewster has been honest with his son. Perhaps Coach Brewster told Clint that Weber is the quarterback of the present and Gray is the quarterback of the future. It would only be natural for the father in this situation to want his son to be in a position to succeed. Because of actual talent at Minnesota (wow, can't believe I said that) the opportunites aren't in maroon and gold for Clint. If this is the case, I applaud the transfer.

2) This might show me that Coach Brewster is worried about the public relations of playing his son over the likes of Pittman or Gray. If Clint Brewster honestly wins a job over his competitors, jerks like Patrick Reusse and me will surely pen an article or post talking about nepotism. Playing Clint Brewster could be seen as a lose-lose situation for the coach, unless of course the son performs above expectations. If this type of thought went into the transfer, or Coach Brewster's decision to anoint an otherwise raw quarterback like Weber to the starting role, then I shake my head at the news of the transfer. After all, Clint Brewster came into to camp last year as the only quarterback with experience in the spread coast.

Personally, I'll remember Clint Brewster for his antics after the Gophers lost to Winsconsin last year. He, according to the Bucky kicker, sprinted across the field and used some naughty words to basically say 'Wisconsin sucks.' Classy.

Other reading: Gopher Nation asks "What was your favorite Clint Brewster moment?"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lacy Seems To Be Leaning Towards Gophers

Four-star Milwaukee point guard Johnnie Lacy, who the Gophers officially offered this past week, will be attending the Minnesota basketball camp instead of a similar camp being held at the same time at Marquette, his hometown school.

It has been thought for some time that Marquette was the favorite to land Lacy's services, but after Tom Crean bolted from Marquette to coach Indiana and Buzz Petersen took over, the Golden Eagles' interest in Lacy has reportedly waned. And if that is not the best way to put it, well, Rivals reports that Petersen hasn't really been in contact with Lacy or his coaches.

The Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller touched on Lacy's recruitment, his decision to attend a U of M camp and the Minnesota offer in a blog post here.

Minnesota is just the second BCS school to offer Lacy (the other obviously being Marquette). Other big names are after the point guard, however, including Purdue and Tennessee. But something, and some have speculated academics, have kept high majors from coming after Lacy en masse.

Lacy is 5'10", 165 pounds and described as a lightning-quick scoring point guard. He's a Rivals 150 player in the class of 2009 and would go along way in Tubby Smith's efforts to shore up the Gophers' point guard situation. The Gophers have also offered Arlington, Tx, point guard Nick Russell, but it seems that almost every high major has offered Russell.

One bit of speculation: Lacy seems to talk very highly of Crean. If Indiana were to make a push for Lacy (and I wonder how Verdell Jones' presence would impact such a decision), I think Crean's relationship might be tough to beat.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Randomness Begins With Joel Maturi

As his alma mater searches for a new Athletic Director, Joel Maturi is saying all of the right things. Asked by Charley Walters what he would say if the big-wigs at Notre Dame came calling, Maturi responded thusly: 'Thank you, but I love what I'm doing."

Noting the rumors surrounding Maturi, the Minnesota Daily put together a well-done look at Maturi's tenure, beginning with his charge in 2002 to be the first Athletic Director to oversee both the men's and women's departments. Maturi has had some great moments while in his chair and some not so great moments. Here are some highlights.

The Good:

*** Saved men's and women's golf in 2003 thanks to a fundraising effort. Talks of cutting programs has diminished overall, thanks in part to a budget that has remained in the black, if not swimming in cash like, say, Florida.

*** Laid the groundwork for the new football stadium by securing TCF Bank sponsorship and subsequently pushed the stadium package through the state legislature.

*** Hired Tubby Smith

*** Cleaned up the men's basketball program after the Clem Haskins scandal

The Not so Good:

*** Gave Glen Mason a 4-year contract extension in January of 2006. Fired Mason in December of that same year. Mason received a $2.2 million buyout.

*** Was AD when two men's tennis coaches were suspended after committing six NCAA violations. Cheating in tennis?

*** Seemed to have trouble pulling the trigger with Dan Monson. Monson received a $1.1 million buyout in December 2006.

Please feel free to add your own.

My biggest criticism of Maturi probably centers around the handling of the Glen Mason situation. Eleven months after extending his contract, Maturi acted rashly after an embarrassing loss to Texas Tech and fired Mason. Like most of you I rejoiced at the decision, but it was late in coming and it might tell us something about Maturi's decision-making ability.

That said, I hope Maturi lives by his word and tells any potential suitors that he's happy where he is. Maturi deserves loads of credit for bringing an open-air football stadium to the U. He landed Tubby Smith and the men's basketball program is turning around. Maturi hasn't been perfect, but he's done a pretty damn good job.

What do you think?

*** Three members Tubby Smith's incoming class will be at the U for summer school. They are Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and JUCO transfer Devron Bostick. Paul Carter will be finishing up his freshman classes in summer school at his junior college. Devoe Joseph is planning to try out for the Canadian Olympic team. Sounds pretty cool for the kid, right? Tubby's not so sure.

Per Sid Hartman's column, Tubby said: "I looked at that roster, and the people that Canada is inviting, all of them are veteran players," Smith said. "So, he might need to get here. I don't want him to waste his summer if he's not going to be [playing much]."

*** Most of us know that a certain segment of University of Kentucky basketball fans are delusional. When I read the headline of this post from Kentucky Wildcats Blog, I was envisioning a post that would be outlandishly partisan and, of course then, off base. The headline: "U of K Basketball - Is UK Basketball Bigger than the SEC?"

Thankfully the post is coherent and honest about the state of the SEC, noting the recent success at Tennessee and Florida. That success brings in money, which props up programs. If I was asked to answer the rhetorical question, is UK basketball bigger than the SEC, my answer is simple. Not even close.

