Sunday, Jun. 16, 2019

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Guard Help Priority for U, Pitino


A Sunday notes column.

A Gopher athletic department source said he didn’t expect to see Richard Pitino at the Final Four in San Antonio this weekend because the Gopher coach is focused on recruiting. College basketball coaches typically attend the games but Deputy AD John Cunningham said Pitino is working on filling two scholarship openings.

Pitino is all but certain to target at least one, and perhaps two backcourt players. Multiple reports have Minnesota pursuing Pitt transfer and point guard Marcus Carr who averaged 10 points and four assists last season as a freshman.

Carr, though, wouldn’t be eligible to play until a year from this fall. The Gophers need help now with their backcourt which loses senior point guard Nate Mason and lacks depth. Ryan James, the basketball recruiting authority for, told Sports Headliners Carr is a talented player and Minnesota could be willing to take him even though he has to sit out a year.

James predicted Pitino’s priority is finding a “ball handler” for next season, while using the second scholarship on the best player the Gophers can land regardless of position. The ball handler, he said, could be a point guard, or combo guard.

Many transfers are available and the market size may work in Minnesota’s favor in finding players who can help next season. James believes it could be the end of April or beyond before the Gophers announce the names of one or two commits. “There is no need to rush,” he said.

This year’s Final Four is in San Antonio but next year comes to Minneapolis for the fourth time and first ever at U.S. Bank Stadium. Economic impact on the local economy for the April 6-8, 2019 event could be between $100 million and $300 million. The 2017 impact on host city Phoenix was over $320 million, according to multiple online reports including

John Anderson

Stadium preparations in advance of the Final Four here will eliminate any amateur baseball games at the facility next winter, including more than 10 nonconference Gophers games, according to coach John Anderson. He said he will be able to find eight away games against warmer weather schools but won’t be able to replace all the games originally scheduled at U.S. Bank Stadium before being told the facility isn’t available for baseball. The Gophers won’t play their targeted 2019 total of 56 nonconference and Big Ten games.

Minnesota is scheduled to play its first home outdoor series this season at Siebert Field April 6-8 against Penn State. Last week snow was being removed from the bullpen and artificial surface in the outfield. In Lincoln, Nebraska last Sunday the Gophers defeated the Cornhuskers in temps below freezing. Anderson compared gripping a baseball in cold weather to the feel of a “cue stick” but freshmen pitchers Patrick Fredrickson and Max Meyer combined to throw a 2-0 shutout.

A Big Ten rule is that games are to be played in temperatures of 29 degrees or higher. There is urgency to battle through the elements because the conference doesn’t allow for makeup games that are lost because of weather. With forecasted temps nearing freezing next weekend, the Gophers will try to play the games. “We don’t have any other options,” Anderson said.

It’s been a painful start to the MLB season for former Twins pitchers Pat Neshek and Anthony Swarzak. Neshek, perhaps the Phillies best relief pitcher, recently went on the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder injury. Swarzak, now with the Mets, suffered an oblique injury yesterday.

The Twins Spring Ballpark Pass costing $49 for 13 games in April doesn’t include the sold out home opener Thursday. The forecasted high that day is for mid-30’s.

The Atlanta Braves are another MLB team offering discounts with some tickets available for $5 this weekend at SunTrust Park.

It might be a near consensus view among fans and insiders that Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle made the best of possible hires, with Bob Motzko as his new head hockey coach. “I think he’ll be a great coach,” said former captain Casey Hankinson. “…I think he’s got a lot of energy. I like the way he coaches.”

Motzko, who turned 57 last month, probably wouldn’t have been pursued by Coyle if he were a few years older. Not likely either that Coyle would have targeted Motzko if he were the head coach at a Big Ten school. Almost never does a Big Ten program go after the head coach at another conference school in the high profile sports of basketball, football and hockey.

Motzko built St. Cloud State into a hockey power and in 13 seasons had the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament eight times. As a student of hockey he acknowledges using the ideas of others. “That’s what a good coach is, he’s a thief,” Motzko said.

At the St. Thomas Pro Day the NFL Vikings and Bears showed interest in Tommies juniors Jacques Perra and Blake Weber, and senior Matt Christenson. Quarterback Perra and linebacker Weber (both former Gophers) will play one more season for the Tommies, while Christenson has used up his eligibility.

Tommies coach Glenn Caruso is bringing back past teams to celebrate his 10 years with the program (110-17 record, six MIAC titles, eight NCAA playoffs). Following the spring scrimmage at Palmer Field May 12, there will be a celebration at the Anderson Student Center.

Caruso texted that last semester 51 of his players made the Dean’s List for their outstanding academic work.

The Minnesota High School Football Coaches Association’s Clinic starts Thursday at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park, and pre-registration savings end April 2. Prior to April 3 the costs per individual and staffs are $95 and $500 respectively; afterwards $105 and $550. Featured speakers during the three-day clinic will include Matt Birk, P.J. Fleck, Glen Mason, Bob Nielson, and Mike Prieffer. More at

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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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