Found July 19, 2013 on Fox Sports North:
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's a few minutes into a mid-July basketball scrimmage on the University of Minnesota campus, and one Gophers voice rises above the rest. It's not junior point guard Andre Hollins, Minnesota's leading scorer from a year ago. Nor is it senior Austin Hollins; he's more of the lead-by-example type. Instead, the boisterous guard is a newcomer, one who has yet to play a game in a Minnesota uniform. Malik Smith has already proven to be a vocal leader for the Gophers despite still getting a feel for his new teammates. The biggest reason? He knows the new coach better than the other players. Smith played for new Minnesota coach Richard Pitino during Pitino's one and only season at Florida International. When Pitino made the leap to the Big Ten, Smith followed not long after. Now that they're reunited, Smith is helping bridge the gap between Pitino and his new team. "I think it helps them as players more than it helps me as a coach, because now they're going to feel more comfortable," Pitino said this week. "The first couple practices, they don't want to talk. They don't know how I'm going to react to certain things. So I constantly tell them, 'Ask Malik. Malik can give you a feel for what type of coach I am, how to deal with me, what to do, what not to do.'" Minnesota is the fourth stop for the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Smith during his winding college basketball career. The Boston native began as a freshman at South Plains College, a small junior college in Levelland, Texas. From there he spent a year at Jacksonville College, where he averaged 15 points per game as a sophomore. That led to yet another program, as Smith was a member of Pitino's inaugural squad at FIU. He played in 32 games and averaged 14.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in the Sun Belt Conference. But when Pitino left, Smith didn't want to stay. He left to join Pitino in Minneapolis, and on Wednesday the NCAA granted Smith a waiver that makes him eligible to play during the 2013-14 season without having to sit out a year. "As soon as I put in my release, I was contacted by a couple schools," Smith said. "But once I learned that coach Pitino wanted me, I just dropped everything else and said, 'That's what I'm doing.'" Smith gives the Gophers a 3-point shooter, something they desperately need. He led the Sun Belt Conference and was tied for 16th in the nation in 3-pointers made (3.0 per game). Of course, he put up a lot of shots to make that many and was a 36.2 percent shooter, 60th in all of Division I for players averaging more than 2.5 made 3-pointers per game. Minnesota ranked in the middle of the Big Ten in 3-point shooting last year, so it certainly welcomes Smith's ability to shoot from long range. "Malik's a great player, great shooter," said Andre Hollins. "He knows coach Pitino's system. He's helping us out. When we have questions, he helps us out. He's an unbelievably hard worker." The Gophers seem to be picking up Pitino's fast-paced offense quickly, Smith said. They're ahead of schedule from where FIU was last year; it took the Golden Panthers until September to gain the comfort level Minnesota already has with Pitino's system. Part of that is thanks to Smith, who is a field general on the court, barking out signals and instructions to his new teammates. He's run these plays dozens of times and knows where everyone should be -- and he's not afraid to tell them. "I've always been a leader at every level," Smith said. "But that definitely comes along with knowing the system and telling guys what they should be doing, where they should be on the court in certain situations." Pitino has raved about Smith this offseason. On the coach's new blog, he said that Smith was "playing arguably the best basketball on the team right now." Of course, a big reason for that was Smith's comfort level with Pitino and vice versa. "He's the only one who knows how to play for me. He had a year with me -- a year and a half, really -- when we kind of did the same thing," Pitino said. "He knows the plays. He's comfortable. He'll take a shot that he knows that I may be a little frustrated with, but he can get away with it a little bit. "He's just comfortable. It'll come for everybody else." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter

Gophers' Malik Smith eligible to play immediately

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Gophers men's basketball team received good news Wednesday as senior Malik Smith's transfer waiver was approved by the NCAA. That means the former Florida International guard will be eligible to play for Minnesota in the 2013-14 season. Smith spent his junior year at FIU under coach Richard Pitino, who was hired earlier this year to coach Minnesota after...

Malik Smith eligible for Minnesota

Shooting guard Malik Smith will be able to play for Minnesota this season after coming from Florida International with coach Richard Pitino. The university announced Wednesday that the NCAA approved a transfer waiver for the 6-foot-2 Smith, who will be a senior. He averaged 14.7 points and 2.7 rebounds last season for FIU while setting a school record with 96 made 3-pointers. He...

Gophers' Mo Walker loses nearly 50 pounds readying for season

MINNEAPOLIS -- Andre Hollins couldn't believe his eyes. Before the Gophers point guard left to study in Italy for a month, he noticed teammate Mo Walker was losing a few pounds. The transformation was most noticeable in Walker's face, Hollins said. When Hollins returned to Minnesota after his time abroad, Walker was a whole new person, having lost nearly 50 pounds. "...

Pitino influence already clear with smaller Walker

(Eds: Updates with quotes, background, details. With AP Photos.) By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Sports Writer Andre Hollins saw Mo Walker this spring before leaving for Italy on a study abroad program, and Minnesota's standout point guard noticed a change in his big teammate's physique. Walker had lost about 15 pounds. One month later, upon Hollins' return to campus in mid-June...
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