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U Not Alone in Big Ten Rosters Shuffle

April 14, 2021 - (0) comments


University of Minnesota basketball fans are alarmed to see eight players with remaining eligibility announce this winter and spring they won’t return for next season. While Minnesota’s total is worthy of headlines, other Big Ten schools have rosters in limbo, too.

Watching underclassmen opt for the NBA has for a long time changed the status of offseason rosters. More recently the NCAA has made it easier to transfer from one school to another, with this year even college seniors granted another season of eligibility. The transfer portal for men’s basketball has over 1,200 players interested in leaving their programs.

Alex Bozich, from, summarized the status of Big Ten rosters in a story Monday. He presented a long list of players who either could be or are in transition at the 14 Big Ten programs, including defending champion Michigan where stars Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner are undecided about the NBA. At Wisconsin Nate Reuvers, from Lakeville North, is in the transfer portal, while Brad Davison, from Maple Grove, is undecided about a return to Madison.

Bozich reports the Gophers, along with Penn State having seven players leaving that program, lead the conference in roster departures. Both Minnesota and Penn State have new coaches in Ben Johnson and Micah Shrewsberry. And that offers insight about the upheaval at their schools.

At Minnesota Johnson isn’t retaining the assistant coaches of his predecessor, Richard Pitino. Assistant coaches are counselors and mentors to players, establishing strong bonds with them. Gophers from last season’s roster are moving on for various reasons including the likelihood of more playing time elsewhere, but not knowing the new coaches has to factor in, too.

Johnson should hire the assistants he wants just weeks into his first experience as a head coach. However, his roster development is being scrutinized as it should, and he only has two noteworthy players apparently returning from last season’s roster, guard Both Gach and forward Brandon Johnson. At Monday’s news conference he said the two have been “awesome from day one,” but he didn’t say with certainty they will be on the team in the fall.

Pitino’s recruiting for the freshman class of 2021 was set earlier this year with signings by centers Treyton Thompson (Alexandria, Minnesota) and Kenny Pohto (Sweden), but Johnson said Pohto’s status is now uncertain. Thompson is part of a developing roster that includes four transfers Johnson reportedly has commitments from.

Those four are Jamison Battle (George Washington); Luke Loewe (William & Mary); E.J. Stephens (Lafayette); and Sean Sutherlin (New Hampshire). Neither the players nor their former schools rouses the Gopher fan base, but their arrival may well indicate the program’s future.

Johnson’s vision for his program is to emphasize player development. His hiring of assistant coaches Jason Kemp and Dave Thorson is consistent with that goal. Both earned reputations at other schools as talented basketball instructors and mentors.

Kemp, most recently at William & Mary, has almost 15 years of assistant coaching experience. He is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and his coaching stops include Midwest assignments at North Dakota State and Minnesota State. He coached Wisconsin native and Gopher transfer Loewe at William & Mary. “There will be a lot of other new faces (coming to the roster),” Kemp said.

Thorson could have the most coaching influence on how the Gophers play defense. That’s been a Thorson specialty at his college assistant coaching assignments and before then as head coach at DeLaSalle where his teams won a record nine state titles. He left Colorado State to rejoin Johnson who played for him at DeLaSalle. Thorson has been following Johnson since he was a seventh grader and praises his former player’s character. “I have so much respect for him as a human being,” Thorson said.

While these are unsettling times for Gophers basketball and even the community, Thorson said Johnson’s “greatest strength” is his ability to address adversity. “He’s the right leader for Minnesota at this time,” Thorson said.

Worth Noting

Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor is in a 30-day window to finish up negotiations with Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez to sell his franchises. Taylor told Sports Headliners things look pretty much settled. “We haven’t really left very much to do that we would argue about,” he said.

Glen Taylor

With the deal expected to go through, Lore and Rodriguez will come in as limited partners for two years before having complete control. During the two years Lore and Rodriguez will have the same access to information as Taylor, and input on decisions. As a member of the NBA Board of Governors, Taylor will continue to make decisions on behalf of the Timberwolves.

Taylor has already vetted ecommerce mogul Lore and baseball great turned businessman Rodriguez. Before any ownership agreement is finalized the NBA will also provide a thorough vetting.