Florida is the cream of the crop in the SEC. Back-to-back national chippers isn't something that will be easily overcome. The blogger writes this about UK returning to prominence:

U of K basketball is still U of K basketball though. It will just take more time and effort to dominate the SEC like in years past. The name Kentucky on the front of a jersey is still very appealing to many recruits and I’m sure U of K basketball will continue to grow in tradition with many talented players and championships.
I'm not sure the UK brand is as irresistible as some UK loyalists might believe. The UK name is surely appealing, but the days of five to 10 programs across the country dominating are over. The AAU circuit is producing more top-notch talent and the money behind big college programs is propelling many former also-ran programs into prominence. And I'm also not sure Billy Gillispie has the charisma to compete with Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl. Donovan and Pearl each have established their own personal brands. But the perception of Gillispie is that he's a hot-headed jerk. Just my opinion.

*** A name to watch in the 2009 basketball recruiting wars is Milwaukee Bay View point guard Johnnie Lacy. Marquette seems to be the favorite, per this Rivals article, but the Gophers as well as Purdue and Tennessee are in the hunt. Lacy is one of a handful of point guards Tubby Smith is looking at, in an attempt to shore up one of the team's weaknesses. Lacy is a 4-star product. Snatching a recruit from Wisconsin would be fantastic to send a message to Bo Ryan, even though Bo's 2009 scholarships are all used up.

*** Tim Brewster is taking some heat for his comments that last year's one-win football team "very easily could have been a six-, seven-win season, easily." For more on the same subject, check out Sunday Morning Quarterback's take. It's definitely worth a read.

That's all for today. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Football Season Is Apparently Around The Corner

I did this last year and enjoyed it, so once again I'm going to try and bring you every Minnesota football preview I can find on the Web.

The first installment this year comes from Big Tenet, which compares the current Gophers to the Ron Zook led Illini. Can Brewster turn the program around in Zook-like fashion. Not right away according to this writer. Here's the money graf:

The schedule does them no favors, as after four nonconference games against lower D-I and D-II teams, the conference schedule has the Golden Gophers on the road at Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin. Ouch. Still—this will be a good year for a rebuilding program in terms of the up and comers learning more about the system and getting experience, but to expect the Gophers to finish with more than 3-4 wins is not going to happen.

Three to four wins. Hmmmm. Can't say I disagree at this point, but there is still time for me to get caught up in the Brewster hype.

Meanwhile, our friend at Lake the Posts hosted the first annual (yes, I know you can't have something be "annual" if it's the first version) Big Ten Bloggers Preseason Picks. While I'm a member of the BTB unholy alliance, I didn't have time to partake with my own rankings. However, even my maroon-colored glasses wouldn't have done much to improve the take on where the Gophers would finish.

That's right, dead last.

Check out the entire set of rankings here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reflecting On The Obsessive College Sports Community

PJS Note: I write a weekly column for 10,000 Takes and this first appeared there this morning. I'm cross-posting it here.

Since the end of last year's Gophers football season, eyes turned to the future. It's only natural that this happens. It's the reason sites like Rivals succeed.

It's why sports columnists, commenters at GopherHole act as if the sky is falling anytime a potential recruit picks school colors that aren't that writer's preferred. I'm not trying to be holier than thou. During the basketball recruitment of Draymond Green, I latched onto a very easy storyline after Green picked Tom Izzo over Tubby Smith. It wasn't my finest moment. I acted silly, took the easy angle and raised bogus concerns that Green's choice might underscore some criticisms wacky Kentucky fans had about Tubby.

I bring this up because of the unfortunate news that Champlin Park's Sam Maresh, one of Tim Brewster's marquee recruits, faces a real life challenge: open heart surgery, according to the Star Tribune, to repair or replace his aortic valve. Maresh's bio is one that has excited Gopher Nation. Brewster has compared him to Brian Urlacher. He was a 4-star Rivals linebacker who bucked the trend of high-profile recruits leaving the state and picked the Gophers over Michigan. That alone endeared him to Minnesota fans.

Thankfully, the reaction of Minnesota fans has been sensitive. It's cliche, but this type of news does put sports into perspective. But for those of us in the peanut gallery, perhaps we can take a look at this situation and keep it in mind when we're writing our columns, posts or comments. Losing out on Michael Floyd to Notre Dame isn't the end of the world. Getting surly because Draymond Green picks the Spartans over the Gophers is hardly an appropriate reaction.

Maresh insists he will play football again, and I will root him along in that effort. But I won't be upset if he doesn't. And I'm going to try not to be upset the next time that recruit I really want in maroon and gold picks some less wonderful colors.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Life Strikes Sam Maresh

Perhaps Tim Brewster's most prized recruit, Champlin Park linebacker Sam Maresh, had life intervene this week in his quest to help turn the Gophers football program around.

Maresh has a congenital heart defect and will need to have open heart surgery.

You might remember that Sam Maresh, a local 4-star recruit according to Rivals, was compared to Brian Urlacher by Brewster. Whether or not that was a stretch is irrelevant, Maresh was the first big-name recruit to pick the Gophers over powerhouses like Michigan.

While this is certainly bad news from a football perspective, our thoughts at the moment should be with Sam and the Maresh family. The time will come where we can diagnose how this impacts the Gophers. That time isn't now.

I'll bring you more on this as it comes along and as I have time to relay it.

For now, here is the Star Tribune article on the story and the thoughts of Tom at Gopher Nation.

Good Read

If you haven't already, check out Charley Walters' interview with Tim Brewster. Walters did a good job asking the right questions and making the right comparisons.

He noted how different Tubby Smith's public relations style had been, playing down expectations, compared to Brewster. We've touched on that before here too. Walters also asked Brewster about his perhaps over-hyped predictions for last season.

Here's the money quote from the article, but be sure to read it all.

