U of M has new basketball coach

5:23 PM, Mar 22, 2007   |    comments
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Kentucky's Tubby Smith will be the University of Minnesota's new basketball coach, a Minnesota school official said Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Minnesota had not yet announced the hire. A news conference is scheduled for noon Friday. We'll carry that live right here on kare11.com. Apparently fans are pleased with the new hire. According to the Star Tribuen, once word of Smith's hiring leaked out, the University's ticket office sold 103 season tickets. Smith met with Kentucky players earlier Thursday, said basketball spokesman Scott Stricklin. He said he didn't know what Smith told the players and had no further comment. The news was first reported by ESPN.com and SI.com. The Wildcats went 22-12 this season and made it to the NCAA tournament, but lost to top-seeded Kansas in the second round, turning up the heat on their coach. Smith led Kentucky to the national championship in his first season in 1998, but the Wildcats haven't been back to the Final Four since, their longest drought since the NCAA tournament began. The team has lost 10 or more games in a season five times under his watch, prompting the demanding fan base to nickname him "10-loss Tubby." "In our league, we have passionate fans that want to see success," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive about the expectations at Kentucky. The criticism ramped up this season when the proud program struggled against top competition, losing handily to Memphis, North Carolina and Florida. Smith entered the tournament on shaky ground, and his status wasn't helped when the Wildcats failed to make it out of the first weekend for the third time in four seasons. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart gave Smith a vote of confidence before the tournament began. After the loss to the Jayhawks, Smith said he anticipated returning to Lexington for an 11th season. "Tubby's a great credit to basketball and a great credit to the game," Slive said. Smith's trading one tenuous situation for another. Minnesota was 9-22 this season, the most losses in the 111-year history of the program and averaged just 60.6 points a game, its lowest output in 56 years. Former coach Dan Monson was forced to resign seven games into this season with a 118-106 record in eight seasons, and Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi came under fire for the timing of the move. Jim Molinari served as the interim coach for most of this season, one of the low points in the program's history. The Gophers have plummeted from a program that once was annually competitive in the Big Ten to a perennial doormat under Monson, who was handcuffed by severe NCAA sanctions after a massive academic fraud scandal rocked the school. Clem Haskins presided over that period, which resulted in the Gophers' 1997 Final Four appearance being wiped from the books, and Monson struggled mightily with recruiting and was never able to rehabilitate the team. Monson failed to keep a handful of in-state high school stars from choosing other schools and couldn't field a consistent team. Many of his starting lineups were cobbled together with transfers, and the Gophers never found the cohesiveness needed to contend in the Big Ten. Maturi knew he needed to hire a big name to revive the dormant program and was considering Detroit Pistons coach and Gopher alum Flip Saunders and former Utah coach Rick Majerus among other candidates. Smith's name never surfaced until Thursday afternoon. In Smith, Maturi has found a coach with a proven track record of success, including 14 straight 20-win seasons spanning his tenures at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky. In 10 years at Kentucky, Smith won five SEC titles, five SEC tournament titles and had a 263-83 record. He is 387-145 in his coaching career. By Jon Krawczynski, AP Sports Writer AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Louisville and Nancy Armour in St. Louis contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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