Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Making Room For Talent

It might sound callous, and it likely isn't a topic of conversation the athlete's in the Williams Arena locker room want to discuss, but for the Gophers to have the kind of instant turn around many of us are clamoring for, Tubby Smith might have to make some tough choices with his current roster.

Fact is, Dan Monson compiled a team with the talent level reminiscent of Division II basketball program. The Gophers' incoming class in 2008 includes three freshman, a sophomore and a junior. By all analysis, the class is primed to be the best we have seen since before Jan Gangelhoff-gate.

While that infusion of talent will work towards the type of turnaround we all expect, Tubby might need to be even more aggressive to dramatically increase the talent level of this team. And by that, I mean he might need to take away scholarships or kindly nudge a player towards a transfer. Here are some prime candidates to either return to walk-on status or to find a new home.

*** Jamal Abu-Shamala was a walk-on who busted his rear and eventually was rewarded a scholarship. No one can question Abu-Shamala's heart and desire. He wants to be a Golden Gopher. But he also came to the University knowing he wasn't scholarship material. Circumstances, however, allowed the Shakopee native a chance to play as a scholarship player. But now 17 games into Tubby's tenure, Abu-Shamala's minutes have dwindled. And if it wasn't clear before, Abu-Shamala is a one-dimensional player. Abu-Shamala is obviously a good kid, but for the Gophers to add top-level talent, it might be wise if he reverted back to walk-on status. He will be a senior next year, and it would be tough to take away his scholarship. But for the good of the program, it might be the best decision.

*** Travis Busch was a transfer from Cal-Poly who lucked into a scholarship after the departures of Brandon Smith and Bryce Webster. During his time in California, Busch quickly realized that he wanted to return home. After sitting out one season because of NCAA transfer rules, Busch has played sparingly for the Gophers this season. He's not adept enough at ball handling to play on the perimeter and at 6'4", Busch isn't long enough to play inside. He's not even a tweener. He's a guard who lacks the quickness to play at this level. If Tubby Smith wants to quickly turn this program around, Busch is another candidate to revert to walk-on status.

*** Kevin Payton is a product of Camden, NJ, who was recruited by Jim Molinari and was expected to be a key recruit for Dan Monson when he signed in late 2004. Before Payton dislocated his shoulder during his senior year in New Jersey, the combo-guard was averaging about 30 points per game. But as a Gopher, any offensive talent Payton possesses has been nowhere to be found. He's tentative with the basketball. He doesn't appear to have mastered some basic basketball fundamentals like the jump stop. According to a Payton interview with Rivals (subscription required) from October 2004, the teams after him were Pittsburgh, LaSalle, Binghamton and Penn State. Flash forward to Tubby's first recruiting class, and it's clear our new coach is after more substantial talent. With all of this in mind, it might be best for all parties if Payton decided to play out the remainder of his college career closer to home.

Following this season, the Gophers will also lose seniors Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie to graduation. Those scholarships are already accounted for with the incoming class. In order to compete at the level we all desire, the Gophers need an even larger infusion of Big Ten caliber talent.

Right now, only three returning players for 2008-09 seem to be locks to have decent careers at Minnesota. Blake Hoffarber is the best pure shooter in the conference and deserves a roster spot even if he needs to work on diversifying his game. Al Nolen has proven he can play point guard at this level. And more than any other holdover from the Monson era, Damian Johnson stands out as someone who has grasped the aggressive philosophy of Tubby Smith. After those three--and the incoming recruits--the Gophers would be well served to find ways to bring in more top-notch talent.

With the thigh injury to Nolen, it's clear the Gophers could use another point guard. Depending on who you read, Devoe Joseph is either a shooting guard or a point guard. The 4-star guard has the ability to score in bunches, and it would seem he will be a good fit to replace McKenzie at the two spot. After that, the Gophers don't have anyone on the roster who can play the point. And with the graduations of Coleman and Tollackson, the Gophers lack inside depth. Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson will help in this regard, but Jon Williams and Damian Johnson aren't your ideal Big Ten bangers. Johnson is more suited to be a shut-down defender playing small forward and Williams, who will be a senior next year, hasn't been effective in long stretches.

