Smith lands several top in-state recruits
sign letters of intent to play for Gophers
By Myron Medcalf
McClatchy-Tribune news services
MINNEAPOLIS — By Wednesday afternoon, 75 percent of Minnesota's four-man recruiting class had signed letters of intent to join the Gophers next season. And unlike past years, the fourth guy wasn't sitting on the fence.
Former Henry Sibley, St. Bernard's and Marquette forward Trevor Mbakwe — who will play this season at Miami Dade Community College — said he was just waiting to sign today. He'll join California point guard Justin Cobbs, Hopkins forward Royce White and Cooper wing Rodney Williams, who all signed with the Gophers Wednesday.
"It feels good to put it behind me," Mbakwe said. "I think (the recruiting class) can be really good. I haven't seen the Justin kid play yet. I've heard good things about him. Hopefully, we'll be a top 25, top 20 class."
Tubby Smith's second recruiting class solves two key problems that past Gophers coaches have failed to overcome. White and Williams, two of the top 50 players in the nation according to various recruiting services, will play basketball at home.
Rick Rickert (committed to Arizona) and Kris Humphries (committed to Duke) chose other schools before eventually playing for the Gophers. Several other players left the state during the tenure of former Gophers coach Dan Monson.
Smith also keeps some of the region's top players away from Big Ten schools such as Wisconsin and Michigan State, both of which have lured some of the state's top players in recent years. Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said he's not surprised Smith attracted one of the nation's best recruiting classes in only his second year.
"The honest answer is yes," Maturi said. "No. 1, I think Minnesota has great talent in this state. And we've lost a lot of that talent in the past."
Smith spoke highly of the three players who already have signed. He said he won't comment on Mbakwe until he signs.
White won a state title as a freshman at DeLaSalle and has averaged a little more than 21 points per game for the past two seasons. Williams averaged 23.1 points per game and led Cooper to a fourth-place finish at a class 4A state tournament. Some observers believe both Williams and White have NBA-level talent.
Smith said Cobbs, a solid point guard from Torrance, Calif., has an opportunity to contribute as a backup to current point guard Al Nolen. Cobbs was his conference's player of the year last season.
"We are pleased with the number of young men we were able to sign," Smith said in a press release. "We believe that we have improved our talent level with this class and have fulfilled our needs."