Following is a transcript of Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith's session with reporters at Thursday's Big Ten Conference media day in Chicago, courtesy ASAP Sports:
THE MODERATOR: Next up on the podium is Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith.
We'll start with an opening statement and then go to questions.
COACH SMITH: It's good to be here today. This time last year my father had passed away and I didn't make the Big Ten Media Day. But it's been a fun finish to a very tough season last year.
And we're renewed, I think, with so many returning players. We're really excited about this coming season. We believe we have a chance to be very competitive. And we're looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Can you talk about the addition of Trevor Mbakwe and what you think he's going to add to your team this season?
COACH SMITH: We think that Trevor, he went through a tough situation having to sit out last year because of legal problems and being suspended. So he's a kid that left Marquette after injuring his knee and went to junior college, Miami Dade Junior College, and had an outstanding year. We recruited him because we knew he could bring that type of athleticism, a lot of maturity and experience to our program.
And certainly he's proven that in the preseason, and on the Canadian trip that we took back in the first of September. He's really a guy that's going to give us some depth and some size, some physical presence inside to go along with Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson on the front line.
He's been doing everything we've asked him to do. Playing extremely well in practice. He's in great physical shape and mentally in good shape, especially coming off of last year.
I love that he stuck with us. And because of the adversity he went through it's made him a stronger person and a better person.
Q. You mentioned taking a trip to Canada. I just wonder what you got out of that as a team and how you think that might help you this year?
COACH SMITH: Well, number one, it was a nice, fun trip. We didn't go far going to Vancouver, Canada, a beautiful place, and to Victoria.
It was a good learning experience for all of our players, coaches. I thought getting the 10 practices in this summer, I've never really taken a team on a foreign tour but I can see how beneficial it can be.
Guys in that type of scenario and that type of setting, where we're not really competing for playing time. We're just having fun. We're bonding. So I think that the sooner you can get started, that's one of the things we've talked about having access to our players in the summer as coaches.
I think that helps us nurture them, learn more about them, especially the incoming players, because this was the first year that the NCAA allowed players that had gone to summer school, freshmen, to go along.
So we had five freshmen along with us, along with Trevor Mbakwe, and the seven returning players. So it was a full team, and I thought guys again learned a lot about themselves. It was a great experience for them and helped us as a coaching staff recognize where some of the weaknesses are and some of the strengths that we have on our team, the things that we have to come back and work on.
I think that's helped us, and I think it will help us as we go into start the season.
Q. You spoke about weaknesses that you saw on the trip in Canada. What were those weaknesses that you saw?
COACH SMITH: The weaknesses that we saw, one of the things that we recognized is that I thought getting better strength wise, and just when you ask that question because I'm always the optimist. I think everything was better than it was the year before.
So if we had a weakness, I thought it was just communicating. Again, the teams that really communicate together, talk defensively, but it was early on. And we played against some very tough teams.
I thought the University of British Columbia, Vancouver University, Victoria, those teams were very physical and very mature guys we played against.
So I saw that we needed to be a little more we had to be more aggressive. But I liked the way our kids responded. We came away with three wins and we did respond the right way.
But I thought that was one of the weaknesses that we needed to work on communicating better.
Q. Question about kind of the makeup of your team, you lose so many good veteran players off that team, (Lawrence) Westbrook, you have (Blake) Hoffarber back. Are you just concerned with the direction and production, where it's going to come from this year?
COACH SMITH: Absolutely, you're always concerned about that. But I thought that was one of our strengths. I've been so impressed with our freshmen and our incoming players. And having a player like Trevor Mbakwe, you don't really appreciate him until you see him on the court with your team, playing, knowing he's out there. And I saw that.
You're right, when you lose a guy like Damian Johnson, Lawrence Westbrook, Paul Carter, Devron Bostick, they were all veteran senior players that had gone through the wars here in the Big Ten.
But we do have quite a few guys that have tasted success by going to the Big Ten championship game and really getting pounded by Ohio State.
But they understand now we want to do better and we want to get better. I think guys like Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen, Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, again, Rodney Williams, they know what it takes, and they're the nucleus of our team that have to carry us.
I hope I answered your question. I'm not sure if I did or not.
Q. Everybody talks about how good the Big Ten's going to be this year. What are two or three things you look at and say these are reasons the league's really good this year?
COACH SMITH: Well, first thing the reason the Big Ten is so much better, which it wasn't bad to start with, I don't know it's just the best. Let's put it that way. We've been one of the best since I've been here. This year we're by far the best conference in the country, because we have so many returning players.
Evan Turner being the only player drafted in the top I guess 20 or 30 in the league, but guys like Kalin Lucas, E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson. And we probably lost one of the best players in the country in Robbie Hummel, and certainly our heart goes out to him. But I think that's the number one reason that we have so many returning players.
The other thing is that with Michigan State going all the way to the Final Four, and having a three way tie at the top the way we did, I think those teams that were there, Purdue and Ohio State, felt like, hey, we can be a Final Four team as well. That's the third thing.
And I think it gives a team like us, a program like us who had a chance to get a victory against all those top teams at some point in time last year, gives us hope that we can be a top team.
And I think media as well as other basketball people recognize and sports people recognize that the league is well positioned because of the Big Ten Network and other things and because recruiting has gone so well in this league. I think all those things we benefit by bringing in outstanding I know we have we've attracted some very good players.
Those are the reasons why we will be competing for a national championship at the end of the year, and maybe multiple teams in the Final Four.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.