If you needed any proof that Tubby Smith has remade the Gophers into a national program, look no further than Justin Cobbs. The native of Los Angeles passed on offers from several west coast programs and the opportunity to bask in year round sun shine and beautiful people for Minnesota, its lack of sunshine, and ancient basketball arena (which, obviously, is the best arena in the country).
The Gophers have had big need for a point guard the last two seasons, and Cobbs, a 6’0” true point guard will at the very least provide some much needed depth.
How he became a Gopher
Minnesota’s need for a point guard was obvious, but not necessarily their interest in Justin Cobbs. Neither Smith nor the Gophers have a well-established pipeline to the west coast so it came as a bit of surprise when Cobbs committed, especially considering the local and national interest he was receiving. West Coast schools including San Diego State, USC, Washington, and Washington State made offers. California, West Virginia, and Kansas State also expressed some level of interest. The big reason, again, was Tubby Smith. In an online chatroom type interview (just saying you should give the kid’s typing some slack with the typing) South Land Preps Cobbs wrote ” i think just the chance of playing for a coach like tubby smith was just a dream come true. i couldnt ask for a better coach. also i know coach smith can take my game to that next level and the chance to play early was also a factor in my decision… coach smith was very important in the process. because seeing him at all the games really meant something saying they were really interested which was exciting for me. my trip out there was fun . i was able to watch the team practice and meet the team , and see the campus.”
In his senior season Cobbs score 20.4 points with 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Among his many awards was the John Wooden award, given to the best player in California in each class.
Why to be excited
The excitement surrounding Cobbs involves both what he can do as a player and what his presence will allow the team to do. First, as a player Cobbs is good. His high school statistics showcase his versatility, and place him somewhere in the category of a point guard Damian Johnson. Cobbs also has a decent jump shot and can get to the basket. As we all saw last year, a point guard must do both to succeed in the Big Ten.
In recent weeks the hype machine has been revved up even more. Jim Jackson, former Ohio State star thinks Cobbs might be the point guard of the future for Minnesota (sorry Al Nolen).”I think he can (start),” he said. “The question is going to come down to how he shoots the basketball. One of Nolen’s weaknesses right now is shooting the basketball well enough at the point guard position. If Justin can not turn the basketball over, make plays and knock down the open shot, that gives you a different dimension at point guard. Now, you don’t help out and sag as much in the lane. It just depends. The door is open for him to make a run at it.”
Even if Cobbs doesn’t start, the mere availability of an actual back up point guard frees up several other player. Al Nolen shouldn’t feel like he has to do it all. Nolen always seemed to try to do too much. Now he won’t be the only ball handler. Devoe Joseph will have more opportunities at shooting guard, his natural position. When he could concentrate on finding his shot, Joseph lit it up.
Why to keep expectations in check
Is this the kiss of death in terms of playing time? Again, from the Southlandpreps interview : “well i think overall i need to probably improve my off ball defense. and rebound more. this your i have really focused on my shot and becomes a complete player and become more consistent so i think i still have some work to go but mainly just my off ball defense and rebounding.”
Yeah…defense. If he can’t play it he won’t play. There has also been various rumblings around the web that his shot needs a bit of work. If things don’t turn out we could be looking at a shorter Al Nolen with worse defense.
Most likely role
Cobbs will be a solid back up point guard with Al Nolen getting the majority of the minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him early and often if Nolen’s shooting and decision making woes return.