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Glen Taylor Should Rethink Wolves Sale

May 12, 2021 - (0) comments


I called Glen Taylor Monday but haven’t heard back from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx owner. If I talk to him soon I will tell him not to sell his teams. Full disclosure here: I consider him a friend.

In early April came news Taylor was negotiating a sale to billionaire entrepreneur Marc Lore and baseball legend turned businessman Alex Rodriguez. Part of the story was a 30-day negotiating period would ensue to finalize details. The exact start date of the period isn’t known but it probably ends soon, if it hasn’t already expired. The best guess is the deal is still alive with NBA authorities meticulously looking at the potential new owners.

I hope the deal falls through because my opinion is that will benefit both the public and Taylor. It’s best that the NBA Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx have local ownership. Plus, Taylor might be positioned to have the pleasure of watching an exciting young Wolves team on the rise.  He has experienced great success with the Lynx and that team continues to be an important part of the Minnesota sports menu.

The Mankato-based Taylor saved the Wolves franchise for Minnesota more than 25 years ago after the original owners more than flirted with relocation. Taylor is a lifelong Minnesotan who knows the importance of his franchises to the state’s culture and well being. Sorry, Lore and Rodriguez are outsiders whose long-term loyalties aren’t known.

Taylor has assured that Lore and Rodriguez won’t move the Wolves to another city. Is language saying the franchise can’t be relocated ironclad? In the world of litigation, is there such thing? If new owners eventually make a case that financially the franchise is unsustainable in this market, a judge might rule the team can be relocated—despite language to the contrary.

Taylor celebrated his 80th birthday last month. It’s understandable he would want to sell his teams. Without success his representatives have pursued local buyers for the teams, but with more time that could change. Future Minnesota ownership minimizes the likelihood of whispers or nightmares about the Wolves and Lynx relocating.

The improved on-court performance of late by the Wolves creates the possibility of a more attractive sales price in the near future. Lore and Rodriguez are rumored to be willing to pay $1.5 billion for the franchises. The Wolves were all but unwatchable earlier this season, losing most of their games and experiencing seven and nine-game losing streaks. With player disinterest in defense and a “me-first” approach on offense, the Wolves were an embarrassment.

From December 27 through March 3 Minnesota won a total of five games.

But the Wolves, with a 22-47 record this season, are 8-5 in their last 13 games and worth watching. There is developing talent on the roster, even star power in center Karl-Anthony Towns and rookie guard Anthony Edwards. This team has the look of a group coming together and teases followers that a failed franchise on the court for much of its existence could become a consistent playoff team within a year or two.

If that happens, ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorship and other revenue streams jump. This is a basketball market that neither the Timberwolves nor University of Minnesota have come close to pushing toward its potential in fan following and money making. Better days on the court for the Wolves will mean more cash flow for the owner and higher appreciation of the franchise value.

Glen Taylor

Taylor has witnessed so much miserable basketball with the Timberwolves, he deserves a run of at least a few seasons in the playoffs. He might have in place the best general manager and coach that have ever worked for him. The conclusive results aren’t in yet on Gersson Rosas and Chris Finch but there’s reason for optimism.

Rosas was hired two years ago and since then has acquired much more personnel that rates a thumbs up, not a scowl. Edwards, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt are young talents who are here because of Rosas. Veteran Ricky Rubio is another Rosas acquisition that has benefitted Minnesota.

Rosas fired coach Ryan Saunders earlier in the season and hired Finch who had worked as an assistant for Nick Nurse, Toronto’s talented head coach. Taking over during the season, without an offseason and training camp, is less than ideal but Finch has impressed. He has stepped into a losing culture, working for the first time with a core of young players and at least a couple of challenging egos, and shown them the X’s and O’s, built confidence and developed a willingness (at least sometimes) to play for each other.

At 51 and as a basketball lifer, Finch just might be the right combination of experience, smarts and disposition to get the most out of his roster for years to come. Certainly he is motivated to prove himself after many career stops and now having his first NBA head coaching job.

