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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Washington playing catch up with prep guards who left state

The Gophers cannot be criticized for making loud noise over the signing of point guard Isaiah Washington on the second day of the early signing period in November 2016. He was the player of the year in the state of New York, and also came with an internet full of highlights as the “Jelly’’ in the JellyFam (family) of dynamic shot-makers.

There were two notable senior point guards in the Twin Cities that winter: McKinley Wright at Champlin Park and Brad Davison at Maple Grove. Davison was locked in for Wisconsin and Wright signed with the Dayton Flyers.

Wright became Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball. When Archie Miller left Dayton for Indiana in April 2017, Wright was let out of his commitment and signed with Colorado.

Richard Pitino did reach out to Wright, but his point guard of the future was Washington, and Colorado was a much-stronger opportunity for Wright. At least, it seemed that way in late April 2017.

We are now 40-some games into the college careers of Wright, Davison and Washington. Wright is the leading scorer and a star at Colorado. Davison is enough of a presence at Wisconsin that he has been accused in the national media of being the No. 1 flopper in the country, which is quite a claim in a country that includes Duke.

Meantime, the Gophers opened the Big Ten home schedule vs. Nebraska on Wednesday as thin in the backcourt and with a strong need for Washington to become a facsimile of the point guard anticipated when Pitino and his now-departed recruiter, Kimani Young, convinced Isaiah to leave The City for the Midwest.

A year ago, the Gophers had senior Nate Mason playing through injury as the point guard. Washington received plenty of minutes after other injuries, but he was not often put in a position to run the show.

The Gophers attempted to fill the point guard gap late with Marcus Carr, a transfer from Pittsburgh, but the NCAA decided that the sophomore had sit out the traditional one year before playing.

All the whining about the NCAA’s decision on Carr can be construed in part as an indication of ongoing pessimism over Washington’s ability to seize the position.

So far, Amir Coffey has been starting at point guard, and he did that with style in Wednesday’s 85-78 comeback victory over Nebraska. He scored a career-high 32 points, and dominated the game with a 14-point, five-minute down the stretch, and then in bring back the Gophers from a 13-point deficit in the second half.

Yet, the Gophers would look much more like a first-division team in the Big Ten if Washington was able to take over as another primary ballhandler. He was supposed to serve an apprenticeship under Mason and then take over as the point guard with Coffey by the winter of 2018-19.

Washington played eight minutes in the first half vs. Nebraska. He was able to get to the basket for layups twice soon after coming off the bench. He wound up 2-for-3 from the field, but there were a couple of obvious defensive lapses.

In the second half, Washington played a total of 1:41 – 68 seconds in the middle of the half, then 33 seconds in the final minute. Brock Stull, a senior transfer from UW-Milwaukee, appeared to be taking some of what had been Isaiah’s minutes.

Gophers coach Richard Pitino was asked Tuesday what was the key to it being a good night for Washington rather than a poor one – making a couple of shots early, perhaps?

The coach said that wasn’t it. He said it was shooting fewer threes and driving to the rim more often. And he said it was Washington continuing to push the ball and find teammates on the wings.

Washington followed the shot advice for Pitino: All three of his field goal attempts were on drives. He did not have an assist while playing a total of 10:21.

Pitino said that Washington’s overall play definitely is trending upward. Obviously, the coaches also are trying to convince Washington of that, as he also said Tuesday that his play was going in the right direction.

Clearly, you have to be a coach with expertise in studying video to see this upward trend with Washington. The rest of us wonder how it has taken this long for the best player in the city – and the state – of New York to make an impact in the college game.

For now, the prize recruit from New York has been left behind by the Twin Cities point guards in the Class of 2017. Here are the stats:

Isaiah Washington, Minnesota

Games: 41 (4 starts). Minutes: 19.5. Scoring average: 7.9. FG shooting: 118 for 341 (34.6). 3-Point shooting: 25 for 112 (22.3). Assists: 102. Steals: 23.

McKinley Wright IV, Colorado

Games: 39 (38 starts). Minutes: 32.6. Scoring average: 14.2. FG shooting: 166 of 368 (45.1). 3-Point shooting: 32 of 107 (29.9). Assists: 216. Steals: 43.

Brad Davison, Wisconsin

Games: 42 (38 starts). Minutes: 31.2. Scoring average: 11.4. FG shooting: 149 for 375 (39.7). 3-Point shooting: 70 for 201 (31.3). Assists: 96. Steals: 47.

