Sid Hartman: Give Monson credit for recruiting guards

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 12, 2008 - 10:23 PM

Freshmen Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber, recruited by former coach Dan Monson, provided the spark for the Gophers' comeback at Penn State.

Yes, there was a lot of criticism of former Gophers men's basketball coach Dan Monson, and he eventually was let go, but as this season has developed, Tubby Smith and all of the university fans owe Monson and his staff a lot of credit for recruiting freshman guards Al Nolen of Minneapolis Henry and Blake Hoffarber of Hopkins.

They were two of the big guns in the Gophers' come-from-behind 76-73 victory at Penn State on Saturday.

The Gophers were down 16 early in the second half, but then Hoffarber went on to hit four three-pointers to help the visitors battle back. Then, with the game on the line, it was Nolen who made a big steal in the final seconds and sank three free throws to ice the victory.

Nolen wound up with six points and played one great floor game, while Hoffarber scored 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

I've been one of those media geniuses who have been saying right along that the Gophers can't win in the Big Ten with Minnesota talent.

Well, look how wrong I was. Looking at Saturday's victory, Minnesota high school products scored 66 of the team's 76 points.

Former Minneapolis Henry guard Lawrence McKenzie scored 12 points and hit a three-pointer with 3 minutes, 14 seconds remaining that gave the Gophers a 73-72 lead; former Hopkins forward Dan Coleman had 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds; and former Chaska center Spencer Tollackson tied Hoffarber as the team's leading scorer with 19 points. Typically a poor free-throw shooter, Tollackson went 5-for-5 from the foul line.

This young Gophers team, with only those three seniors, showed a lot of poise on the road Saturday.

Yes, I've been told not to get too excited about this Gophers team, because they haven't beaten anybody. Well, on the road they did come close to beating Michigan State last week, and Saturday they beat a Penn State team that had won seven in a row, including a 2-0 start on the road in Big Ten play.

If there are still some doubts as to how good this Smith-coached team is, we will certainly find out more this week, when No. 10 Indiana comes to Williams Arena on Thursday, followed by No. 6 Michigan State a week from today.

New Twins TV ad

The Twins will debut a new television ad featuring Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer during the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

The Twins have started to engage in conversations with several Minnesota-based companies regarding naming rights and founding partnerships for the new downtown Minneapolis ballpark.

Southwest Florida's Lee County is in the midst of installing new seats and lights at Hammond Stadium, the spring training home of the Twins since 1991. More than 30,000 tickets were sold to Twins home spring training games at the Lee County Sports Complex when they went on sale for the first time Saturday.

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor will be on hand to present the Play Ball! Minnesota Award to St. Paul's legendary youth baseball coach Billy Peterson at the Twins' third annual Diamond Awards at the Depot in Minneapolis on Jan. 24.

New Wild majority owner Craig Leipold, a Wisconsin native, was very instrumental in building support for the construction of Milwaukee's Miller Park. Leipold is a close friend of baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and his family.

Pitchers Camilo Pascual, Rick Aguilera and Jim Perry and shortstop Greg Gagne are among the favorites to be the single 2008 inductee into the Twins Hall of Fame.

Baseball America recently ranked the New York Mets' top 10 prospects. Here is where the Mets prospects most frequently mentioned to be part of a trade with the Twins for Johan Santana rank: outfielder Fernando Martinez is first, righthander Deolis Guerra second, outfielder Carlos Gomez third, righthander Kevin Mulvey fourth and righthander Philip Humber seventh.

Jottings

Speaking about the good season defensive end Brian Robison had, Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said: "How many fourth-round draft choices are named to an NFL all-rookie team like Robison was? It speaks well for his ability."

Former Gophers hockey player Kyle Okposo made his professional hockey debut Friday with the New York Islanders' Bridgeport farm team in the American Hockey League. Okposo had two assists in Bridgeport's 3-2 loss at Binghamton.

Three Gophers football players participated in the Hula Bowl on Saturday -- wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright, running back Amir Pinnix and safety Dominique Barber. Also playing was Marshall receiver Marcus Fitzgerald, a former Holy Angels athlete and brother of Arizona Cardinals standout Larry Fitzgerald. ... Gophers coach Tim Brewster initiated a Tony Dungy Award this year for the player with the best character and service to the community, and Pinnix won it.

Tony Levine, a former Gophers receiver who had been an assistant on the Carolina Panthers coaching staff, was named the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach for the University of Houston, now coached by Kevin Sumlin, Levine's former position coach with the Gophers. ... Former Gophers offensive line coach Gordie Shaw said he is waiting to hear from Colorado State as to whether or not the Rams will add him to their coaching staff. Meanwhile, Shaw is very interested in the St. Thomas coaching vacancy. ... Former Gophers running back coach Vic Adamle will continue to live here and be an assistant football coach at Stillwater High School.

Bryce Webster, the former St. Thomas Academy basketball standout who left the Gophers after one season, had 11 points and 13 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds, for Irvine Valley (Calif.) City College in a 91-84 double-overtime victory over Fullerton College on Friday night. The 6-9 center, now a sophomore, is set to play at Utah State next year. He is averaging 10.9 points per game for his team, which is 18-2.

John Gaub, the former Gophers lefthander who developed arm problems after signing with the Cleveland Indians organization in 2006, is healthy now and will go to spring training with one of Cleveland's minor league teams. ... Former Gophers righthander Cole DeVries, who was 9-5 with a 3.41 ERA for Class A Beloit in the Twins farm system last season, will likely start out at Class A Fort Myers this season.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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