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Would Holmgren Mean U NCAA Title?

September 02, 2020 - (0) comments

 

Chet Holmgren, a popular choice by prep basketball gurus as the nation’s No. 1 player in the class of 2021, enters his senior year at Minnehaha Academy this week being a long way from choosing a college destination.

Whoever wins out will have an extraordinary player in the 7-foot multi-positional, multi-dimensional Minneapolis superstar. Holmgren is choosing from seven college possibilities: Georgetown, Gonzaga, Memphis, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State.  He has visited most of the schools but the pandemic has prevented him from seeing the Memphis and Michigan campuses, and he hasn’t been to North Carolina since eighth grade.

Do one or two schools lead the list right now? “No, everybody is kind of equal platform right now,” Chet’s father David Holmgren told Sports Headliners Monday.  “Still just kind of feeling everything out, watching (developments).  Things are changing daily at these schools.  The closer we get to actually graduating from high school is going to be a closer time to make that decision, I think.”

Will a program having NCAA championship potential in place prior to Chet’s arrival be a factor in his college choice?  “We haven’t really discussed that,” David said. “I think anywhere he goes that (winning the national championship) could be viable.  I am not trying to brag but he brings that kind of quality to a team.”

David said Chet’s college destination will be impacted by at least one factor involving complementary players. “They gotta have some bigs so that Chet doesn’t get thrown into the middle.  The middle is not his game.  I don’t want him anywhere where one guy gets hurt, now he’s gotta be the big. It won’t make sense.”

Chet is several pounds under 200 even after a summer of strengthening his body. Dad wants his son to play with big, physical teammates who can absorb much of the pounding near the basket.  David, a thin 7-footer himself when he played for the Gophers in the 1980s, predicted it could be four years before Chet weighs about 220 pounds.

Chet long ago became a YouTube favorite after video showed him dribbling past and dunking over Steph Curry at the NBA superstar’s 2019 summer camp.  Despite Holmgren’s height, he has extraordinary versatility including ball handling.  Both his shooting efficiency and range, along with his shot blocking, contribute to speculation he will play just one season of college basketball.

Cretin-Derham Hall coach Jerry Kline referred to him as unique. “He’s just a phenomenal player and he’s only going to get better,” Kline told Sports Headliners earlier this summer.

Minnehaha will be among the elite teams nationally.  David said the school is finalizing a schedule to bring great teams from out of state to Minneapolis.  Opponents will likely include California power Sierra Canyon, a team Minnehaha upset last January.  “I think they want revenge,” David said. “At least an attempt at it.”

Worth Noting

The Vikings will open their season September 13 against the Packers without fans in attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium.  State of Minnesota COVID-19 policy allows up to 250 guests at an event like a Vikings game.  “The Vikings (though) 100 percent want fans,” a sports industry source told Sports Headliners.

He believes there is pressure from Vikings sponsors, including the most prominent supporters, to attend games.  State policy will allow 250 guests, plus players, coaches and workers, or a total of perhaps 500 people in the stadium.

The same source said it’s likely former Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren, now commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, has talked to club ownership or management about using U.S. Bank Stadium for a potential late fall and winter Big Ten football schedule.  U.S. Bank stadium is one of three regional domed sites (also Detroit’s Ford Field and Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium) that could be indoor hubs for Big Ten games during the pandemic.

There is speculation about starting Big Ten football near Thanksgiving, November 26.  That time frame could cause a pushback from the Vikings regarding stadium use including necessitated changes to the playing field while accommodating a schedule of Big Ten games. Complicating things is the Vikings having a busy close to the season in Minneapolis with home games scheduled November 22, 29, December 6 and 20, plus potential playoff dates.

Ties between the Big Ten and U.S. Bank Stadium are already happening with the facility management preparing a bid to host a future league championship game(s). Lucas Oil Stadium has been the game’s exclusive home since 2011 and will host the championship through next year, but Warren is interested in other sites.

While other cities and playing sites have also expressed interest, including Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, Minneapolis and U.S. Bank Stadium could be viewed most favorably.  The facility is a consensus choice as being among the best football stadiums in the country and the city has a track record of success in hosting major events like the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon—comparable to RB Dalvin Cook who is in a contract squabble with the Vikings—reportedly received a new four-year $48 million deal yesterday. Cook’s present contract is believed to be worth about $40 million less.

Harvey Mackay

Minneapolis businessman and New York Times best selling author Harvey Mackay devotes his nationally syndicated newspaper column this week to women in sports while quoting leaders such as former Gophers basketball coach Pam Borton and Twins executive Laura Day. Headlined “Sports Prepare Women for Life, Business,” Mackay was inspired to write the column after viewing a Twin Cities Dunkers meeting this summer.

