Sid Hartman: Nolen makes the most of his college chance

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2008 - 10:27 PM

Al Nolen, who had to work hard to qualify academically at the University of Minnesota, has kept up with his schoolwork and played well on the floor.

Both the former Gophers men's basketball coaching staff and the current one were concerned that Al Nolen would have a hard time qualifying academically, believing the former Minneapolis Henry guard might need to attend a junior college this year to become eligible for the future.

"I did have a hard time qualifying, but I worked hard and made it," said Nolen, the star of the Gophers' 63-50 victory over Iowa on Saturday at Williams Arena. "I did plan to attend junior college if I didn't make it."

Well, fortunately for him and the team, Nolen made it in. He has been a giant factor in the Gophers' success this year.

I've always contended that if you give a young man who is a good athlete an opportunity to go to college, he will perform better scholastically in college than in high school, because of the availability of good tutors and other academic support.

Nolen is a good example. The freshman had to do well in class in the fall semester in order to stay on the team this semester.

The Gophers led Iowa 43-42 with 9 minutes, 55 seconds to play Saturday when Nolen took charge, scoring seven consecutive points for the Gophers and then making a perfect pass to Damian Johnson to extend their lead to 52-45. Nolen finished with 11 points, eight assists, four rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes.

Tubby Smith, who has coached a lot of excellent defensive players in the past, on Saturday described Nolen "as good an on-the-ball defender as I've coached."

"Al, he did that in the Penn State game, he has those instincts and that feel for the game that's hard to teach," Smith said. "He knows how to step up and make plays."

Yes, freshman guards Nolen and Blake Hoffarber, who started Saturday, will be two of the best to play for the university before they graduate.

Come to agreement

On Tuesday, the Twins, HOK Sport and Mortenson Construction will provide the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners with an update on the status of the new ballpark. It's expected that the Twins and Mortenson will announce they have reached agreement on a guaranteed maximum price. In addition, look for the team to announce that the Pohlad family has agreed to fund more than $20 million in ballpark enhancements over and above the original budget.

The Twins plan to launch the sale of the 3,000-plus club seats within the new stadium later this month.

The Twins have already sold more than 40,000 tickets for Opening Day, March 31 against Torii Hunter and the Los Angeles Angels.

Twins relief pitcher Jesse Crain, who had surgery on his shoulder last May, said: "I'm convinced I'm coming back strong. I should be ready for spring training, and by the time spring ends I think I should be 100 percent."

Jottings

Rest assured, the Twins will show a lot more appreciation for what Hunter did for the club when he returns in an Angels uniform than the Timberwolves did when Kevin Garnett returned with the Celtics on Friday night. Garnett was introduced, got a fantastic standing ovation and the scoreboard read "Thanks for the memories." Wolves owner Glen Taylor didn't think any more was necessary and that the club would honor KG when he retires. One other thing is for sure, the Wolves made a much better deal when they traded Garnett than the Twins did for Johan Santana.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Garnett has been better than he thought he would be for Boston, especially because Garnett has provided some great leadership. Rivers also is high on Wolves rookie forward Corey Brewer, whom the coach believes will be develop into a star.

Celtics captain Paul Pierce told the Boston Herald that he considers Al Jefferson among the best pure low-post players in the NBA. Pierce played with Jefferson from the time he was drafted in 2004 until he was traded to the Wolves in the Garnett deal last summer. "You could make a good argument for Al," Pierce said Friday. "I think right now I would give [Tim] Duncan the nod because he's been doing it for so long, but that's not bad company for the young fellow. I'm watching him, and you can't guard Al Jefferson 1-on-1 in the post. I think I saw it coming, especially in the second half of the season last year."

A Mets team record of 139 credentialed media members attended the news conference in New York last week introducing Santana to his new team. On his 15-13 record last year, on the Twins' losing seven of his 11 starts over the final two months of the season, on his ERA rising from 2.60 in 2006 to 3.33 in '07 and on giving up an American League-high 33 home runs, Santana said: "I don't know, man. It's part of the game. You're going to have slumps, I guess. I don't really have an answer for it."

In honoring football recruiters by conference, Rivals.com named the Gophers' Tim Cross as the Big Ten's recruiter of the year. The defensive line coach was called one of the nation's top 25 recruiters, and the website said: "Looking for a big reason why Minnesota landed a top 20 class? Look no further than Cross." Rivals.com also praised Gophers running backs coach Thomas Hammock, who was credited for getting seven players to sign at the school, including outstanding quarterback MarQueis Gray and wide receiver Brandon Green.

According to GoldenSports.net, the Gophers plan to have a good group of walk-on football players, including three from Wisconsin: David Schwerman, a kicker from Kettle Moraine High School in Wales; Austin Hahn, a 6-5 lineman from Hartford Union; and running back Jake Ferris from Hartland Arrowhead.

Brad Hoiseth, who runs online magazine JCGridiron, sent an e-mail noting the Gophers had the eighth-best junior college recruiting class, behind Florida State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Oregon State, Arizona, Texas Tech and Kansas. Hoiseth ranked Gophers quarterback David Pittman the 27th-best juco prospect and cornerback Traye Simmons No. 30. Pittman already is in school; Simmons is scheduled to enroll in May.

If the Wild has any interest in signing free agent Peter Forsberg, the team will have to outbid the Rangers, who have made the 2003 NHL MVP a priority, according to the New York press.

Three local football players have been invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis this month -- the Gophers' Dominique Barber (Wayzata) and John Carlson (Litchfield) and Trevor Laws (Apple Valley), who played for Notre Dame.

It was good news to see close personal friend Dan McCarney, who was fired as Iowa State football coach even though he did a great job, get hired on the defensive staff of Florida.

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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