For me the NBA in Minneapolis is personal. I was on the Governor’s NBA Task Force in the 1980s that created interest in bringing a team to town. At that time I was also a promoter of successful NBA exhibition games at Met Center including with the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Those games encouraged Minneapolis businessmen Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner to buy an NBA expansion team, paying $32.5 million to create the Timberwolves.

The NBA deserted the city after the 1959-1960 season when the Minneapolis Lakers relocated to Los Angeles. The Lakers won five world championships here. In three decades the Wolves have never played for an NBA championship and have missed the playoffs way more times than they qualified.

Maybe starting next year Minnesota can start a five-year run of postseason trips. NBA playoff basketball is appointment viewing—compelling entertainment on the court, with emotions pouring out from every corner of the arena. Glen, you deserve to see that as the Timberwolves owner. Put the sale off for awhile.


Clarifying Trey Lance & Gophers Saga

May 10, 2021 - (0) comments


Ever heard of Brennan Armstrong? If it wasn’t for him, Trey Lance might have been a Golden Gopher.

Armstrong is the starting quarterback at Virginia and last season he tied for the FBS lead in games passing for over 200 yards and rushing for over 45 yards. During the winter of 2017 the Shelby, Ohio native was verbally committed to the University of Minnesota recruiting class for 2018. That same winter Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck and his staff were recruiting Lance, the Marshall, Minnesota native who ultimately went to North Dakota State and last month was the third quarterback chosen in the NFL Draft when the 49ers selected him with the third overall pick of the first round.

Ryan Burns, the recruiting authority from GopherIllustrated.com, knows the background of the mutual interest there once was between Lance and the Gophers. Burns told Sports Headliners Fleck had a candid conversation with the athletic Lance, who drew interest from college programs for his potential to play multiple positions.

P.J. Fleck

During that conversation, according to Burns, Fleck told Lance, then a junior at Marshall, the Gophers liked him as a quarterback but had promised Armstrong he was going to be the only QB in the 2018 recruiting class. Fleck, though, said the Gophers wanted to continue recruiting Lance and encouraged him to participate in Minnesota’s June camp for promising high school players. Lance had the attention of the Gophers and other major programs as a quarterback but also as a safety and wide receiver.

“So he never camped at Minnesota,” Burns said. “But did Minnesota want to see him potentially at safety? Sure. So did Iowa. So did Iowa State. So did everywhere else.”

Lance had a strong interest in the Gophers but playing QB in college was a priority and FCS North Dakota State offered an opportunity. Power Five schools were cautious about the small town quarterback, including because of a Nike camp performance. “Trey didn’t have a great day,” recalled Burns who was at the camp. “That’s okay. He was a little wide-eyed, I think, by the experience.”

In November of 2017 Armstrong de-committed from Minnesota. If Lance had been patient with his home state university an opportunity might have opened for him in the recruiting class of 2018 at Minnesota. Logic suggests the Gophers would have at least offered Lance a scholarship as a multi-positional prospect and given him a look at quarterback once on campus. From there, his superb throwing and running potential likely would have won over the coaches.

Worth Noting

The Twins, with a 12-20 record, have only been out scored by two runs this season. That kind of slim differential is often indicative of a team playing about .500 baseball, not a club that has lost eight more games than it has won. Minnesota has struggled early in the season for multiple reasons including injuries and COVID that have sidelined regulars, but no problem has been as glaring as the bullpen.

Eleven losses are attributed to the pen. The performance of Twins relief pitchers in allowing “inherited runners” to score ranks among the worst in MLB, allowing 27 of 43 runners to reach home plate. That’s true, too, for home runs allowed by Minnesota relievers. Alex Colome, Cody Stashak and Caleb Thielbar are among those who have been frequent long ball victims.

The Twins couldn’t have forecast their bullpen struggles, or that of starter Kenta Maeda who finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting last season. Maeda has a 5.02 ERA this spring and for Minnesota to win the Central Division title he will have to pitch much better.

Minnesota begins a three-game series in Chicago Tuesday night against the division leading White Sox who offer an imposing lineup of starters: Dylan Cease, 2-0, 2.37 ERA; Dallas Keuchel, 1-1, 3.79 ERA; Carlos Rodon, 5-0, 0.58 ERA.

