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Gophers’ Coffey to Test NBA Interest

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March 12, 2019

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Enjoy a mostly basketball notes column, and also offering a Minnesota United update and tribute to the late Bob Klas Sr.

Junior guard-forward Amir Coffey is having his best season for the Golden Gophers, leading the team in points per game at 16 (seventh best in the Big Ten). The versatile 6-foot-8 former Hopkins star has closed the season impressively scoring 31, 32 and 23 points in the last three regular season conference games.

Coffey, who ranks fifth in league games only with a scoring average of 17.6, was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week yesterday with Indiana’s Juwan Morgan. It was the second consecutive week he has won the honor. He had a career high-tying 32 points and eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in Minnesota’s upset win over No. 11 Purdue a week ago. He followed that up with 23 points, six assists, three rebounds and a steal at Maryland on Friday.

Coffey’s scoring and playmaking will be vital in determining whether Minnesota wins its opening Big Ten Tournament game Thursday against Penn State. With either an NCAA Tournament or NIT postseason invitation coming soon for the Gophers, Coffey will play at least a couple more games in a Minnesota uniform, but his career could be closing fast.

Amir’s father, Richard Coffey, told Sports Headliners yesterday that in the weeks ahead the two of them want to determine NBA interest. “He’s a junior, so why not? He’ll look at the process (feedback),” Richard said. “But right now we’re not even talking about those things. We’re just trying to get through the season. There will be plenty of time to have those discussions after the season is over.”

A college underclassman can receive information from the NBA about potential draft status without sacrificing remaining eligibility. Coffey knows he has room for improvement but he is regarded as one of the Big Ten’s best players. His length and versatile skill set allows him to play multiple positions and score inside and out. That projects well in the modern NBA game.

Next season the Gophers could be without four guards who are presently on the roster. Dupree McBrayer and Brock Stull are seniors, while Coffey could leave school early and sophomore Isaiah Washington has prompted speculation he will transfer after not being used in a game since February 24.

Record setting rebounder Jordan Murphy is also counting down his days as a Gopher. The senior will be remembered not only for finishing second all-time in career rebounds in the Big Ten, but also for his character. Gophers radio analyst Spencer Tollackson travels with the team and has a perspective on Murphy many others in the media do not.

“He’s a great kid, man, one of the best,” Tollackson told Sports Headliners. “He’s up there with Andre Hollins for me, as two of my favorite Gophers in the 10 years that I’ve been broadcasting.”

On the court Murphy couldn’t have achieved his Gophers records of most rebounds and double-doubles without a superb work ethic. “He never loafs,” Tollackson said. “Even on nights where he has been off, or not had great numbers, it’s not for lack of effort.”

The Wisconsin Badgers finished their Big Ten regular season Sunday with a win at Ohio State, and the victory secured fourth place in the conference standings. With an overall record of 22-9 and league mark of 14-6, the Badgers are a cinch to be invited to the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin’s results of the last 20 years are in stark contrast to those of the Gophers. Dating back to the winter of 2000, only once have the Badgers not qualified for the “Big Dance,” and twice they have made it to the Final Four, per annual records on Wikipedia. During that period Wisconsin has won four conference titles and only twice finished lower than fourth place in the standings. Except for the 2017-18 season, Wisconsin has had winning overall and league records all those years.

Richard Pitino

Minnesota finished in seventh place this winter in the Big Ten with a 9-11 record, the 14th time the Gophers have been under .500 in the last 20 years. Coach Richard Pitino’s conference record in six years of regular season games is 40 wins, 70 losses.

Minnesota has won more than half of its Big Ten games only three times in the last 20 years, and the Gophers’ best finish in the conference standings has been fourth two times. The most recent over .500 success was two years ago with an 11-7 record. If the Gophers play in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, it will be their sixth appearance dating back to 2000.

Hopkins girls basketball coach Brian Cosgriff on junior point guard Paige Bueckers’ as yet unannounced potential college choice: “I think she has something in mind.”

Bueckers is among the elite young talents in the girls basketball world and is a finalist for the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Her 29-0 Hopkins team plays its opening game in the state tournament tomorrow against Lakeville North at Williams Arena.

The 15 inductees into the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame for 2019 are: Rocori coach Bob Brink; Bob Bruggers of Danube; New London-Spicer coach Mike Dreier; Norm Grow of Foley; Hal Haskins of Alexandria; Ronnie Henderson of Minneapolis Marshall University; Tracy Henderson of Minneapolis Patrick Henry; Kris Humphries of Hopkins; Aileen Just (Luther) of Rapidan; Coco Miller of Rochester Mayo; Kelly Miller of Rochester Mayo; Hopkins coach Kenny Novak Jr.; Minneapolis Marshall University coach Ed Prohofsky; Kelly Skalicky of Albany; and Bob Zender of Edina.

The inductees will be introduced to the crowd at halftime of the March 26 Timberwolves-Clippers game at Target Center. An inaugural class of 14 was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. More at Mnhsbaskteballhall.com

You can bet the Minnesota United organization is excited about the team’s 2-0 regular season start in the MLS. After two weeks the club has made history with franchise firsts in winning an MLS opener, consecutive road wins and shutting out an opponent on the road. Now in year three of MLS play, the Loons are over .500 for the first time.

The clubs has a league leader in Darwin Quintero who is tied for the most goals with two and is second in assists with three. He has been named to the MLS Team of the Week in the first two weeks of the season.

Condolences to family and friends of Bob Klas Sr. who passed away at age 91 in suburban St. Paul last week. Bob was a friend and inspiration to many including at the Tapemark Company in West St. Paul, an organization he helped build into a major entrepreneurial success.

Pat Cody (left) & Bob Klas Sr.

For nearly 50 years Bob’s name was attached to the Tapemark Charity Pro-Am in the Twin Cities. The inspiration for the tournament was his daughter Frances Klas, who was born mentally retarded in 1951. Bob and wife Sandy Klas learned about organizations available to assist children like Frances, and they wanted to help raise awareness and funds for them.

To accomplish those goals, Bob started the tournament with Tapemark company partner Tom Cody and over the years the Pro-Am has raised millions of dollars to assist agencies serving Minnesotans with developmental disabilities. Bob’s legacy of business success and unselfish charity work will long be remembered.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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