"I don't know that was an overhype at all," he said. "This is who I am, so I've got to be who I am. What I wanted to do was raise the level of expectations of the fans and people of this state. I wanted the people of this state to think, 'hey, yes, we can; yes, we will.' I think they've lost that some. I think people in this state, people who backed the Gophers, had really lost a little bit of their optimism toward winning a championship and taking the Gophers to Pasadena. So I wanted to re-establish that as, hey, this is the mind-set. Now, never one time did I ever say last season we're going to the Rose Bowl, this season we're going to the Rose Bowl. This is what we want to do, this is the expectation level of our team, and I want it to be the expectation level of our fans."
Walters also touches on the difficulty of having his son, Clint, on the roster as a quarterback. Clint Brewster was a 4-star quarterback but finds himself behind Adam Weber on the depth chart and highly recruited Marqueis Gray would seem to threaten the younger Brewster's chances of ever taking the reins.

*** One small housekeeping note, life has been hellishly busy for me the last month or so. I've been working on a heated primary campaign in Virginia and the elections are today. After I unwind tonight and tomorrow I fully expect to get back to regularly scheduled blogging. Thank all of you for sticking with me and making PJS a stop on your bored-at-work Internet tour everyday.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Randomness Talks Brewster's Recruiting

Grandpa Sid Hartman had an interesting tidbit in his column this week on Tim Brewster's hyped 2008 recruiting class.

The big question about the Gophers football team's highly ranked recruiting class is how many of the players haven't passed their entrance tests or don't have the credits to gain admission to the university. The scholarships given to recruits include money for enrolling in summer school. Some people, who should be in the know, report that coach Tim Brewster is not happy with some of the decisions that the school's admissions office could make. More than a couple of
the top recruits might not be admitted.
That's the first indication that Tim Brewster's top-20 national class might not be all he's spun it to be. On its face it is impressive that Brewster was able to lure as much talent as he did to Minnesota after a 1-11 season. But, as Papa Sid reports, this recruiting class might well take a step or two backward before the first game is played this fall.

I'm no expert on college football recruiting and on the kinds of things that are offered to these kids (like money for summer school), but it would seem to me that doing such a thing is a measure taken by a coaching staff or administration that values winning way too highly above academics. Didn't Brewster learn anything from the Harold Howell experiment? Every other college passed on Howell because of academics (and also probably because his football skills were poor) but Brewster bit at the opportunity to bring in an athlete despite academic issues. The result? Howell struggled on the field before being unceremoniously booted for academic reasons.

So, the question is who is this year's Howell?

*** So, the SEC is considering starting its own network. You didn't see much ranting here against the Big Ten Network, because living out in Northern Virginia and having DirecTV, I absolutely loved having it. I was able to watch every Gophers basketball game. How sweet that was.

But for the blog Coaches Hot Seat to opine about how grand the BTN was, well, they obviously weren't paying that close of attention. Basically, I'm nitpicking' here as much of the rest of the piece is spot on. But here's the' line that I couldn't help but add my two cents on.
Overall the Big Ten network programming is very well done, and the studio shows and play-by-play/color commentators are practically network/ESPN quality

Yeah, um, the production on the BTN, the commentators, the color analysts, the booth guys especially, were close to downright horrible. Gene Keady, while aesthetically pleasing, is not cutout to do booth work or color commentary. Gary DiNardo and Howard Griffith? I couldn't stand to watch them, and I don't think I was alone.

*** Highschoolhoops.com ranks Royce White as the #2 small forward in the 2009 recruiting class. Of the Minnesota commit, the Web site states: "White is one of those rare players who mixes superior talent with hustling. The Minnesota bound forward also finishes around the basket with ease." That sounds good to me.

*** If you weren't aware, Minnesota AD Joel Maturi seems to be a prospect to fill the same position at Notre Dame. Maturi has only stated (that I've seen) that he's happy at Minnesota. But one has to think an opportunity to go to his alma mater would be appealing. Goldhelmet.com did a rundown of ND AD candidates and listed the good and bad on Maturi. On the good side was his effective lobbying to get the football stadium passed and his hiring of the late Terry Hoeppner when Maturi was at Miami (Ohio). The bad? You guessed it, the "questionable" hiring of Tim Brewster.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Your New Gophers: Brandon Green

PJS Note: In an effort to prepare you for the myriad new faces on Tim Brewster's 2008 Golden Gophers, we're going to methodically brief you on each newcomer. To Brewster's credit the Gophers compiled their best recruiting class in recent memory (17th best in the country by Rivals' rankings).

Your New Gophers: Brandon Green

Probably the most hyped wide receiver in Tim Brewster's Class of 2008, Brandon Green picked Minnesota over his home-state school Illinois, as well as Wisconsin, West Virginia and most every other Big Ten school, except the one he really wanted to attend.

Growing up, Green reportedly rooted for the Ohio State Buckeyes. And in this Rivals interview, Green openly admitted he wanted an offer from the Buckeyes. It never came, and the Chicago Robeson, 4-star wideout will now have a chance to compete against his boyhood team when he suits up for Tim Brewster and the Golden Gophers this fall.

Green's decision to come to Minnesota seemed to be swayed by two things. First was playing time. He told the Chicago Tribune that had he attended Illinois he likely would have been redshirted and would have had to battle other wide receivers for playing time. At Minnesota? Green said, "Tim Brewster said I would have a chance to start right away. That had a big impact because I didn’t want to red-shirt my freshman year. It looks like they could use a little help on offense."

Maybe most importantly, however, was Brewster's willingness (or perhaps desire) to recruit Green's teammate Johnny Johnson. The same Chicago Tribune report indicated that it wasn't a package deal, and even if Green had picked the Illini, for instance, the Gophers still wanted to sign Johnson, a two-star quarterback/defensive back. Johnson would play in the defensive backfield with the Gophers.

To be thorough, Green also indicated he liked the U's diverse campus and its computer graphics program. It is nice to see a heavily recruited college athlete consider academics.