Longtime amateur baseball player Dan Hennen has a podcast preview of the Sweet 16 teams in this week’s Class C State Amateur Baseball Tournament. https://youtu.be/dYFKolCs1MY

 

Donaldson Impact about Zip So Far

August 31, 2020 - (0) comments

 

The Twins took the field yesterday in Detroit without four everyday regulars and proceeded to lose their fifth straight game.  Missing because of injuries were center fielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Josh Donaldson, catcher Mitch Garvin and left fielder Eddie Rosario.

No Twin has been a bigger disappointment and more absent from the field this summer than Donaldson who makes a team-leading $21 million in base salary, per Spotrac.com. Acquired in a splashy winter free agent signing, Donaldson went on the Injured List August 7 with a right calf strain after appearing in seven games during this COVID-19 shortened season that began in late July.  His minimal stats include a .182 batting average with one home run and two runs batted in.

Minnesota gave Donaldson a four-year $92 million deal, the largest free agent contract in club history.  Twins front office leaders Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took a calculated risk the 34-year-old could produce as in the past.  Since 2013 Donaldson has been among baseball’s most productive home run hitters and also a standout in the field.

After an impressive start to the season, the Twins have lost 11 of their last 21 games.  They were 3-6 on the road trip that ended against the Tigers on Sunday, and the club struggled to score runs.  Minnesota is no longer leading the AL Central Division standings, and Donaldson, known as “Bringer of Rain,” has missed 25 games during the 60-game season.

Given the type of injury that sidelined Donaldson, it’s been a head scratcher as to why he has been sidelined so long.  However, manager Rocco Baldelli said the former AL MVP could return sometime during the club’s eight-game home-stand that begins tonight against the White Sox.

It’s likely to take Donaldson awhile to find his stroke at the plate—perhaps  in the closing weeks of the season in late August and on into September. That would mean ROI for the Twins: Return on Investment.

Worth Noting

Paul Molitor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer following his great playing career and in 2017, while leading the Twins, was named American League Manager of the Year, but the Minnesota native acknowledges watching baseball is a test of patience for many fans.

During the most recent segment of the Twin Cities cable TV program “Behind the Game” (also available on YouTube), the personable Molitor was asked about the length of MLB games which typically last over three hours and sometimes longer.  His view is the impact on fans goes deeper than the duration of games.  “It’s that the action is not there,” he told program hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson.

Among the culprits in causing slow action is the increase in frequency of hitters striking out and also drawing more walks than in Molitor’s day when he played in the big leagues from 1978 to 1994, ending his playing career with his hometown Twins.  “I just think the fact that there is a lack of flow to the games really makes people check their watch more than you would like to get them watching a baseball game,” Molitor said.

Molitor was known both as a player and manager for having a high baseball IQ. During his playing career the game of baseball was more varied with hitters striving to place the ball in play, while managers strategized about advancing runners with the hit and run, or bunts, and base stealing. Today’s players and managers are focused on power baseball with launch angles and home runs. “It’s not as entertaining for me to sit back and wait to see who outslugs who,” Molitor said.

This summer the 64-year-old Molitor has been biking, golfing and coaching his son in Edina youth baseball.  He was a career .306 hitter and had a lofty total of more than 3,000 hits.

The Twins check in at No. 5 in S.I.com’s latest power rankings of MLB teams, trailing the Dodgers, low budget Rays and Athletics, and Yankees. Minnesota’s Central Division rivals rank like this: Indians, No. 8; White Sox, No. 9; Tigers, No. 24 and Royals No. 26.

The Twins have played 23 of their 35 games against the Tigers, Royals, No. 21 ranked Brewers and No. 30 Pirates.  Minnesota has a 12-11 record versus those teams.

The MLB trade deadline is today and seemingly the Twins’ biggest need is a return of their own injured position players and pitchers.

There has been a lot of hype about Minnesota natives being selected in this fall’s NBA Draft and S.I. com had an interesting take in its mock draft late last month projecting first and second round picks (contracts guaranteed to first rounders only).  Tyrell Terry, the guard from DeLaSalle who played one season at Stanford, is predicted as the only Minnesotan going in the first round, at No. 19 to the Nets.

Tre Jones

S.I. projected the Timberwolves will use the No. 1 overall choice on Georgia guard Anthony Edwards, with Minnesota also picking Memphis forward-center Precious Achiuwa at No. 17 in the first round.  The Wolves will take hometown favorite and point guard Tre Jones, who played at Apple Valley and two seasons for Duke, with their No. 33 choice early in the second round. Zeke Nnaji, the forward-center from Hopkins who played one season at Arizona, will go No. 34 to the 76ers, per S.I.

I strongly disagree but S.I. has Daniel Oturu, formerly of Cretin-Derham Hall and the Gophers not being drafted until the Wizards take him at No. 37.  He averaged more than 20 points and 11 rebounds last season while showing he can play inside and out, but his collective draft predictions have been far ranging for months.

That was ex-Viking Herschel Walker, former Gophers football coach Lou Holtz and ex-Gopher defensive back Jack Brewer appearing as speakers at last week’s Republican convention.