Taylor talking about fired coach Ryan Saunders and possibly a future role with the Timberwolves organization: “I think it’s a lot more likely that we will help him get a job with another team.”

On Monday the Minnesota Twins were No. 4 in’s first power rankings of the regular season, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and New York Yankees.

Winning both games of a double header is chancy, but it will be interesting to see how the Twins do today and tonight with their two best starters facing the Boston Red Sox. Kenta Maeda, 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA, starts the first game, with Jose Berrios, 2-0 and 1.54, pitching the second.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer talking about Xavier Woods, a newly acquired free agent safety and former Dallas Cowboy: “I like bringing guys when other people say they’re probably not good enough somewhere else.”

The Minnesota Football Showcase (the state’s annual prep all-star game) will be played Saturday, June 26 at US Bank Stadium. North and South rosters include 16 all-state players. Ten players are headed for Division I-AA (FCS) programs but none to Division I (FBS). The last 10 years (including 2021) the schools with the most player participation are Totino-Grace with 20, Lakeville North and Mankato West at 16 each, and Eden Prairie, 13.

No word from the football Gophers on open practices for the public, or the annual spring game.

ESPN’s college football power index out this week has Alabama No. 1 in the country, with Minnesota Big Ten West rivals Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska all higher ranked than the Gophers at No. 49. ESPN gives Minnesota a 3.1 percent chance to win the Big Ten West.

New University of St. Thomas hockey coach Rico Blasi comes from Miami (Ohio) where he was hired by Joel Maturi, the athletic director at Miami before he took over as AD at Minnesota. Tommies AD Phil Esten worked for Maturi at Minnesota and they are long time friends.


Time to Fret About Wolves Moving?

April 12, 2021 - (0) comments


Where will the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise be located in three to five years?

Still in Minneapolis? Probably, but Seattle could beckon. The Emerald city is a solid possibility to land either an NBA expansion franchise or existing team by 2026.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor is negotiating a sale to billionaire entrepreneur Marc Lore and baseball legend turned businessman Alex Rodriguez. Taylor insists provisions of the sale will bond the team to Minneapolis. “We have language in there (the contract) that says they can’t move the team,” Taylor told Sports Headliners this afternoon.

Taylor said Lore and Rodriguez have indicated to him their desire to keep the team in Minneapolis. But it’s human nature to wonder about new owners, and history has witnessed plenty of American sports franchises that changed addresses after previous ownership completed sales.

Is language saying the franchise can’t be moved ironclad? In the world of litigation, is there such a thing? If new owners eventually make a case that Timberwolves fan support and corporate backing is so poor their business is unsustainable in this market, a judge might rule the franchise can be relocated–despite language to the contrary.

What’s interesting is how “the dots” connect the franchise to a possible relocation to Seattle. That city lost its NBA SuperSonics franchise more than 10 years ago to Oklahoma City. Fervor is in place to bring the NBA back to the area where a franchise would play in a building called Climate Pledge Arena.

The naming rights to the arena were purchased by Amazon and the facility is the old KeyArena where the SuperSonics played. The arena is receiving about a $1 billion renovation and scheduled to open this fall as the home of the NHL expansion Seattle Kraken. The “facelift” is privately financed and led by former Timberwolves executive Tim Leiweke.

Leiweke is a master promoter who helped the Timberwolves become a box office hit in the first years of the franchise in the early 1990s. His Oak View Group (OVG) is designing Climate Pledge Arena to exactly fit NBA needs in every way including revenue generation.

“Everything we’ve done — from naming rights, to sponsors, to suites, to opera boxes, to club seats — we have built in to protect the economics of the NBA team,” Leiweke told the Seattle Times in a December 22 article last year. “And that’s critical — to maximize the revenue streams. So, we’ve done that as well.”

Leiweke has extensive NBA connections because of career experiences that include leadership positions with the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors. He has the ear of NBA commissioner Adam Silver who rules over the 30-team league and has hinted at future expansion. Prime expansion targets are led by Seattle and probably Las Vegas.

Kraken principal owner David Bonderman also owns part of the NBA Boston Celtics. Investors in the Kraken and OVG include family that owned the Supersonics, furthering the Seattle NBA connection. The arena’s manager is Steve Mattson whose previous job was managing Target Center, the Timberwolves home. He is more than familiar with the lease terms between Target Center and the Wolves.