While it's obvious the Gophers have some talent coming in, depth is going to be an issue in the coming years if Tubby Smith doesn't make some hard choices.

20 comments:

Spivey Jr. said...

PJS, Brave suggestions, as two of the three you challenge here are Minnesota products. However, you are absolutely correct, and I have been railing on Abu-Shamala's inability to find his man on defense to my seatmates to near-distraction. He's a really nice kid from all accounts, but that spot is too valuable for a 1/2-dimensional spot-up shooter without the slightest inclination to rebound aggressively. Payton has certainly disappointed in anything other than open-court ballhandling and (occasionally) in trapping defensively, but as the team is at its statutory max for scholarships next year I would be inclined to leave him in place and restrict his minutes. Busch and Abu-Shamala should be starting in the Northern Sun or for/against Winona State's remarkable group next year.

alex said...

I can't help but agree with you, especially with the names that you mentioned. Abu was great last year when winning was a much less likely scenario and expectations weren't high. But this year, he's been exposed as a one-dimensional player who can't even do that one-dimension *that* well. I mean, sure, he's a great shooter, but I haven't seen that from him this year, and without it, he's rather worthless.

As for the other two, I wouldn't miss Busch, and watching Payton is always painful. Still, I can't help but think that neither of them are going anywhere. As you mentioned, we're thin on guards (especially at point, where Payton has the most experience) and, as much as I dislike watching Payton, we can't afford to lose that. Maybe with two years under Tubby, Payton can work on his turnover problem and eventually become a decent backup PG (he's had flashes of decency in the past, remember the PSU game last year?).

lonebadger said...

Cold.

PJS said...

lonebadger, i love your comments about [redacted]. It's good fun. But I have to tihnk that you wrote 'cold' not because you think this post was soooooo callous, but because you fret the day when Bo Ryan has a real competitor to his west who doesn't allow every top Minnesota recruit to enroll at Madison.

Alex and Spivey, thanks for your comments. I want to reiterate that it isn't about these kids on a personal level. I'm actually very fond of Abu-Shamala. But A-S and Busch specifically didn't come to the U (I don't think) expecting a free ride.

Alex you might be right about Payton improving under Smith. I was hoping we'd have seen some of that by now. And I will give Payton credit for occasionally playing very good defense and being an asset when we are applying full-court pressure.

From The Barn said...

It's a little late in the game to be pushing folks out the door for scholarships. Let this year's juniors play out their careers and then load up.

Also, team chemistry will be a huge issue with 5 new players coming in. If you thought the Gopher offense looked sloppy on Sunday, wait until you have 5 guys on the court who have never played together. If you take away Jamal and Kevin, it'll be worse.

And I won't even get into the ethical complications of pulling scholarships.

I'll take a three year turn around done the right way over shoving kids out the door to do it a year sooner.

From The Barn said...

It also won't be in Payton's best interest to transfer, unless he wants to lose a year of eligibility.

lonebadger said...

I think Tubby would lean towards the kids, not the program just yet. The kids are the ones who have worked hard through all the down years. What would Coach Smith be saying if he said "Thanks for all your hard work, now go get a job and pay your own way if you want to stay here." Doesn't exactly sound like a good recruiting philosophy. I can see the slogan now...

'University of Minnesota, we'll use you as long as no one better comes along.'

PJS said...

Maybe Payton isn't the best example. But I find nothing unethical or harsh about not continuing to give scholarships to players who were awarded said scholarships because there was one available.

A-S and Busch didn't come to the U thinking they would get free rides.

More imporantly, FTB and LB, your comments suggest you don't think coaches don't politely nudge (or worse) scholarship athletes to make these types of decisions.

Do we all believe that the departures of Bryce Webster and Brandon Smith were completely independent of any coaching staff influence? How about the decommitment of Andrew Brommer? It was hinted at in reports that Tubby thought the Gophers could get more talented players. Iowa wasn't Brommer's first choice, it didn't seem, but that's where he is heading now. I'm not saying Tubby SMith should come out publicly, send Myron a press release, and say, 'well, we've found better players.' No, Busch, for instance, didn't transfer here, I don't believe, intending to receive a scholarship. I don't think it would be so devastating that it would be "we'll use you as long as no one better comes along." That's a stretch.

