(The following was printed in the Minneapolis StarTribune)
By Jeff Shelman, Star Tribune
ATLANTA - Tubby Smith's first priority was trying to make the Gophers men's basketball players comfortable.
It was more important than putting together a coaching staff. And it was more important than immediately trying to recruit another player for next season.
"The kids get a little antsy," Smith said at the site for this weekend's Final Four.
It has been a bit of a whirlwind first week as a Gopher for the former Kentucky Wildcats coach. After being introduced as Dan Monson's permanent replacement one week ago today, Smith spent the weekend in Lexington before returning to Minneapolis on Monday evening.
On Tuesday, Smith spent the day meeting with the holdovers from the previous coaching staff and also had individual meetings with each of the Gophers players, a task that lasted until 11 p.m.
Smith arrived here Wednesday and will spend part of the weekend meeting with several potential members of his Minnesota coaching staff.
Among the people Smith is expected to meet with include three people with which he has long histories: Ron Jirsa (former Smith assistant and most recently the head coach at Marshall), Shawn Finney (another former Smith assistant who was the head coach at Tulane) and his son, Saul (the former Kentucky guard who is on the staff at Tennessee Tech).
Smith said he hopes to have at least one coach hired by next week.
Defense is decent, but offense needs work
In addition to meeting with the players, Smith has tried to gauge what he has to work with after the Gophers endured a 9-22 season.
"With [Spencer] Tollackson, [Dan] Coleman, [Lawrence] McKenzie, [Bryce] Webster, [Lawrence] Westbrook, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to compete at a high level," Smith said. "I believe we can.
"Obviously there's always room to improve, it's not like we can trade for somebody. I love what we have, I think the players we have have a chance to be better. If we get them in the right vision with the right leadership and try to inspire them we can get them where they want to be."
Smith has watched a few of the Gophers games from the past season and brought DVDs of several more games with him to Atlanta. That said, he has a better idea of the players on the roster than he did a week ago.
"Most of them are pretty tough kids," Smith said. "What I was impressed with is that they really defend well. I watched the Michigan game [in the Big Ten tournament] and they held the other team to 28, 29 percent shooting. We've got to develop some confidence in them that they can score.
"We've got to implement a system for them to score points, to be able to manufacture points, whether it's extending the defense more, trying to push it up the court more, force more turnovers, that's what we're going to have to do."
Fellow coaches are still stunned by the hire
As a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors, Smith was a participant in a news conference on the state of the game. It's very clear that even a week after he was hired, people are still somewhat slack-jawed about Smith's move.
"It was a shocking move," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I believe Tubby is one of the great coaches in this game. I think Minnesota got an unbelievable coach. I think we'll see how it turns out for the other school. I'd like to venture they won't have the same record over the next 10 years they had over the last 10."
Rice coach Willis Wilson said his reaction to the news could be summed up in one word: wow.
"That's a big deal. I mean, it's a big deal for the University of Minnesota and a big deal for Tubby," Wilson said. "I thought that was a great opportunity for two parties to come together and set a new course for that university. I mean, I think generally speaking everybody I talked to, it was just, 'Wow.' "
Smith was asked about whether he would recommend the Kentucky job to another coach (he would), about whether Florida coach Billy Donovan will take the job (he hopes Donovan will concentrate on the Final Four and win another national title) and why he chose Minnesota (right time, right place).
"If you're adventuresome, you travel all over the world," Smith said. "You see the Matterhorn, you see the Alps, you try something different. I'm at that stage, I'm 55, you don't think you have that much longer in the business. So you say, what are some of the challenges? Minnesota, that's another opportunity."
His best line came when asked about what advice he'd give to the next Kentucky coach: "Don't win too many, too soon."
• In addition to meeting with the players that ended the season on the Gophers roster, Smith also met with guard Limar Wilson. Smith indicated that Wilson, who didn't play the final four games of the season after skipping a practice, is interested in rejoining the Gophers. Smith, however, hasn't made a decision on whether that will happen.
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