Neither Lore nor Rodriguez has ties to Minneapolis but A-Rod has a Seattle connection. Rodriguez began his MLB career in the Pacific Northwest and has expressed his affection for Seattle. He was bitterly criticized for leaving the Mariners to sign a free agent deal years ago with the Texas Rangers but could become a Seattle hero by bringing the Timberwolves to town.

The city owned Target Center has a lease with the Timberwolves that runs through 2035. If the team moves its games from the downtown arena before then, the Wolves owners must pay a $50 million penalty. That’s not a big deterrent for Lore and Rodriguez who reportedly will pay $1.5 billion to Taylor for both the Timberwolves and his WNBA Minnesota Lynx.

While it’s plausible to contemplate a Wolves relocation to the Northwest, it’s all but impossible to forecast the Lynx landing in Seattle. That city has the WNBA Storm, the 2020 league champions owned by a group of Seattle area women who have shown a long commitment to the franchise. Long term the Lynx might remain in Minnesota, playing at Target Center or another area venue.

Glen Taylor

Taylor, a lifelong Minnesotan who turns 80 later this month, is sincere in wanting to see the NBA continue in Minneapolis. He ranks near the top of any billionaire list for humility and caring about others. He sees the franchise as a state asset and years ago rescued the Wolves when it looked like the team was relocating to New Orleans.

Competitively, the Wolves have struggled on the court for much of this century, seldom achieving winning seasons and earning their way into the playoffs. Their failure to win has held back fan support and financial success but it’s not true this is a bad basketball market. In the past both the Timberwolves and Gophers have been basketball leaders in attendance and fan followings.

It would be sad to see the city lose its NBA franchise for a second time. In 1960 the Minneapolis Lakers, five-time world champions, left for Los Angeles. In the 1980s Governor Rudy Perpich’s NBA Task Force and Minneapolis businessmen Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner helped stir interest in a NBA return to Minnesota. The expansion Timberwolves played their first season in 1989-1990.

Maybe Lore and Rodriguez will keep the team here for another 30 years. But when owners aren’t local, questions about intentions arise. “Dots” can lead elsewhere. And this time all the way to Seattle.


U Leaves Spot for Power Forward

April 07, 2021 - (0) comments


New University of Minnesota basketball coach Ben Johnson has commitments from three transfers so far but interestingly none play the power forward position occupied last season by Brandon Johnson. It’s possible that spot could be filled next season by a state native, with Minnesotans Chet Holmgren, Race Thompson, Nate Reuvers and Dawson Garcia attracting speculation.

College basketball is a fluid landscape like never before with players and coaches frequently changing addresses. It’s evident Holmgren and his father David Holmgren didn’t want to make a commitment last fall during the signing period for high school players. They decided to see who is coming and going this spring, but soon the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2021 will have to choose either a college or an opportunity in the NBA’s development league following Chet’s superlative career at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis. (It’s interesting that ongoing internet articles have Chet choosing Gonzaga but offer no definitive sources.)

Ben Johnson is trying to make Chet a Gopher, a task perhaps made easier with his dad being a U alum. Chet is a gifted two-way player who Johnson could offer to build his offense and defense around. At 7-feet, but only about 200 pounds, Holmgren needs physical support from a big center. If center Liam Robbins remains with the Gophers he could be a bargaining chip for Johnson in the recruitment of Holmgren, but Robbins  entered the transfer portal as of yesterday.

Coach Johnson could help his team by convincing Robbins to stay, although the Iowa native’s future might be tied to his uncle Ed Conroy, an assistant last season under Richard Pitino but probably moving on to another job. Robbins, a 7-foot, 235-pound transfer last year from Drake, is one of the Big Ten’s better centers after three seasons of college experience. Robbins could lessen the stress and pounding on Holmgren from opponents by using his size and strength, while helping with rebounding, shot blocking and scoring. A versatile scorer, Robbins can move outside the lane on occasion and allow others to post up.

Race Thompson

Robbins can be a selling point for any power forward of prominence who might be considering the Gophers. Thompson, who played at Armstrong before becoming an Indiana Hoosier, was one of the Big Ten’s most improved players last winter as a redshirt junior but is now in the transfer portal. He was eighth in the conference in blocked shots at 1.3 per game, and averaged 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds. It’s believed he is interested in the Gophers.