I'm also not buying the 'team chemistry argument.' At most, we could do this with one more player. So, maybe Busch reverts to walk-on status. That could allow for one more spot in this year's class and still leave open two spots for Royce White and Rodney Williams next year. I think recent NCAA success of teams loaded (or at least led) by freshman has been well documented.

From The Barn said...

Of course coaches dispose of players when they aren't needed anymore, or aren't performing. But it doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean they should.

I guess you haven't been listening to Obama. Acknowledgement of a broken system isn't the same as acceptance/encouragement of the broken system.

PJS said...

I wrote this post knowing some might disagree, and that's fine.

In general, I don't like athletic scholarships at all. That, to me, is a "broken system." But I'm not sure there is any will power to change it. In many cases universities give free rides to athletes, not student-athletes.

What I was trying to suggest was this: A-S and Busch came to the U without expectations of a scholarship. I'm not sure it would be considered "disposing" of them if they reverted to walk-on status. They are already ahead, having had one or more years worth of free education at a major American university.

And with Payton, what I was suggesting was perhaps all parties would benefit if he were to finish his college career closer to home. Notice that in this case I wrote "it might be best for all parties if Payton decided to play ..." I don't want Tubby to be a bully and kick someone to the curb. But if it's in the best interests of Payton, the U, Tubby and the team, I think it's a stretch to say such an act would be the prepetuation of a broken system.

From the Barn said...

If you have no problem with people disagreeing, don't accuse those who do of being naive.

PJS said...

A little sensitive, FTB. Seemed to me like we were having an honest debate where both sides were making counter points and rationalizing their opinions.

lonebadger said...

I realize that a lot coaches do those types of things, but my point was that I hope that TUBBY wouldn't. After he was hired to coach the Gophers we all saw the posts from UK fans saying what a great man the U was getting. We heard about his character and his ethical philosophy. Coach Smith left UK to get away from that type of thinking from the fans (and media). If he were to 'pull a Kentucky' on these kids it would be the height of hypocrisy.

The previous post doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of knowledgeable college basketball fans, casual college basketball fans, or basketball fans in general.

PJS said...

lb, we disagree on the ethics of this scholarship debate, but I got a laugh out of your disclaimer.

snyde043 said...

I can see both sides. I don't recall the all of the specifics with Busch's transfer, but A-S started out as a walk-on to Dan Monson's program that struggled to attract talented players, so it could be argued that the two scholarship years he's gotten were an unexpected bonus.

That said, I'd personally rather see a player such as Busch or A-S do the right thing and give up his undeserved scholarship than see Tubby push him out.

With Payton, I think the program made a commitment to him in initially awarding his scholarship that should be honored so long as he doesn't pull a Dominic Jones or something.

PJS said...

Snyde...

On Busch's scholarship, I had used this graf from a Sid Hartman article as a refernce. ...

"Gophers forward Jamal Abu-Shamala, who originally walked on at Minnesota and was given a one-year scholarship last season by Dan Monson, has had that scholarship renewed by new coach Tubby Smith. With Bryce Webster gone, Smith also had a scholarship for Travis Busch, the 2005 Mr. Basketball from Mounds View who transferred from Cal Poly last year and wasn't eligible to play."

The link to that is here:

http://www.startribune.com/sports/11712496.html

FromTheStateThatRanOffTubby said...

What is the word about Minn's assistant coaches? Are they well-liked by the HS and prep coaches in the area?

PJS said...

I think that many of the coach's were immediately taken by Tubby Smith. As for his assistants, all I could do is speculate.

Vince Taylor seems to have a very good reputation in recruiting circles. Has that translated into high school gyms an with AAU coaches? I can't be sure. I do think Tubby did well to bring on Taylor, as well as Ron Jirsa, to assist him in the recruiting department. Assuming some of the UK criticism regarding recruiting is true, I think Tubby needed someone like Taylor with a top-notch track record.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Per RSCI, Tubby signed #6 rated class in 1998. #3 rated class in 1999. #12 rated classes in 2000 and 2001.

Top 15 class in 2002 (Gibbons). Top 20 class in 2003 (Gibbons and Rivals).

Then (per RSCI again) #2 class in 2004. And #14 class in 2006.

Plus #1 JuCo forward in 2005.

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