Hall of Famer Willie Mays celebrated his 90th birthday last Thursday. A candidate for any discussion of the greatest baseball player of all-time, Mays was playing in Minneapolis for the Millers 70 years ago this spring.

It was in late May of 1951 that the parent New York Giants called up Mays from their Minneapolis Triple-A farm club. The shy 20-year-old Alabama native doubted he was ready for the everyday lineup of a National League contender but the Giants thought his .477 average in Minneapolis told a different story about their future center fielder.

Retired Preston High School football and baseball coach Frank Jaszewski also recently turned 90. He coached both football and baseball for the Preston Blue Jays from 1957 until his retirement in 1990. He is a legend in the Preston area.

If the Vikings sign future Hall of Fame wide receiver and free agent Larry Fitzgerald management will have confidence in who they are dealing with. The Minneapolis native, who has played his entire NFL career with the Cardinals, doesn’t have an agent and represents himself.

Local author Jim Bruton’s book with former Vikings linebacker and front office executive Scott Studwell is near completion and expected to be on sale in the fall. Studwell offers insights about scouting and coaches he played for including Bud Grant.

The Vikings have a rookie minicamp scheduled May 14-16; OTA’s May 24-26, June 1-3 and 8-11; mandatory minicamp, June 15-17. Among storylines to follow will be whether the Vikings are moving toward two rookie starters in the offensive line next season, tackle Christian Darrisaw and guard Wyatt Davis.

The St. Thomas Academy director of athletics and activities job remains open and in the search process after the departure this spring of Dan O’Brien, the former Gophers assistant football coach, now working in the private sector.


Gophers Target State Prep Tackles

May 05, 2021 - (0) comments


Recruiting online source 247Sports lists the top five Minnesota prep football players in the class of 2022 in this order: Eli King, Tre Holloman, Lucas Heyer, Kristen Hoskins and Deylin Hasert. King, a superb athlete from Caledonia and football quarterback, has committed to play basketball at Iowa State. It’s possible the other four could become Gophers.

That last sentence comes with a twist. Holloman is a cornerback at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul but he is also a basketball point guard. He is a coveted recruit in both sports. “I know that there’s a lot of schools in the Big Ten, including Minnesota, who think he could be an incredible corner but it sounds like he’s going to play basketball,” recruiting authority Ryan Burns of GopherIllustrated told Sports Headliners. Burns has heard the basketball Gophers are pitching hard and may secure a commitment.

For years Gophers fans have been frustrated to see top offensive linemen from the state choose colleges other than Minnesota. Burns describes the situation as “a thorn in the side” of Gopher head coaches going back more than 10 years. P.J. Fleck and his staff hope to flip that with their 2022 class. Heyer, from Hill-Murray, and Hasert, from Marshall, are both offensive tackles. So, too, is Tony Nelson of Tracy who has verbally committed to Minnesota and is ranked No. 8 among state prospects for 2022 by 247 Sports.

Heyer, 6-5 and 307 pounds per 247, reminds Burns of current Gopher Blaise Andries, who is one of the better offensive linemen in the Big Ten. “I think Blaise may be a little more athletic than Lucas, but very smart kids,” Burns said. “I mean very cerebral. They understand what their jobs are.”

Burns predicted Hasert, 6-5 and 280 per 247, may switch from tackle to guard his senior season at Marshall this fall and sees him playing the position in college. Hasert’s athleticism, including foot speed, could make him special as a pulling guard. “He is certainly a road grader,” Burns said.

Minnesota’s competition for Heyer includes Northwestern and Stanford. Iowa and Iowa State are among schools that interest Hasert.

Nelson, about 6-6 and 285, is passionate about the Gophers and Burns doesn’t see him changing his commitment. “He is all of 6-6, incredibly long, incredibly athletic,” Burns said.

Ryan Burns

Reversing the trend of seeing prep offensive linemen go elsewhere is now in play with Nelson, Hasert and Heyer. “I think they want to get three (of them) for sure and if they could get Deylin and Lucas, to go with Tony, they would be through the moon,” Burns said.

