If “Tubby’s Tip-off,” which took place last night, is any indication of what to expect this season, then we are in for a wild ride. With five new impact players and dramatic improvements by returning players, the 2008-2009 Minnesota Golden Gophers are ready to defy expectations.
Tubby Smith’s widely heralded recruiting class, at the very least, has brought back enthusiasm that had been lost during the Monson years. More than 30minutes before the doors opened to last night’s event, the entire lobby was full. There were several games last year when the lobby was not full prior to the doors being opened. With about ten minutes left before the doors opened, the line went out the door. It was a game day atmosphere. While no one would expect a sell out crowd of the variety that “Basketball Schools” regularly have to their season opening events, no matter their dubious legality, the fact that so many people stayed up so late (by Minnesota standards) is indicative that their will be significantly more buzz around The Barn. In fact, there were more students in attendance, and possible more spectators in all, than attended last season’s Maryland NIT game.
The event began, somewhat inexplicably, with the dance team performing to the music more commonly associated with the final scene in “Glory.”
Fast forward to about the six minute mark.
I’m not sure who was being lead to inevitable slaughter, but nothing says excitement like a Civil War suicide mission. And just to add to the confusion, shortly after that performance, someone shot off a cannon and a Gorilla rappelled from the ceiling. Not one of THE gorillas, but a random gorilla, who came and went no explanation.
Then came the arena/promo video and player introductions. The new video shows highlights of the players with a heartbeat sound effect that only Dick Cheney could. Perhaps the team will be so exciting it will make our collective heart skip a beat.
The player introductions, done in a rather mid-90s NBA style followed, complete with smoke machine. In what not must officially be classified as a tradition, there was much dancing, much bad rap music that belongs in youtube highlight videos, and much awkwardness. Travis Busch, god love him, chose not to dance. Joe Esposito not only danced, he jumped on it.
Other than the bad dancing, the other memorable moment was a bit concerning. Damian Johnson came out wearing a knee brace and was not moving very well. Coach Smith ensured us all that Johnson will be back soon, and then mocked him for not properly aspirating his consonants.
The first actually basketball related portion of the evening was a three point contest. Needless to say, the shooting is much improved. Each player was given 30 seconds to make as many three pointers as possible from the location of their choosing. The results are listed below:
Devron Bostick: 5 Blake Hoffharber: 9
Jamal Abu-Shamala 4 Travis Busch: 6 and an airball
Ralph Sampson III: 3 Devoe Joseph: 5
Al Nolen: 7 Lawrence Westrook: 10
Paul Carter: 6 Kevin Payton : 7
In the final Lawrence Westbrook defeated Blake Hoffarber by a score of 7-5.
The slam dunk contest did not feature much excitement in the way of dunks, but there was much madness anyway. Among the “celebrity” judges, were Mark Madsen, and the player most likely to replace Mark Madsen as the undersized, awkward white guy on the Timberwolves roster, Kevin Love. They appropriate sat next to each other. Paul Carter, after completing one of his dunks, took it upon himself to spin Goldy’s head. For his second dunk, he had Devoe Joseph attempt an alley-oop pass off the floor from the upper deck. It wasn’t quite this:
and luckily Joseph won’t be making any passes from the stands. Devron Bostick won the contest, but Joseph was the start. Even though he didn’t complete any of his dunks, he has athleticism and leaping ability not seen in Williams Arena since Sam Jacobson.
The 20 minute running time scrimmage that followed showed just how much more athletic this years team will be. While it did not feature much defense, and why would it, it did feature lots of running and lots of shooting.
Who did what
- Paul Carter starred, and he appears to be the real deal. Despite being 6’8” he was comfortable shooting from the outside, leading the fast break, and even took a turn or two running the offense in a half court set. There is no other play in the conference with his repertoire of skills. If I was to compare him to anyone, it would be former Florida State star Al Thornton. He completed the very difficult task of being the focal point of the offense without forcing it.
- Colton Iverson looked very raw, but he was more than willing to fight for rebounds and was able to pull in a few offensive boards. If he can be a rebounding force, his first year will be a success.
- Ralph Sampson III looks misleadingly passive. He was all over the offense glass, displayed good touch from ten feet, and somehow did not look like he was trying. I’m not saying he wasn’t trying, and I’m not saying he was not effective on both ends of the court. There is just something about him that reminded me of Dan Coleman at his worst. Fortunately, what ever that something is, it was not reflected in his play.
- Devoe Joseph did force things a bit on offense. It is clear that he wants to run as often as possible, but he will need to learn that sometimes running is not the best option. On the defensive end he looked a lot like a slightly taller Al Nolen.
- Al Nolen’s defense is still there, but his shot is much improved. During the scrimmage hr made three 3-pointers, including one from NBA range. He also look much stronger.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala, as he often does in games with little or no defense, looked very impressive. He led all scorer with 14 points (I think) including some nifty move on a fast break. He may be slightly less one dimensional than last year.
- Speaking of no longer one dimensional, Blake Hoffarber has learned to create his own shot, and drive and dish. He can still shoot, but his release is even quicker than last year.
- Kevin Payton can also shoot, but his confidence is still a bit lacking. He did make a quick release in rhythm three pointer. It is a shot he can make, and a shot he would make if he would only take it and think it had a chance to go in.
- Lawrence Westbrook was his usual, reliable self, playing solid defense with a few nice assists.
- Travis Busch can dunk. Who knew?
- Devron Bostick was the only real disappointment of the night. He didn’t look confident, and looked more lost than anything. Hopefully this will not become a trend.
- Ryan Saunders is back! Yes, as a coach now, but somewhere Timm Gunn is smiling.