Gophers say they’ll stick together despite coaching change


Nov 11, 2012; Chestnut Hill, MA, USA; Florida International Golden Panthers head coach Richard Pitino during the first half against the Boston College Eagles at Conte Forum. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Tubby Smith was known to bark at his players and be a common practitioner of “tough love.”

However, Smith was no Mike Rice and these current Gophers players know that. Despite their connection with Smith, the team with roots reaching as far as Tennessee, California and Canada don’t seem to be disbanding anytime soon.

Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Rodney Williams spoke after 30-year-old Richard Pitino was introduced as the Gophers head basketball coach on Friday. All three expressed the same forethought: there will be no casualties from this changing of the guard.

Andre, with his typical smile, said everyone was “cool” with the hire and Austin said his guys were “on board” as they stood surrounded by pockets of media on Williams Arena’s court.

Under Smith, transfers had become an issue for a program struggling to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Losing key talents like Justin Cobbs, Royce White, Colton Iverson and Devoe Joesph handicapped Minnesota basketball to mediocrity.

Next year’s seniors Austin Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi are looking to make some kind of impression on the basketball world in their final campaigns before trying to make it to the NBA. They’ll both have to learn a new system, a system Pitino said Friday could “take a while” to learn.

But Hollins said he’s not concerned. Often, Hollins was Smith’s most lauded player for his work ethic – and that’s what Hollins said will help save him from any setback in his senior season.

With this team, nobody knows. With a 30-year-old coach, nobody knows. But having all the pieces available is a step in the right direction.

Pitino may have no freshman next season if Alex Foster decides to follow in his fellow Chicago-native’s footsteps. De La Salle guard Alvin Ellis withdrew his commitment last week and Foster said he would wait to speak with Pitino before making his decision.

Pitino has reportedly reached out to local talent in the hopes of making a last-ditch first impression on them and many Pitino supporters have praised his work ethic on the recruiting battle ground.

With starters Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams leaving, he’s going to need his father’s magic to fill the holes this team has in the frontcourt.