Coming off a 1-11 season, Brewster's sales pitch was obviously important. While Green isn't considered the premiere talent that someone like Michael Floyd is, getting a relatively highly coveted wideout from your conference foes was somewhat of a coup for Brewster. He clearly sold Green on an ability to contribute now and playing time, something West Virginia, Illinois and others couldn't provide.

So, what are are Gophers fans going to see next year? Well, Green could well move into a starting role alongside senior Eric Decker and will almost assuredly battle fellow four-star wideout newcomer Vincent Hill for a chance to see vast minutes on the field. The Gophers were so thin at wideout last season that there is room for both athletes and others.

Green is described by ESPN Insider as "one of the better athletes in this class at wide receiver." He would seem to be the ideal wideout for the spread coast offense Brewster and Mike Dunbar want to install. He's described as a deep threat and an "explosive threat with the ball in his hands after the catch, which is why he is so dangerous on screens and underneath routes." Green is also described as a wideout with good leaping ability, solid hands and a toughness that doesn't preclude him from running routes over the middle.

That last trait, speculates ESPN Insider, might make Green a prototypical slot receiver. He also could see time at punt returner, given that Harold Howell has been recently dismissed from the Gophers.

Essentials: Height: 6'0
Weight: 160-185 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver
High School: Chicago Robeson
Eligibility: Freshman
Rivals Ratings: 4-stars, #6 rated player in Illinois, #39 wide receiver nationally

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Randomness Rants Against IHOP

OK, so I had every intention of posting three, four or more times this week. I wanted to get the Your New Gophers series off to a fast start. I wanted to make fun of Harold Howell's tenure on the Gophers. There were other topics that I wanted to hit on, but alas IHOP struck me down.

Came home from eating a greasy, not-very-appetizing breakfast at IHOP on Memorial Day and after a few hours of an upset stomach I developed a temperature around 102. No fun. This was accompanied by IHOP trying to get out every which way possible. A day later the temperature was gone, but now I had the worst stomach cramping I've ever experienced, so much pain that Miss PJS wanted to take me to the emergency room on multiple occasions.

Went to the doctor on Wednesday and they said I most likely had food poisoning. They took some tests, the results of which I'm still waiting for, but in the meantime wrote a prescription for Cipro, the antibiotic they give people with anthrax poisoning. That's right, they were treating what they believed to be food poisoning from IHOP the same way they'd treat anthrax poisoning.

I'm never eating at IHOP again. Perkins yes, IHOP no.

That was probably too much information for some of you... Now on to other things.

*** The headline of this AP article hits the nail on the head. It reads: "Over-hyped Howell makes quiet exit."

I couldn't have said it better. The "athlete" from Florida that Tim Brewster convinced many was the next Devin Hester, had a horrible 2007 season and now has been dismissed from the team for "academic reasons."

The AP looks back at old Brewster quotes where he called Howell "one of the most dynamic high school players in the country," and one of "the most electrifying" high school players he'd seen in years.

Brewster's desire to hype everything needs to end. The AP article by Jon Krawczynski goes on to note that Brewster has hyped incoming freshman Marquies Gray (comparing him to Vince Young) and Sam Maresh (comparing him to Brian Urlacher). This ridiculousness is putting far too much on these kids--they are kids--too fast. Who can live up to the Vince Young comparison as a college QB?

The Howell situation should be a lessons for Brewster. Somehow I doubt he'll recall this situation the next time he has a chance to make some positive press hits over-hyping one of his recruits.

*** Thought Tubby Smith's 2008 recruiting class was completed? Think again. USC decommit Malik Story, a 6'5 guard who has a "money stroke" according to Rivals, is looking closely at Minnesota, Georgetown, Oregon and Wake Forest. A California native, Story is a three-star shooting guard according to Rivals.

Story is more likely to become a wing player than a point guard in the college game, though his obvious position remains at shooting guard. With Lawrence Westbrook and Devoe Joseph likely taking minutes at those positions, it would be somewhat surprising to see Tubby ink another two-guard with the team's lack of depth at point guard and in the front court.

*** Other names to be learning if you follow Gophers basketball recruitment are Glen Rice Jr., the son of the former NBA star, and Harrison Barnes, a standout from Iowa. Barnes, who has been favored to be heading to Iowa State, is a 2010 prospect. He's a 6'6 small forward and is being heavily recruited. A 6'4 shooting guard, Rice's recruitment is picking up. He has offers from Alabama, Georgia Tech and Minnesota, but with interest from many other southern schools. Rice is playing for the same AAU team that RSIII played for in Georgia. Rice is a Class of 2009 prospect.

*** Gopher football fans are clearly none too pleased about the University's decision to jack up ticket prices. The Wizard of Odds has the story, replete with the best picture of Goldy I've ever seen.

*** Rivals' basketball recruiting whiz Jerry Meyer in his mailbag took a question about Ralph Sampson III. Meyer said Sampson might not be "the guy" like a Kevin Love, but he should be part of a winning formula. Meyer state Devoe Joseph might have an even larger impact.

*** Finally, if you haven't yet, check out my weekly column over at 10,000 Takes. This week I wrote about Tubby Smith's position on recruiting very young kids. As many of you know Billy Gillispie at Kentucky recently received a verbal commitment from an 8th grader. All of my columns at 10k Takes can be found here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Your New Gophers: Vincent Hill

PJS Note: In an effort to prepare you for the myriad new faces on Tim Brewster's 2008 Golden Gophers, we're going to methodically brief you on each newcomer. To Brewster's credit the Gophers compiled their best recruiting class in recent memory (17th best in the country by Rivals' rankings).

Your New Gophers Wide Receiver: Vincent Hill

If Tim Brewster is going to be successful at Minnesota, and specifically with his desire to install a spread offense, he is going to need play makers at the wide receiver position. While losing Michael Floyd stings, Brewster landed his fair share of talent at the wide receiving position.

