Thursday, May. 13, 2021


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U Not Alone in Big Ten Rosters Shuffle

 

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 Insidethehall.com, 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 MLB.com’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.

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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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