Gopher Hoops: Net Gain?

The Gophers lost a number of leaders to graduation, but their incoming class of recruits has the team feeling like it's still in good shape. Find out about the newcomers, the voids that need to be filled and the direction of the program under Tubby Smith.

It's not often that a team loses its top three scorers from the year before and genuinely feels like it is improved. But that's how strong of a recruiting class Tubby Smith is bringing to Minneapolis.

Devron Bostick comes to Minnesota as the reigning junior-college Player of the Year, Ralph Sampson III is the son of the former Virginia star and Colton Iverson is raw but gives Smith another big body he desperately needs.

The wild card of the class might be Paul Carter, a tweener who has been the early surprise in practice. He's listed at 6-8, but in reality is closer to 6-6. If he can find a spot on the floor, he can produce.

Add that new blood to a core group of returners that includes an outside threat (Blake Hoffarber), a slasher (Lawrence Westbrook, Jr.) and a ball handler (Al Nolen), and it's easy to see why Smith feels he is improved despite losing leading scorers Dan Coleman (11.6 ppg), Lawrence McKenzie (11.8) and Spencer Tollackson (9.3).

"I expect to be competitive in every game and have a chance to win every game," Smith said. "We didn't give ourselves a chance in some games last year."

While the NCAA tournament isn't completely out of reach this season, it shouldn't be a realistic goal. But the Gophers aren't far away, and if they win a couple of the right games, they very well just might be playing meaningful games this March.


  • No returning player averaged double figures in scoring last year, and no returning player averaged five rebounds.

  • With the 1996-97 Final Four appearance wiped off the books for NCAA violations, the Gophers' last official victory in the NCAA tournament came in 1994.

  • Tubby Smith wants his point guard, Al Nolen, to be more aggressive this season. Nolen averaged just 4.3 points last season, a figure that has to go up given all that the Gophers lose offensively. "He's got to be more aggressive attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line," Smith said.

  • Jon Williams, a 6-9 fifth-year senior, is the only returning big man with any experience. But Williams has never made much of an impact, averaging just three points and 2.5 rebounds in 13 minutes last year. He might get a longer look this year, just because the Gophers are so thin up front.

    STRENGTHS: Tubby Smith always stresses defense, and the added athleticism this season should allow the Gophers to comply.

  • The addition of Devron Bostick gives Minnesota another scorer, allowing the Gophers to attack from all areas of the court.

  • The Gophers lose their top three scorers from last season, but Lawrence Westbrook's biggest strength is his ability to get to the basket, and Blake Hoffarber is deadly around the perimeter. Just don't expect him to create his own shot off the dribble.

  • The returning experience, combined with the talented newcomers, make Minnesota a team on the rise in the Big Ten.

    WEAKNESSES: The only two "bigs" are Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson, and both are raw freshmen. Sampson is more polished, while Iverson is a strong banger. After that, the Gophers get small quickly. Paul Carter might get forced into the post even though he's listed at 6-8 and is really more like 6-6. Aside from Hoffarber, Minnesota doesn't have any consistent threats from the outside. Jamal Abu-Shamala has shown potential, but he averaged just 3.4 points in 13 minutes a game last season. Another shooter must develop to clear the lane for Sampson and Westbrook's drives.

    SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Ralph Sampson III — The biggest name in the recruiting class and the son of the former Virginia star. At 6-foot-11, Sampson becomes the biggest body on the team and immediately steps into the starting lineup.

  • Colton Iverson is physically stronger than Sampson and isn't afraid to get physical. While his offensive game is still very rough, Sampson provides another big body (6-10) to bang inside, play defense and snag rebounds.

  • Devron Bostick is the reigning junior-college Player of the Year and should start right away at a wing. He should provide an immediate scoring punch after averaging 18.2 points last season at Southwestern Illinois Community College.

  • Devoe Joseph can play either guard spot and should provide immediate depth. He needs to get stronger, but he was one of the top players in Canada as a senior and was invited to try out for the Canadian Olympic team.

  • Paul Carter is listed at 6-8, but looks more like 6-6. He spent last season at a junior college, where he averaged 12 points and nine rebounds, and has been the most pleasant surprise of the incoming class.

    KEY EARLY SEASON GAMES: The Gophers' two biggest non-conference games are both at home: Virginia on Dec. 2 and Louisville on Dec. 20. Virginia was a .500 team last year but struggled in the ACC (five wins) and might do even worse this year. Louisville should be a notch below the top tier in the Big East, which is still very good by college basketball standards. Minnesota should have little trouble with the Cavaliers, and if Tubby Smith can steal a win against former in-state rival Rick Pitino, the Gophers could chew up valuable RPI points and set themselves up for an interesting conference season.

    PROGRAM DIRECTION: In just his second season, Tubby Smith has Minnesota positioned to be a player again in the Big Ten. The Gophers are on the verge of being a tournament team, and an NIT bid is certainly within reach. Even though it likely won't be them, don't be surprised if the Gophers have a say in who wins the Big Ten championship.

    PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: G Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, Jr., F Devron Bostick, F Damian Johnson, C Ralph Sampson III

    LAST YEAR: 20-14 overall, 8-14 Big Ten, lost to Maryland in first round of NIT.

    HEAD COACH: Tubby Smith (career 407-159), second year at Minnesota (20-14).

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We feel like we've been able to get a lot done since we've gotten here. We're excited, but the foundation was laid by the previous staff. We're very fortunate to land the class we landed." — coach Tubby Smith, on his highly regarded recruiting class led by Ralph Sampson III and Devron Bostick.

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