While Thompson improved, Reuvers regressed during his senior season at Wisconsin (the NCAA is granting an extra year of eligibility to college seniors in 2021-2022 because of the pandemic). The Lakeville North alum led Wisconsin in scoring as a junior and made third team All-Big Ten on the Badgers’ conference title team. His 6-foot-11 size and shot blocking, combined with Robbins, would give the Gophers a dynamo pair on defense. A business major, Reuvers could position his name with Fortune 500 companies in Minneapolis-St. Paul if he is invited to come home.

Garcia, a five-star recruit at Prior Lake, almost chose the Gophers before committing to Marquette in the fall of 2019. While Garcia hasn’t entered the transfer portal, there are rumors he might leave Milwaukee. The 6-foot-11 former McDonald’s All-American made the Big East All-Freshman team last season. He started all 26 games for Marquette, averaging 6.7 rebounds and 13.2 points.

Brandon Johnson, a senior transfer from Western Michigan last season, was Minnesota’s starting power in 2020-2021 and it’s not clear whether he will return. He averaged 8.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. As a reserve next season, his experience and leadership would be a major asset.

Worth Noting

Anticipate an announcement soon that Rochester, Minnesota native and Duke forward Matthew Hurt will be declaring for the NBA Draft and not returning for his junior season with the Blue Devils.

Sources expect former DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson, now an assistant at Colorado State, to be named one of Johnson’s assistant coaches.

The NCAA champion Baylor roster includes power forward Dain Dainja from Park Center who didn’t play in 2021 while redshirting as a freshman.

Gonzaga freshman point guard Jalen Suggs, from Minnehaha Academy, will be the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, going to the Detroit Pistons, per the mock draft from NBC Sports California. The Minnesota Timberwolves, with the No. 1 selection, will take Oklahoma State freshman guard-forward Cade Cunningham. Word of advice to the Wolves: if available, draft Suggs.

Monday’s column regarding suggestions to make MLB games move faster drew a lot of comment from readers including this from a former baseball executive: “I was in the game for a long time but simply can’t tune in for more than a few innings now because of all the pitching changes and stops in action. Even a well-known former player told me that the game had become too slow for him.”

Hopkins girls basketball legend Paige Bueckers won 2021 national Player of the Year Awards from various sources after her freshman season at Connecticut. Old-timers may compare her with “Pistol” Pete Maravich but that’s at least a little off base. Maravich, while a playmaker for the ages, was a gunner who often thought shoot first, pass second. Not sure I have ever seen the unselfish Bueckers take a bad shot.

Next Sunday, April 11, will be the 60th anniversary of the first game ever played by the Minnesota Twins. On that date the Twins, who had moved from Washington D.C. where the club was known as the Washington Senators, defeated the New York Yankees, 6-0, in Yankee Stadium.

The Twins placed outfielder Brent Rooker on the 10-day Injured List today with a cervical strain. Rooker, who was recalled from the alternate training site last Saturday, played in three games, hitting .091 with one RBI. To replace Rooker the Twins have selected the contract of left-handed pitcher Brandon Waddell from the Taxi Squad. He pitched in nine games for the Twins in spring training, going 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA.

Brusdar Graterol, the former Twins pitcher who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Kenta Maeda trade, is starting the season on the 10-day Injured List.

Twins 35-year-old third baseman Josh Donaldson, also on the 10-day Injured List, said before the season he expects to have ongoing “conversation” with manager Rocco Baldelli regarding playing time in 2021. Donaldson has a history of injuries including missing most of last season with the Twins.

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on the NFL adding a 17th regular season game that will have his team going west to play the Los Angeles Chargers: “It’s just something else they tell us to do and we do it like good soldiers.”

P.J. Fleck said the Gophers have developed a program to address racism and he wants to be “the most empathetic head coach in America.” Fleck has used speakers such as Tony Dungy and Dr. Harry Edwards to talk about race with his team. Edwards, the famous sociologist and race expert, once took Fleck and his San Francisco 49ers teammates to a California prison.

Minnesota Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov leads NHL first-season players in goals and points. He’s a major contributor to a Minnesota offense that is probably the best since the days of superstar Marian Gaborik.


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