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Continued: Sid Hartman: Williams' long tenure at U helped his cause

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 27, 2010 - 12:22 AM

The fact that Jimmy Williams was a member of the Gophers men's basketball staff for 15 years -- and allowed to remain on Jim Dutcher's staff even after he was found to have been involved in NCAA violations while working for Bill Musselman -- had to be a factor in a jury ruling in Williams' favor in his lawsuit against the University of Minnesota and coach Tubby Smith.

The jury ruled that Smith misrepresented his authority in the hiring of Williams, who claimed he quit his job at Oklahoma State and put his house up for sale because he was confident he had an agreement to join the Gophers basketball staff under Smith in 2007. Williams was awarded nearly $1.25 million by the jury.

Williams remained with the Gophers 11 years after being cited for violations under Musselman, and the University of Minnesota went so far as to let Williams replace Dutcher as interim coach for 11 games in 1986, even though part of Williams' penalty for the earlier violations included no recruiting for two years.

Let's face facts. No doubt Smith wanted to hire Williams. But athletic director Joel Maturi, looking over the background of Gophers basketball violations under Musselman, Dutcher and Clem Haskins, thought it would be a mistake to hire somebody who had been involved in some of those past NCAA violations. And Maturi prevailed.

One thing that hurt the Gophers' case is that Smith and Williams had a close friend in J.D. Barnett, who coached Smith in college at High Point and is a paid consultant at the university for Smith. And Williams apparently sold the jury that Smith would have known about his violations through his relationship with Barnett.

One of the great witnesses for Williams was former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who hired Williams as an assistant in 2004.

Sutton did a great job and must have convinced the jury that Smith would not have taken the Gophers job without complete authority to hire the assistant coaches, just as Sutton had in his long coaching career at Kentucky and Oklahoma State.

And Williams did a good job of letting the jury know in his own way that because of the problem with Smith and the university, he has been unable to get a coaching job since.

Mauer is great catcher

While Joe Mauer gets most of his accolades because of his hitting, Twins pitchers give him a lot of credit for the great work the 2009 American League MVP does behind the plate.

"He's a great catcher, he knows all these hitters and he's been around for a while. It's great to have him," righthander Nick Blackburn said. "He has a good approach. He knows the plan that he wants to do and he tries to stick to them. He tries to stay with our strengths and he doesn't try to get away from what us pitchers can do."

Blackburn said it is difficult for Mauer to excel both as a hitter and a catcher. "It's going to be tough for him to be as good at something as he is hitting," Blackburn said. "I mean, he's an unbelievable hitter, but yeah, he does a great job. Not very many balls get past him, you've got to throw a really bad pitch to throw one past Mauer."

After a slow start to the season, Blackburn is the hottest pitcher on the Twins staff. He had a 6.85 ERA in his four starts in April but is 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA in May.

"The ball's been coming out of my hand well," he said. "I think I'm trusting my pitches and letting them do the moving that they should and not trying to make the ball move."

Blackburn said he likes pitching at Target Field. "It's playing big right now," he said. "It's obviously getting a little bit warmer, but I think in cold air most places are like that. We'll see when it gets a little bit more hot out there."

Jottings

It will be interesting if the Twins decide during this season to extend the contract of manager Ron Gardenhire, who has one more year on his pact. The last time they extended his contract was in November 2008, after the season was over, when he also had only one year remaining.

Twins General Manager Bill Smith said it was certainly a pleasure to see how well the players called up recently from Class AAA Rochester did in their early at-bats. "Luke Hughes came up and hit a home run in his first at-bat," Smith said. "Wilson Ramos came up and had seven hits in his first two games, and Trevor Plouffe came up and had two hits and a couple RBI in his first game. So, that's a good thing, you need guys to come up out of the minor league system and perform well."

No doubt the Gophers athletic department's budget is going to be hurt if a lot of people ask for refunds for the tickets they bought for the U2 concert at TCF Bank Stadium that has been canceled for this year but is expected to be held next year.

Shortstop Jason Bartlett, who along with pitcher Matt Garza was traded by the Twins to Tampa Bay in the Delmon Young deal after the 2007 season, hit .320 and was an All-Star last year but this year is hitting only .239 for the Rays. Garza is having a banner year, posting a 5-3 record to date with a 2.97 ERA in 10 starts. Garza did have the third-best ERA in the American League before Wednesday night, when he gave up six runs in five innings against the Boston Red Sox.

Joe Coleman, brother of former Gophers basketball player Dan, is currently listed as the 104th best player in the 2011 recruiting class by rivals.com. The younger Coleman averaged 24.7 points as a junior.

New Iowa State men's basketball coach Fred Hoiberg didn't wait long to recruit some players, with one of the first signings coming in 6-8 Cooper forward Calvin Godfrey, who averaged 18.8 points per game.

Former Gophers and NBA player Bobby Jackson has retired as a player and is here as a member of the Sacramento Kings front office watching the various prospects work out at Target Center.

The Newark Star-Ledger reports that former Gophers standout Kris Humphries will most likely accept his $3.2 million player option with the Nets for the 2010-11 season rather that test the free-agent market. After being traded by the Mavericks to New Jersey last season, Humphries averaged 8.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 44 games.

Rochester Mayo graduate Aaron Senne was named the Big 12 Conference co-Player of the Year. Senne, a senior at Missouri, shared the honor with Kansas State's Nick Martini. Senne batted .410 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI in the regular season and was named to the All-Big 12 team for the third time.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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