Hoskins is about 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, and the Alexandria star has also verbally committed to Minnesota. He projects as a wide receiver with the Gophers but Burns believes Hoskins could first help as a return man on kickoffs and punts. He has touchdown making speed and quickness. “He’s just explosive,” Burns said.

Minnesota has five verbal commits so far for its class of 2022. Joining Hoskins and Nelson are Ohio defensive end Trey Bixby, Georgia safety Coleman Bryson, and South Dakota quarterback Jacob Knuth. All of the commits are three-star prospects except for four-star Bixby, per 247.

Burns will be surprised if the Gophers receive any more verbal commitments before June 1. With the pandemic easing, and campus visits being scheduled, and summer football camps starting next month, commitments will be coming across the country. A normal landscape is in stark contrast to all the travel lockdowns of the last 15 months that left some players making commitments to schools they never visited. “Starting on June 1, it’s going to be crazy,” Burns said about recruiting in late spring and summer.

Track Fleck’s past recruiting and it shows most of his commits come in May, June and July. Burns attributes part of that to players from the south arriving in Minnesota in June and seeing that it’s not “ice cold” here. Burns projects the Gophers will pick up five to 10 verbal commitments this June.

Worth Noting

Dick Jonckowski, the Gophers former public address announcer for basketball and baseball, received the best news this week regarding his lymphoma cancer when the doctor said “everything is gone.” This is the second time Jonckowski has won his battle with lymphoma. Going forward he will have checkups every six weeks.

The Gophers and UMD Bulldogs athletic directors, Mark Coyle and Josh Berlo, sent a letter this week to the Minnesota House and Senate tax chairs supporting a proposed provision in the House omnibus tax bill granting a sales tax exemption for scholarship seating donations at Minnesota colleges. The letter said “we believe Minnesota is the only state in the nation that taxes these types of collegiate athletic donations.”

Revenue retained from a sales tax exemption would support scholarships for student athletes, their wellness and academic costs. A volunteer group called Friends of Gophers Sports (FOGS) has been making progress on this proposed legislative change that could result in a seven-figure savings for the Gophers.

“It’s moving ahead and we’re hopeful it will stay in the tax bill,” said volunteer Tom Devine, who pointed out the Minnesota Vikings already have a sales tax exemption from seat licensing sales.

A Sports Headliners reader back from Las Vegas reported odds on the Vikings winning the Super Bowl are 50-1, according to the renowned William Hill book. Odds for Minnesota’s NFC North Division rivals are the Packers 10-1, Bears 60-1 and Lions 125-1. The Chiefs are the top pick to win the Super Bowl at 5-1.

Legendary Brainerd High School football coach Ron Stolski emailed that Joe Haeg, who played for him, will now be able to say he was teammates with two future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Haeg, an offensive tackle, signed as a free agent this offseason to join the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger after being with Tom Brady and the 2021 Super Bowl champion Bucs.

MLB.com’s power rankings now have the Twins at No. 16 after being as high as No. 4 this spring. The AL Central Division favorite White Sox are No. 4 in the latest rankings, while the Royals are No. 9.

Don’t be surprised if Twins’ call ups from the Triple-A St. Paul Saints include top 100 MLB prospect Jhoan Duran, a right-hander who throws the “splinker,” a splitter-sinker hybrid.

Minnesotan Freddie Gillespie now has a two-year contract with the NBA’s Raptors. He had no Division I or II offers coming out of East Ridge High School, played two seasons at Carleton, walked-on at Baylor and signed with Raptors last year as a free agent. The 23-year-old forward has played in 14 games this season, averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Credit former Gophers basketball captain Al Nuness with impacting Gillespie’s career path. Gillespie’s mother, Alberder Gillespie, talked to Nuness when her son was at Carleton and asked for advice. Nuness saw potential in the 6-foot-9 Gillespie and contacted his son Jared Nuness, a member of the Baylor coaching staff. She said Al Nuness “instantly knew” that her son could become a special player.

“I couldn’t have scripted the way it happened,” Alberder said in describing her son’s basketball journey.


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