LOCATION: Minneapolis, MN
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
LAST SEASON: 17-11 (.607)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 8-8 (6th)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 2/3
NICKNAME: Golden Gophers
COLORS: Maroon & Gold
HOMECOURT: Williams Arena (14,625)
COACH: Dan Monson (Idaho '85)
record at school First year
career record 52-17 (2 years)
ASSISTANTS: Mike Petersen (NW Christian '83)|
Derek Thomas (Missouri-St. Louis '88)
Bill Walker (Missouri-Rolla '87)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 20-20-31-20-17
RPI (last 5 years) 74-49-3-48-32
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in NCAA first round.
It's hard to imagine how far and how fast a once-proud basketball program has fallen. In March of 1997, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were 14-karat all the way, or were where it mattered, on the scoreboard and in the public's perception. Today, just mention the word "student-athlete" in Williams Arena and you might want to wash your hands. The best idea would've been to keep some soap handy after three decades of indiscretions. That saga has been so troubling to some that Larry Donald, the publisher of Basketball Times and a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame, called for Minnesota to voluntarily shut down its program. Nothing else has solved the problems, we know that much. When Bill Musselman was broomed in the wake of NCAA problems in the mid-1970s, Jim Dutcher arrived with a determination that nothing so heinous would ever happen again. And nothing did for another decade, nothing that the public caught wind of, anyway. Finally, there were more allegations, this time of a sexual assault, and Dutcher was finished. In came Clem "The Gem" Haskins, who talked the talk of a demanding, disciplined leader with more integrity than Big Ten titles. Suddenly, more than a decade later, it was the Gophers' golden year. Every coach, player and program should have one season as special as Minnesota did, 16-2 in the league for an undisputed title, 31-4 overall for the winningest record in school history and two victories away from a national championship when it met Kentucky in the Final Four. The Gophers nearly won that game against the defending NCAA kings and gave a great account of themselves, an effort every Minnesotan could be proud of. At the planned pep rallies or the impromptu celebrations, no group had more fun than the Gophers. Maybe they realized it might be their final trip for a while.
Less than 24 months later, we were introduced the hard way to former Minnesota tutor, academic office manager and term-paper specialist Jan Gangelhoff, who said she had prepared more than 400 pieces of course work for more than 20 of Haskins' players. That story of widespread abuse and the documentation she offered put the St. Paul Pioneer Press in an awkward position in regard to timing. But there was only one thing for a reputable paper to do, despite the hostile reaction from Gov. Jesse Ventura, among others. The news broke as Minnesota was ready to leave for the NCAA Tournament's West Region and a first-round game against dangerous Gonzaga. If Gangelhoff had never become bitter and gone public, would the Gophers have found a way to win that game? There's always that possibility. And would Haskins still be revered today? Absolutely. Instead, Minnesota was ousted and, three months later, so was Haskins with a bizarre $1.5 million buyout the ultimate "Golden Gopher Parachute." The school got what it had to have for its case to the NCAA and its slime-stained reputation. That was a quick, clean disassociation with Haskins, whatever the cost. But Minnesota might have had one lucky break left. It tried mightily to hire Utah coach Rick Majerus, then nearly wound up with Virginia athletic director and former coach Terry Holland. When both said no and others balked, the Gophers stumbled into a great choice and a much less expensive one to lead their retooling effort, Gonzaga coach Dan Monson. At age 37, he has the energy and the smarts to see the job through and the wisdom to know it won't be easy. It was a huge financial upgrade for Monson, who was released from a 10-year deal he had just signed. If he can see the Gophers back to respectability, he will have been worth every penny of his package. It won't be an easy road because the school has already imposed a one-year ban from the postseason. There is concern that the NCAA will come down with a harsher penalty once it concludes its investigation.And what type of a team has he inherited? One with no seniors on a 15-man roster just five freshmen, five sophomores and five juniors. That class distribution problem should resolve itself through normal attrition. But only two players on the team have won more than one varsity letter. It's hard to find a letter that wouldn't look tiny on the chest of 7-1 sophomore center Joel Przybilla (6.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), the main man this year with the expired eligibility of standout guard Quincy Lewis and running mate Kevin Clark. Przybilla's 84 blocked shots were the second highest in the league and were more than the output of the entire Iowa and Wisconsin teams. Also returning up front are 6-11 junior forward-center Kyle Sanden (2.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg) and 6-7 sophomore power forward Dusty Rychart (3.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg), a walk-on who had some wonderful moments, like the game he almost won against Michigan State when no one knew his identity. Mitch Ohnstad (6.1 ppg, 1.4 ppg, 75 assists) and Kevin Nathaniel (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 63 assists) add some experience at guard, if not the explosiveness and pro potential Minnesota fans have become accustomed to seeing. Ohnstad, a 6-3 junior, has been playing college basketball since 1996, when he averaged 10.9 points at Cal Poly. Nathaniel, a 6-5 junior and two-time letter-winner, started 22 times last season. Terrance Simmons (2.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg), a 6-3 junior guard, is another possibility. So is heralded freshman Mike Bauer, a 6-8 forward and a star in summer camps, who averaged 21.4 points and 9.6 rebounds at Hastings (Minn.) High last season. John Blair Bickerstaff, Bernie's son, is a 6-6 junior forward who played two seasons at Oregon State. And Shane Schilling is a 6-6 freshman swingman (Minnetonka (Minn.) High) who can shoot. But are they ready to make the Gophers a better team than they were last year? Not likely.
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT C BENCH/DEPTH C+|
FRONTCOURT B- INTANGIBLES C-
Joel Przybilla can win a couple of games with his shot-blocking skills and interior intimidation. But it'll take more than the league's biggest defensive force to change the Gophers' fate about an eighth-place finish. It will take hard work, persistence and patience to get there. Coach Dan Monson, a newlywed over the summer, is the man for that job. Things don't disintegrate in a day, as it seemed the Minnesota program did. It's usually a matter of careless neglect instead of some deep conspiracy. In this case, we've yet to hear all the testimony. Whether the NCAA hits the Gophers where it hurts isn't the most important aspect. Rebuilding credibility is.
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