 

Gophers Need ‘Special’ Freshmen WRs

August 19, 2020 - 1 Comment

 

One benefit of no season this fall for the Golden Gophers football team is coach P.J. Fleck and his staff will have extended time to address the departure of wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson who accounted for 78 percent of the catches on last year’s 11-2 team ranked No. 10 in the nation in the Associated Press final poll.

The staff prides itself on developing players including wide receivers, an assignment that assistant Matt Simon excels at along with Fleck who played the position in college. Fleck wasn’t just talking about WR development, but it fit when he recently said: “More time we have to build our team, the better we’re going to be.”

Football authority Ryan Burns, publisher of GopherIllustrated, agrees. “This break or cancellation (of the fall season) isn’t the worst thing for this offense,” he told Sports Headliners.

It’s a given that in the team’s spread offense Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas will hold down two spots, with the third spot up for grabs.  The way Burns sees it Douglas Emilien and Daniel Jackson, true freshmen, are favorites.  He said reports from summer workouts and practices are “those two are going to be special.”

Ryan Burns

Burns focuses much of his work on Minnesota recruiting and earlier this year Emilien told him he wants to win the Biletnikoff Award given annually to the nation’s top college receiver. Emilien is a high three-star recruit, while Jackson is a four-star. “Both of them have very high expectations for themselves coming in,” Burns said. “I think that certainly plays a part in them showing up every day and doing the work, because they want to be great.”

If the Gophers had a scrimmage today, who might join Autman-Bell and Douglas in the wide receivers lineup?  “I think Emilien is a little bit ahead of Jackson from what I’ve heard,” Burns answered.

Among Emilien’s attributes is his ability to get open, while Burns described Jackson as “very quick and very fast.”  Jackson isn’t as fast as Bateman yet but could get closer as he develops.  “Rashod is going to be making a lot of money in the NFL in seven months because of his deep speed,” Burns said.

It will take a combo effort to replace Johnson and Bateman as receivers, and Burns anticipates a potential breakout year from redshirt sophomore tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford helping the cause.  “I can’t express to you enough how high Minnesota is on his potential,” Burns said. “…He can make very acrobatic catches.  He can jump out of the gym.  He is a mismatch nightmare.”

At about 6-7 and 260-pounds, with athleticism and speed, Spann-Ford is projected as too quick for linebackers and too big for corners and safeties to effectively cover in pass routes. While Spann-Ford will often be next to a tackle while on the line of scrimmage, Burns predicts the former St. Cloud star will also be positioned out in space like a wide receiver.

Worth Noting

Fleck talking about the importance of honest communication with his players: “You can’t say something to a kid that is B.S. Not in 2020.”

Commissioner Kevin Warren, who helped shape the Big Ten’s decision to not have a football season, speaks to the Capital Club next Monday via zoom.  University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel and athletic director Mark Coyle headline a Twin Cities Dunkers zoom meeting next Wednesday to talk about the future of Gopher athletics.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is starting year three with the Vikings.  Coach Mike Zimmer has seen development including Cousins’ willingness to express the way he sees things in meetings.  “He just seems to be more communicative,” Zimmer said this morning.

Alexander Mattison had an impressive rookie season in 2019 while backing up Dalvin Cook.  Zimmer said Mattison looks quicker to him now than last year. “I think he’s going to be a very good back,” Zimmer added.

Twins TV broadcaster Dick Bremer reacting last night to partner Bert Blyleven speculating Minnesota pitcher Kenta Maeda, throwing a no-hitter through eight innings, wouldn’t be allowed to pitch in the ninth: “Really.”

Blyleven likely figured manager Rocco Baldelli was going to take Maeda out of the game because his pitch count was over 100.  Maeda started the ninth and lost his no-hitter when Milwaukee Brewer Eric Sogard hit a soft liner into the outfield to open the inning.

That was it for Maeda (115 pitches) who Baldelli pulled for closer Taylor Rogers who has been ineffective of late.  Before the ninth was over Rogers had given up two runs and Maeda was charged with another as the Brewers tied the game 3-3.  The Twins earned a walk-off win in the 12th inning, 4-3.  This was the fourth time in five days Minnesota won a game scoring four runs.

Limited-edition Twins Hall of Fame bobblehead sets are being sold by the club for $499 each. The set features bobbleheads of all 34 members of the Twins Hall of Fame.  Net proceeds benefit the Twins Community Fund.

Condolences to family and friends of Jake Mauer following his death last week.  He was a friend of this writer, and he loved to talk about his grandson Joe Mauer, and also horse racing at Canterbury Park.  When Joe was young, Jake helped groom the baseball skills of the former Twin.  For many years the St. Paul native sold his racing tip sheet at Canterbury Park.

Minnesota sports fans know Glen Taylor best for his ownership of the Timberwolves and Lynx but he has other companies, too, including the Star Tribune, and employs a total of about 12,000 people.

 

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