Legal Problems Hamper Gopher Men's Basketball TeamCoach Smith getting agitated by all the off-the-court distractions.
By: John Krawczynski, AP
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith grew more terse and agitated by the minute on Friday, and the Minnesota coach had plenty of reasons to be. Off-the-court issues are dragging down a season that started with so much promise.
Smith announced on Friday that junior point guard Al Nolen will not play on Saturday against No. 6 Michigan State, and could miss the rest of the semester, after being ruled academically ineligible. Nolen is appealing the ruling, but Smith didn't seem optimistic about having his floor leader the rest of the way.
The announcement came on the same day that star recruit Royce White, who has been suspended all season because of multiple legal issues, was charged with three counts of misdemeanor trespassing in connection with an alleged theft of a laptop computer from a school dormitory.
This all comes on the heels of an overtime loss at struggling Indiana that put the team's NCAA tournament aspirations in jeopardy. The Golden Gophers (12-6, 3-3 Big Ten) have lost two in a row and host the powerful Spartans on Saturday.
"We've got to worry about where we are psychologically and what we have to do to overcome some of the distractions that we've had throughout the year, not just this week," Smith said.
It has already been a long season for the Gophers, who set goals of competing for a Big Ten title and making a run in the NCAA tournament before the season began. But the pursuit of those goals has been hampered from the outset.
Two new players who were expected to be big contributors this season, White and transfer Trevor Mbakwe, have not played a minute because of legal issues.
White pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and theft for stealing clothes and shoving a mall security guard late last year. Shortly after, campus police started investigating whether he had a role in the alleged theft of a laptop from the student's dorm room.
Some Gopher fans grew optimistic when White returned to practice this week. But just days later, White's attorney, F. Clayton Tyler, said the Minneapolis city attorney charged the freshman on Friday with three misdemeanor trespass counts. Tyler said he and White are relieved that he's not facing more serious theft charges, but Tyler finds the trespass charges "strange."
"I've never seen an alleged theft charged in this manner," Tyler said.
He said on the night in question, White was socializing in the dormitory, but did not take the computer. He said White and friends were going from room to room looking for a party. "It's typical freshman behavior," he said.
White is scheduled for a Feb. 1 appearance in Minneapolis municipal court. Tyler says he's not yet had a chance to closely examine the charges, and he left open the possibility that White might be willing to strike some sort of plea deal.
The Minneapolis city attorney didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. University of Minnesota spokesman Garry Bowman says he was unaware of the charges and had no immediate comment.
Mbakwe has been on the bench all season while the case for a felony aggravated battery charge against him goes through the legal process. Mbakwe insists it's a case of mistaken identity, but Smith and athletic director Joel Maturi have agreed to keep him suspended while the case is still open.
Smith was clearly disappointed in Nolen, who is regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten. When Smith was asked when he first knew about Nolen's academic problems, the coach bristled.
"He's the one going to school. He's the one getting an education," Smith said. "I heard coach say a long time ago, you want everyone to get a degree. I can't get it for them. They've got to get it themselves. Unfortunately when you get to be a junior you'd think you'd understand that."
Co-captain Damian Johnson said all of the losses are starting to take their toll.
"It's been real tough," Johnson said. "You see a team that's got a chance to be one of the top teams in the country. We have a lot of potential. With Trevor and Royce, we would have had a whole different team from the start, big, strong bodies who are very athletic.
"Then you lose a guy (Nolen) that's one of the top in the Big Ten in assists and steals, a veteran player. It just really hurts because you know what you could have had. But you can't dwell on it. So you just have to keep fighting adversity."
Associated Press Writer Pat Condon contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.