Reusse: Our 'UNLV' headed for Vegas, and warning needs repeating

La Velle Neal   III, now established as the senior baseball writer for the Star Tribune, will be covering the winter meetings next week in Las Vegas. By coincidence, several of us refer to La Velle as UNLV, as in the Universe of Neal, La Velle and he is a man not unfamiliar with the bright lights of Las Vegas.

Still, this is a work assignment, and turning loose the 24-Hour Man in the ultimate 24-Hour Town … I fear for my protégé’s well-being as he tries to squeeze in both news gathering and taking advantage with ball-writing friends the endless joys of Vegas.

The not-as-young-as-he-used-to-be La Velle could find himself so exhausted that he wouldn’t be ready to fulfill his duties as the Crown Prince of Fort Myers when spring training arrives earlier than ever in February.

With this in mind, I decided to bring back a cautionary column written late in 2003, before La Velle headed out to cover the winter meetings in New Orleans – American’s second-ranking temptress as a city, trailing only Vegas:

DECEMBER 11, 2003.

Dear La Velle:

This letter should be waiting at the hotel when you arrive in New Orleans this afternoon to start covering baseball's winter meetings for the Star Tribune. It is beyond a coincidence that the role model you have come to call "Uncle Pat" was a guest at the same hotel when covering the 1974 winter meetings for the St. Paul newspapers.

I have to think a Higher Power is at work here; that I was steered to spending a week on an expense account in New Orleans, so that some day I could counsel a ball writer of a new generation on the pitfalls that await in that decadent city.

The obstacles ahead are even greater than those faced by the ball writers of my era, La Velle, since New Orleans has added casino gambling, meaning it now has all the important vices covered.

Then again, there were disadvantages Uncle Pat faced in 1974 that will not be duplicated during your week in this den of debauchery. Among them:

*The winter meetings were held during the first week of December back then. The major social event for anyone with a Twins' connection was the Dec. 1 birthday party for owner Calvin Griffith. There were always a couple of seats at the far end of the large table for Twin Cities ball writers.

Calvin had a grand appreciation for food and drink. The birthday celebration was held at the finest of restaurants. All in all, it was a woozy, belly-busting start for Uncle Pat vs. New Orleans.

*There were no assistant sports editors and no cell phones in 1974, meaning there was no one assigned to harass you every 15 minutes to see what story you were working on, and there was no way to find you even if the boss had such an urge.

This lack of supervision was a dangerous thing for the ball writers of the '70s because, frankly La Velle, we couldn't be trusted to keep our noses to the grindstone.

This was a working day in New Orleans: Gather in the press room, collaborate on a trade rumor worth a few paragraphs, reward ourselves with a few pops at the hotel bar, continue to mix those procedures as needed, then visit Calvin's suite during cocktail hour for his explanation of the Twins' inactivity, Xerox in the daily report and head for the French Quarter.

*Uncle Pat realizes there will be bad influences among your peers covering these meetings, La Velle, although none to compare with my running mate in December '74 - Frankie Hyland of the Atlanta Journal.

Frankie and I had worked together earlier at the St. Cloud Times. He went on to a great Atlanta career, being choked by Falcons coach Norm van Brocklin, having a carton of strawberries pushed in his face by the Braves' Henry Aaron, and reading in a national magazine that the Hawks' Pete Maravich would like to shoot him.

There was a moment that week in New Orleans when I could see Maravich's point. It went like this:

Hyland decided it was necessary for us to visit another New Orleans bar area called "Fat City." On arrival there, he decided that tamales purchased from a street-cart vendor would solve our dinner needs.

Three days later, I came across an item in a New Orleans newspaper stating that several Fat City street vendors selling tamales had been busted for using cat meat as their main ingredient.

We know you are a big cat, La Velle - a tiger when it comes to Twins news, but Uncle Pat must make you understand that never will you face as many distractions as those encountered during a week of winter meetings in New Orleans.

On the final night of my stay, covering the Twins through a trade-less week, I was traveling by foot (and perhaps knee) on Canal Street. It was less than a half-mile to the hotel, although it seemed like a leg of the Tour de France, inching past Dauphine Street, Bourbon, Royal, Chartres and then, praise be, the Marriott, the elevator, the assigned room.

"Ma'am, I need a 7:30 a.m. wakeup call," I said to the operator.

"I'm sorry, sir, it's a quarter to 8," came the reply.

Listen, La Velle: A Twin Cities ball writer will not have made his post-dawn weave along Canal in vain all those years ago, if the lessons learned help get you through what will be the most challenging week of your ball-writing career.

All the best,

Uncle Pat