Brewster added two Rivals 4-star wide receivers, including Vincent Hill graduated high school in Fort Washington, Md, and subsequently attended Milford Academy Prep in New York. Hill's eligibility will be that of a true freshman, and could be red shirted, but with the dearth of talent at the wide receiver position that is unlikely.

The 5'11", 185 pound wide out was pursued by Syracuse, Temple, Utah, Virginia and Illinois, though it appeared that his two top choices were the Gophers and Illini, both of which offered scholarships. For the Gophers to win a battle with the suddenly tough Illini is a good sign.

In this
Rivals article, Hill calls himself a speed guy, stating that before he had knee surgery he ran a 4.35 40. Now he says he's in the low 4.4s. In that same article, Hill indicates the Illini were his favorites at that time. Brewster and wide receiver coach George McDonald began recruiting Hill relatively late in the game but were able to secure a commitment without Hill ever visiting the Minneapolis campus.

While Hill was recruited as a wide receiver,
Rivals speculates here that Hill could potentially be used in the defensive backfield, an area where we all know the Gophers desperately need help. We'll know more about this once camp battles begin, but Hill seems to like the idea according to this article.
"One of the things I really liked about Minnesota is that they are going to give me a chance to play both ways. Defense is where I have always played and it is really where my heart is. I pretty much played quarterback on offense up until my sophomore year, but he already had a good quarterback and my coach asked me to be a weapon at receiver. So I have not really been playing receiver for very long. I am really excited that they want to give me a shot to play on both sides of the ball. They have some young guys at corner back who look good, but they still need some help back there and I know that I can do that."

Talent is talent, and if Hill can contribute in the defensive backfield, and he excels there, then maybe he can be a two-way player.

The criticisms of Hill mostly center around his diminutive size. ESPN Insider's take suggests he will need to add bulk, but they suggest "Hill is going to be a serious threat in the vertical passing game and his route-running skills make him very productive all over the field."

With the graduation of the enigmatic Ernie Wheelright and the departure of Tray Herndon, Minnesota's already thin receiving corps needs an infusion of talent. Hill, who is probably still learning the position, is one candidate to give the Gophers increased production in the spread offense.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Have A Great Weekend--Be Back Tuesday

Sorry for the lack of updates. My Mac is crashing on me repeatedly and the Geek Squad doesn't really know what to do. I've had to break out my old laptop PC. But we're heading out of town for the long weekend so posting will resume intermittently on Tuesday.

Hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tubby Ball Year In Review: The Final Chapter

PJS Note: This is the final chapter in a five-part series looking back at the first season of Tubby Ball at the University of Minnesota. Previously, we looked at the play of the three seniors, offense and defense under Tubby and player progression. Today, we give out grades to each of the non-seniors for their 2007-08 campaigns.

Part V: Grading the Players and Projecting to 2008-09

If I were a teacher, my fictional students probably wouldn't like me much. I'm probably overly critical and have never been good at giving compliments just so someone feels good. So, keep that in mind as you go through my year-end grades for the Gophers men's basketball team. Yes, I know it is about nine months since the season ended, but my procrastination on this can be summed up by stating that there is no sports season I enjoy more than college hoops. Ending this series, for me, ends my coverage of the 2007-08 Gophers. ***Tears***

Now, on to each non-senior, their grades, and a projection for the year(s) to come.

Jonathan Williams: Like almost all of the Minnesota big men, Williams, a St. Cloud native, struggled with Tubby Smith's demands to play more aggressive basketball. Reports came out that Williams played a dominating brand of basketball in practice. But once the ball was tipped in meaningful games, Williams oftentimes played a soft brand of basketball Dan Coleman would endorse. Statistically, you could argue he regressed. He started eight games as a sophomore, and only three as a senior. His minutes declined by about two minutes on average. His scoring dropped a point and he corralled one fewer rebound per game. Defensively, however, Williams was usually up to the task. He did well manning up DJ White in the Big Ten Tournament when Spencer Tollackson was out with an injury. And he showed flashes of being able to produce offensively, but he also showed many more signs of being slightly overwhelmed by the competition. At 6'9, 285, Williams should be a bruiser on the interior. He seldom was, and has never been able to establish a low post offensive game.

Grade: C-
2008-09: Look for Williams' minutes to increase slightly as a senior and he might even see a starting role while the incoming players progress. Don't expect him to turn into anything resembling an offensive threat. However, if all he is asked to do is play solid defense, the Gophers could do worse.

Jamal Abu-Shamala: Speaking of statistical regression, this junior from Shakopee went from 23.7 minutes per game to just over 13. He shot 43 percent (44-102) from three under Monson/Molinari in 2006-07 but that production fell dramatically to 34 percent (21-61) in 07-08. Abu-Shamala's game didn't change. He was a three point specialist who couldn't create his shot under Monson and he was the same thing under Tubby Smith. A couple things changed, however. The Gophers didn't want to settle for the perimeter shot as often under Tubby Smith. And Tubby Smith seemed to covet multi-dimensional players who could take the ball to the basket. Abu-Shamala couldn't do that. But his minutes also declined because of the arrival of Blake Hoffarber, a similar player with slightly greater athletic ability. Abu-Shamala seemed to be the biggest Gophers cheerleader even when he rode the pine. Because of that we have tremendous respect for the senior-to-be, even if we cringe when he touches the ball in the open floor.
Grade: D
2008-09: Expect his minutes to decline even more, though he'll surely come in against Northwestern and light up the Wildcats.

Travis Busch: Some will disagree, but I will continue to argue that the Cal Poly transfer and Mounds View native doesn't have the talent to compete in the Big Ten. If intensity and toughness were quantifiable, however, Busch would certainly have what it takes. Tubby Smith often turned to Busch when he needed just that. It's kind of starting that at 6'4, 220, Busch was Minnesota's most physical player when he was on the floor. He manned up Indiana's mammoth center. He sacrificed his body for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Early in the season I cringed when Busch came on the floor, but he soon earned his playing time. Simply put, Busch did what he was asked to do, and that wasn't to score, block shots, make great passes or dominate the boards. He was asked to provide occasional energy and toughness. On that score he delivered.
Grade: B
2008-09: Expect his minutes to be exceedingly minimal but for him to do everything he can do get the job done once he is on the floor.

