Thursday, May. 13, 2021



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U Leaves Spot for Power Forward


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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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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