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Updated: June 15th, 2011 7:56pm
Notebook: Tubby Smith regrets moving Blake Hoffarber to point guard

Notebook: Tubby Smith regrets moving Blake Hoffarber to point guard

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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The collapse of the Gophers men's basketball team last season coincided with Devoe Joseph's surprise transfer and Al Nolen's injury -- two hits in two weeks to the "U" at point guard that had coach Tubby Smith scrambling for a solution.

Smith tried several lineups, including one with Blake Hoffarber, Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson at new positions. With several months to reconsider, Smith admitted on Wednesday the radical rotation probably was a mistake.

"If I had one regret looking back on it, I probably wouldn't have shifted Blake to the point and then Rodney to the shooting guard and Ralph to the 3," Smith said during an interview with 1500 ESPN's "Reusse & Mackey" show.

Instead, Smith said, he should have let freshman point guard Maverick Ahanmisi play through his rookie mistakes and grow into the role over the regular season's final six weeks.

"Maverick really came on," Smith said. "When I look back on it, he did a very good job for us, and I probably should have just stuck with him at the point, kept the lineup the way it was with Ralph, Trevor (Mbawke), Rodney at the 3, Blake at the 2 and Maverick at the point. But hindsight is easy right now."

The Gophers started 16-4 and 5-3 in Big Ten Conference play before losing 10 of their last 11 games. After the season, center Colton Iverson became the fifth player in a year to leave Smith's program, and Sampson and Mbakwe both submitted their names to find out where they might land in the NBA Draft.

But Mbakwe quickly withdrew, Sampson followed just before the May 9 deadline for underclassmen to pull out and Smith was left with a roster he still sees as an NCAA Tournament contender.

"We need to protect the program and protect ourselves, but I really like the team we have," Smith said. "I said all along that I thought the freshman class -- I thought we were about a year or two ahead and we were ringing the bell, doing a great job, sitting there 16-4, and next thing you know, the bottom drops out."

Sampson gets help

No player faced more criticism during the slide than Sampson, who never has been a particularly physical player but was miscast at small forward.

"That's just his nature," Smith said. "That's Ralph, and it is what it is. Ralph is a good high-post player, can face the basket and shoot."

According to Smith, Sampson "had a great spring" on campus and now is working on his conditioning in Chicago with renowned trainer Tim Grover.

"He has to improve his stamina and his aggression," Smith said.

Smith acknowledged he signed juco transfer Andre Ingram because he was concerned about losing one of his big men to the NBA. But Smith indicated he wasn't entirely surprised Sampson and Mbakwe withdrew, "because neither one was going to go in the first round -- and that's all I'm going to say."

Expensive ink

The recent fall of football coach Jim Tressel at Ohio State was a reminder college coaches have to be aware of what players are doing, even off the field.

Smith said he began monitoring players' tattoos -- such as those Buckeyes football players allegedly received in exchange for memorabilia -- once he found out how much they cost.

"Now, I've got to make them roll their sleeves up," Smith said. 'Where'd you get that?' I'm serious."

Smith also revealed players selling commerorative items they received for conference and national titles was an issue during his days at the University of Kentucky -- although he said his staff was able to catch on before violations could occur.

"We had kids sell their rings," Smith said. "You had to go back and get it and say, 'Hey, son, you can't do that.' Literally. We didn't find out about it except we saw it on the Internet. ...

"You go on eBay and see you've got an NCAA championship ring, you go, 'Hey, from Kentucky? Which one of you guys is trying to sell your ring?'"

Quick hits

• Like Sampson, Williams continues to struggle with endurance. "One of the things Rodney and Ralph have in common (is) their conditioning," Smith said. "... If you watch them play, they play hard for a few minutes, and then they have to get a break. So, we're really working hard with them to develop their lungs or wind, their legs."

• Smith signed one point guard, juco transfer Julian Welch, in March but views him as more of a combo guard. The real answer could be freshman Andre Hollins, a 6-foot-1 Memphis product "who could be a natural point for us and do a great job," Smith said.

• Coaches will be on the road for 20 days next month attending a series of all-star and AAU events in Florida, Georgia, Kansas City and Las Vegas.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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