Damian Johnson: No Minnesota player as large a step forward as did Monson recruit Damian Johnson. An afterthought in 2006-07, Johnson became Minnesota's best shot-blocker, defensive player and arguably its best rebounder. A tweener type, Johnson took minutes at both small forward and power forward. He showed a surprising ability to play on the inside against the Big Ten's big men and on the perimeter against slashing forwards. In my mind, Johnson was this team's MVP. He ran the floor, showed signs of developing an outside shot and a back-to-the-basket game. He needs to firm up his outside shot and his free throw shooting--55 percent won't get it done--but if he can take a similar step forward this upcoming season as he did under the first year of Tubby Smith, the sky is the limit.
Grade: A
2008-09: I expect Johnson to be a leader on the new Gophers team and to have solidified either his perimeter shot or his interior game. If he can add both, he will be the closest thing the Gophers have had in awhile to an all-around player. He will likely start, and he's earned it.

Kevin Payton: The would-be junior from Camden, NJ regressed more than any player in Tubby Smith's first year on the sidelines. And maybe it's not that he regressed, but that he was identified as a liability on the court. After playing in all 31 games, and starting 14, as a freshman, Payton received the dreaded DNP-Coaches Decision in seven Big Ten games. Payton was tentative all season. He had no confidence in his shot and shot a disastrous 15 percent from three point land. He couldn't seem to handle high-intensity pressure in the back court, failed to get the Gophers into the offense and really, provided nothing, other than an occasional spurt of solid defensive play. To his credit, Payton kept a smile on his face at least publicly. That said, he was highly over matched and Tubby Smith knew it.
Grade: F
2008-09: If Payton wants more minutes he'll need to dramatically improve his ball-handling, decision making, outside shot and just about every other facet of his game.

Lawrence Westbrook: For a player who was stung with the reputation as a prep player as being selfish and a ball-hog, Westbrook certainly hasn't lived up to that hype. Good, right? Kinda, I suppose. It's never good to have a me-first player on your team, but the Gophers could benefit from Westbrook taking the team on his shoulders an providing the scoring lift he's capable of more often. Westbrook started all 34 games as a sophomore. He shot 42 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three and averaged 8.5 points per game. He also proved to be a very solid defender, a trait that probably earned him the playing time that Tubby Smith gave him. Perhaps it is because he was a sophomore, or because Coleman and McKenzie were the first two scoring options, but Westbrook was a tad streaky. However, the Hoffarber Miracle doesn't happen if Westbrook doesn't put the Gophers on his back after for a career-high 17 points in the Big Ten tourney opener against Northwestern.
Grade: B+
2008-09: If Westbrook can look for his own shot more often, and take the ball to the basket more often and have success at it, he could be the Gophers' leading scorer this upcoming season.

Al Nolen: Defensively, Al Nolen played like a savvy fifth-year senior. Offensively, Nolen played like a raw high school kid. He led the Gophers with 64 steals. He also missed the rim quite a bit and shot 29 percent from three. Coupled with the poor perimeter shooting, Nolen also never displayed a knack for penetrating defenses either to score or to draw defenders and dish. Thrust into a role as Minnesota's only true point guard, Nolen did as well as anyone could have predicted. He kept his composure and ran Minnesota's offense, if he didn't propel it with his own scoring. And he sparked Minnesota's full-court defense. Overall, Nolen was a pleasant surprise in 2007-08, even if it is clear he has plenty to work on.
Grade: B
2008-09: Because Tubby Smith was unable to land a point guard in the incoming class, look for Nolen to start and perhaps split time at the position with incoming combo-guard Devoe Joseph. If Nolen can improve his outside shot, look for his game to explode. A decent outside shot should open up lanes to penetrate, drive and kick. If he's not shooting 1,000 shots per day, he should be.

Blake Hoffarber: The Hopkins grad is what he is: A spot up shooter with a deadly outside touch and a flare for the dramatic. We will never forget the Hoffarber Miracle against Indiana. And his 42.7 percent (70-164) set a freshman record at the U. On many nights, Hoffarber was the first player off the bench, giving the Gophers some much-needed instant offense. When he was able to get free off of screens and in transition he provided that punch. When defenders didn't give him an inch, Hoffarber was typically unable to create his own shot by running off of screens, penetrating or creating space any other way. Defensively, Hoffarber wasn't exactly a liability, but he wasn't a game changer either. When applying full-court pressure, Hoffarber was more often than not on the bench.
Grade: B-
2008-09: Unless Hoffarber can dramatically increase his quickness, he will continue to be a lights-out three point shooter when the Gophers can get him space. He'll need to learn how to more efficiently run himself off screens and set up his defenders. However, if all he is is a guy who makes 70 threes a year and can't do much else offensively, I think we'll take that.

Final Analysis: Tubby Smith did more with the talent he had on the roster then even I thought was possible. The Gophers won 20 games, finished in the upper-half of the Big Ten and played more defense in 2007-08 then in the entire Monson/Molinari era. Tubby Smith brought a new attitude to the Gophers, and while the roster still has some dead weight on it, Tubby was able to maximize what he did have. Who would have thought Damian Johnson would mature into a game changer? Certainly not me.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Randomness Begins With Patrick Reusse

It's not easy for me to criticize Patrick Reusse. I grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs reading Reusse and Dan Barreiro. I fell in love with newsprint, so much so that in some high school English class, during your typical "What do you want to do as a career" lectures, I was called upon to state what I wanted to do professionally.

"I want to be a sportswriter," I said quickly.

The teacher in question grasped on to that and tried to use it as a way to engage me. (The high school days for me were spent neglecting class work, my talents and instead binge drinking and chasing skirts). She would repeat what I said to the class often. "You want to be a sportswriter..." It became kind of a joke among friends.

Anyway, it was my appreciation for what Reusse and Barreiro produced in the Star Tribune every day that made me take journalism classes, and yes, upon graduation, take a job in journalism. Four years later I've left the newspaper business. It's a business that is indeed dying. Sadly, it's a business that is actually killing itself. And that's why it is distressing for me to see a columnist that I admired write so ignorantly about new media.

In a column titled "Who'll gather news when Internet is all there is," Reusse bemoans the rise of online news, punditry and blogs. It is this attitude that will expedite the demise of the industry Reusse loves.

There are a couple points I want to rebut here. The first is something Steve Aschburner nailed on the head in a column at MinnPost.com. Aschburner, it should be stated, was the STrib's Timberwolves beat writer who agreed to take a buyout from the paper, then reconsidered and wanted his job back but, alas, the job wasn't there for him. So, while Aschburner might have a personal angle to his rebuttal column, he's spot on in this area.

Now, worrying about his — and his cronies' — livelihoods is a legitimate hand-wringer. Sweating out buyouts, layoffs, newshole and travel budget cuts, and even potential wage givebacks has become part of the daily grind for newspaper people, as routine as sharpening a pencil, changing a typewriter ribbon or slipping out for a cigarette break was for previous generations of journalists.

After all, an industry that essentially gives its core product — its news coverage — away for free in one form (its website) while moaning about the declining interest in its paid version (newsprint) is complicit in its own demise. Add to that a business model reliant on advertising revenue — once "owned" in near-monopolistic conditions by daily metros but now fragmented across hundreds or thousands of Internet options — that clearly is broken. Then prop it all up, not with the deep pockets of family fortunes and civic sensibilities of founders and heirs ... but with the bottom-line demands of shareholders in a public company or, apparently worse, absentee landlords and private-equity profiteers. Result: A perfect storm for journalism in crisis.

As a former reporter I'm asked about the newspaper business a lot. I like to use a simple anecdote. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, I will say, one could buy a cup of coffee for under $1.00. A newspaper could be purchased for a measly $.25. Today, a cup of coffee costs $4.00. A newspaper can be purchased for $.25. Now, there is something genuinely high-minded about delivering such an important service like the news at a price anyone can afford. But it's also a ridiculous business plan.

And with the rise of niche Internet sites, online advertising for newspapers has never taken off. Some reporters bemoan the immediacy the Internet demands. Instead of adapting, newspaper publishers are giving their product away online free, without a advertising base online to support it. The industry was flat-footed during the Internet revolution, and because of that the days of gray newsprint staining peoples' hands are behind us.

I'm 27. I get all of my news, for free, online. I read Politico.com. Daily Kos scours the Web so I don't have to. My Google alerts keep me up to date on Al Franken. I don't read the now useless game-stories written by LaVelle E. Neal III or Joe Christensen. It's 2008. Game stories are essentially obsolete. With ESPN highlights, mobile-phone tracking, your pyramid style AP game story isn't highly coveted. What is? Insightful analysis, with or without access. So, I turn to Aaron Gleeman for a different sort of take. Or to Seth Stohs for minor league coverage. They are producing a more useful product on most days.

But Reusse would argue that Gleeman, Stohs or any other blogger won't actually report "news." Well, that's changing. Out in Northern Virginia a popular progressive political blogger has flown around the state with a US Senate candidate, on the same plane with the Associated Press, Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch and others. It's simple math for the campaign in question here. The blog's readership is on par with the big mainstream media boys. And it's a more focused medium. As the STrib's and Reusse's readership slips away to more savvy consumers, so too will your access. Soon, Terry Ryan, Brad Childress and Tim Brewster will look to the niche sites on the Web to get their message across.

The point is, the last line of defense for papers, their access, is slowly going away, perhaps more slowly, than their subscriptions. And while some bloggers don't want access, others will gladly take it.

There will come a day when Reusse, or his successor, is going to need to adapt and build an online brand. Otherwise, the the Twin Cities won't be a two media outlet market anymore. Instead, it will have a more focused media, probably with 20+ outlets ranging from Gleeman and Stohs to Pacifist Viking, Rivals and Gopher Nation.

It's coming Patrick. The time is now to adapt. Well, actually, that time might have passed.

Whew....That was a rant. Now on to other things.

*** Ohio State blog Our Honor Defend continues its "Better Know a Buckeye" series by taking a look at Eden Prairie product Willie Mobley. It's a very extensive, thorough and well-done look at the ups and downs of Mobley's recruitment, replete with a section on "shenanigans" surrounding his recruitment. Here's a glimpse of the "shenanigans" section:

"someone, or some entity, sent phony letters to Willie Mobley, on Ohio State letterhead and with a forged Jim Tressel signature, encouraging him to take a look at the Gophers. Why, you ask?"
Read the post for the full story. Excellent, excellent post, guys.

*** In more forward-thinking football recruiting news, the Gophers' recruitment of Michael Carter (Tyrone's cousin) seems to be picking up. A Florida defensive back, and top 100 (#66) Rivals player in the Class of 2009 is reportedly down to Minnesota, Miami and Georgia and maybe Auburn and West Virginia!

*** A Wisconsin blog titled Hoops Marinara put together an excellent post this week about how Big Ten basketball recruitment for 2008 stacks up against the rest of the country. Quick answer? Not so good, though Tubby Smith and the Gophers do get a fair share of props in the post. But in the seemingly always "down" Big Ten, the blogger wonders if we're in for more hard times. Only three of the Rivals top 25 are coming to the conference.

*** Back to football, the mainstream media reported this week that would-be sophomore wide receiver Tray Herndon was released from his scholarship by Brewster's staff. It was just last August Herdon was named the Gophers' starting slot receiver. Nonetheless, the talent level at the wide receiver position should increase this season, so Herndon might have just been reading the tea leaves.

*** I've received a couple emails about doing more football coverage. And it's coming. I swear. I'm going to do something similar to what Our Honor Defend is doing that I linked to above. We're going to concentrate more on impact players, however. I'm going to do this in part because Tim Brewster really does deserve to be applauded for the job he's done in the recruiting department. Here's a snippet from ESPN's college recruiting analysts:
It might be early, but Tim Brewster is certainly off to a great start on the recruiting trail in '09 and building off his surprising No. 23 class from a year ago. The second year head coach with a reputation as a fierce recruiter has landed another talented offensive prospect who by most accounts, was a reach for the Golden Gopher program that went 1-11 in 2007.

That running back is, of course, Hasan Lipscomb, a 4-star product out of Texas that picked Minnesota over LSU, Nebraska and others. His quote about why he picked Minnesota is telling in that it gives us a window into exactly what Brewster's sales pitch is now. Here's Lipscomb:

"They told me I can come in and start like every school tells recruits, but I believe them," Lipscomb explained. "At some of those other schools like LSU I would be like the third running back -- in just the freshmen class alone."
Brewster is using Minnesota's decades-long futility to his advantage. You have to acknowledge your problem before getting passed it, right?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Royce and Rodney Updates

The Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf reported the other day here that Rodney Williams has narrowed his list of schools down to three, except he's apparently only telling us who two of the teams are. Strange? Yes. But I've got a theory!

Medcalf reports that Williams indicated Minnesota and Kansas are two of the three teams. Kansas, according to Medcalf and Rivals.com, hasn't offered the athletic swingman yet. Rivals' page on Williams also indicates three teams that the Cooper product is "high" on. Those teams are Minnesota, Miami (FL) and Wisconsin.

Guess here is that Williams is also including Wisconsin in that list, considering Bo Ryan's need to pluck Minnesota talent in order for him to have a chance to compete in the Big Ten. However, if Williams does commit to the Gophers, it will have taken just one full year for Tubby Smith to completely shut the gaping hole that has allowed countless top Minnesota reecruits to escape maroon and gold and wear that hideous red and white.

Finally, per Rivals, we learn that 2009 commit Royce White has moved up the recruitment ladder. If you believe in the 5-star Rivals scale, at this time last week White was your average 4-star prospect. Now, he's added a star and is the #18 player in the country, according to Rivals' scouts. Williams, at 4 stars, is ranked #28. Food for thought: No Big Ten team has a 2009 player ranked higher than White or Williams.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Housekeepimg

Beginning tomorrow I'm going to be doing a weekly (hopefully) guest post at 10,000 Takes on Gophers sports. If you don't read 10k Takes, well, I recommend it. It's one of my daily stops. Others are providing guest posts too, including the best Vikings blogger Pacifist Viking.

Hopefully you'll check it out. Some weeks I might post the same thing here as I do at 10k Takes, but other weeks I will not.

Also, thanks to reader Erik Herberg I put up a new header today. I need to tweak the size of it a bit in photoshop, but I love the way Goldy looks! Thanks Erik for going to all of that trouble!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday Randomness Includes Gina Gershon

I'm heading to a three-day conference here shortly, but a few things I wanted to get out. Here goes.

*** An MSU blogger from Spartans Weblog produced a "way-too-early" Big Ten 2008-09 basketball preview this week. I tend to agree with his top 5 of Purdue, Wisconsin, MSU, OSU and Minnesota. Indiana is going to drop big time. Purdue, IMO, was the conference's best team last year and isn't losing a lot. Wisconsin is steady and should be solid again. Ohio State has reloaded.

*** Speaking of Big Ten basketball, if you hadn't heard, Michigan's Ekpe Udoh is leaving Ann Arbor, citing an inability to fit into John Beilein's plans. A would-be junior, Udoh is a shot-blocking force in the middle. He led the Big Ten with 92 blocks a season ago and in just two seasons recorded enough blocks to rank 5th all time in school history according to MLive.com. MIchigan wasn't going to contend with or without Udoh this season, and his relatively raw offensive game probably irks Beilein who wants to run and gun. That said, I loved watching Udoh play and am partially glad the Gophers won't have to face him in the paint this season.

*** If you ever have any doubt about Tubby Smith being a class act, read this.

*** Turning our attention to football for a moment, Tom at Gopher Nation covered the commitment of 4-star running back Hasan Lipscomb. A Houston native, Lipscomb is a 2009 recruit. Tim Brewster has an excellent incoming class by Minnesota standards and his follow-up class is already looking better than any coach in recent memory has been able to put together. Brewster deserves loads of credit for delivering inn the recruiting area as he promised he would.

*** Finally today a break from sports. I took Miss PJS to a show on Broadway for her birthday last weekend. After watching Phantom (enjoyable, but I would have preferred Yankees v. Mariners), we started walking back towards Times Square. We stumbled upon a huge crowd outside of Spamalot. Obviously this group was waiting for Clay Aiken. We waited for a moment and someone next to us said "It's not like this is Brad Pitt coming here, let's go." We agreed and continued walking. We soon came to a much smaller gathering outside of the production for "Boeing, Boeing." Bradley Whitford stars in this, and he came out and said hello. I soon asked the gathering of 10 or so who else was coming. "Gina Gershon," they said.

Miss PJS has never heard of Gina Gerson. Of course, I fondly remember Gina's scenes in Palmetto, for instance. I don't know why, but honestly, whenever Gershon I flip by a movie that Gershon is on, I stop. I think it's the lips. Anyway, nothing other to report here other than I bumped into Gershon, took a picture of her. Here it is.


No, that's not me in the pic, but Gina's obviously checking me out. And just for fun, here's one reason why I love Gina. Perhaps she can be the Official Fantasy WOMAN of PJS. Oh, wait, someone already does that.