Flip Saunders and his Timberwolves scouts definitely didn’t select Shabazz Muhammad with the 14th overall pick in the NBA draft on the basis of his performance for UCLA against the Gophers in the NCAA tournament last season.
The 6-6 Muhammad failed to score in the first half of that game as he missed all seven shots he took, and the result was that the Bruins trailed the Gophers by 10 points at halftime.
He did warm up in the second half, scoring 20 points, but the Gophers won 83-63 and on the basis of his performance that day he didn’t merit even a second-round selection.
There were also reports of off-the-court issues, including a three-game NCAA suspension.
However, agent Bill Duffy, a Gophers basketball player from 1977 to ’79 who was recruited out of California by Saunders when Saunders was doing recruiting for the Gophers coaching staff, said most of the criticism of his client Muhammad has been blown out of proportion by the media.
“Most of what has gone on he was oblivious to, because he is a young guy,” Duffy said. “You’ll get a feel for him, the people here and the community here in Minneapolis will get a very good feel for him. I think he’ll be a favorite of the fans once they get a chance to know what kind of person he is.”
Duffy also believes that Muhammad, who was the No. 1-ranked high school senior in the country by Rivals.com for the class of 2012, is very underrated as a basketball player.
“In this draft I think he went later than he probably should have,” Duffy said. “I think the Wolves got a steal because he’s a ready-made scorer and he can score in the NBA because of his size and his strength. I think he’ll be a sleeper and a contender to be one of the top three or four rookies this year.”
Duffy, an outstanding guard in college, describes Muhammad as having an extremely versatile game.
“He’s a very unique player. Just because he attacks the rim like no one I have ever seen,” Duffy said. “He goes to the basket like LeBron James. I’m not saying he’s LeBron James, but he has that veracity to attack the iron. He can finish. He’s just a very aggressive, Type-A scorer.”
Duffy said Muhammad wanted to play here, adding he is confident Muhammad will be in the rotation right away.
“I expect that for sure,” said Duffy, who believes Muhammad can play both shooting guard and small forward.
Asked to compare Muhammad with former Gophers players, Duffy said: “He has the body of James Jackson. He could finish like Ray Williams around the iron.”
Duffy believed Muhammad could have gone anywhere from No. 7 to No. 20 in the draft, “but you really want your client to be in the right situation, and this turned out to be the perfect fit. This is where he wanted to play because he wants to play with a point guard like [Ricky] Rubio who passes the ball.
“He can shoot it, he can shoot. He can score, he can put it in the basket,” Duffy said.
Kill likes redshirts
I asked Gophers football coach Jerry Kill if there were any surprises from the redshirts of last season during spring practice.
“You know, Jack Lynn [a linebacker from Lake Zurich, Ill.] has really had a nice spring,” Kill said. “He jumps out at me. Nick Rallis did a nice job. He ended up turning an ankle and missed some of the spring, but Nick did some good things. He was redshirted.
“All three offensive linemen [Isaac Hayes, Ben Lauer and Jonah Pirsig] that we redshirted did a really good job. … [Tight end] Maxx Williams, another kid we redshirted, had a nice spring. I mean we had quite a few of those guys that redshirted that really stood out.”
Pirsig, a top recruit out of Blue Earth, was slowed in the spring by a left knee injury that eventually was operated on, but Kill said: “Pirsig is really doing good off of his knee surgery, he’s already back doing some things. I’m excited about that. I was concerned, but he’s progressing nicely.”
Making pro pitching debuts
Great Lakes Loons manager Razor Shines spoke about the first pro performances of two Minnesota pitchers new to his team, Chris Anderson and the Gophers’ Tom Windle, after their win on Wednesday. Both college players were drafted by the Dodgers and assigned to their Class A Midwest League affiliate in Midland, Mich.
“I saw two innings of work from each guy,” said Shines, according to the team’s website. “We really liked what we saw. They were electric and both kids have good arms. Anderson really let the ball fly. Tom looks like he knows how to pitch and he had some good off-speed stuff.”
Windle talked about how getting to pitch behind Anderson, whom he has known for years, made the debut easier.
“I didn’t feel much pressure,” Windle said. “Chris went out there and set the tone. It got me excited to go out there and do my thing. It was exciting to be in the stadium. To be on the field and in the stadium in front of this crowd, they were in the game. It just kind of gets you going a little more.”
• Kevin Garnett eventually coming back to the Timberwolves as either an owner or a player was a rumor going around the NBA recently.
• Unfortunately, Trevor Mbakwe wasn’t drafted, and the word from NBA sources is that the former Gophers forward’s best bet to play pro basketball will be overseas. The Timberwolves will have a Summer League team play in Las Vegas next month, a team that includes draft choices and some free agents, but Mbakwe isn’t expected to get an invitation.
• Among the wedding guests of Eric Decker last weekend as he wed girlfriend Jessie James in Colorado was his first coach with the Gophers, Glen Mason, along with Mason’s wife, Kate. Mason posted a photo on Twitter of the four of them together. As for Decker and James, the Broncos receiver and country music singer will be starring in a reality television show that is set to debut later this summer.
• Minneapolis native Josh Johnson picked up his first victory as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays last Sunday, but he got hit hard Friday night against the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox. Johnson is 1-2 this season with a 5.21 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 48⅓ innings pitched.
• Jason Marquis, the pitcher the Twins released last season after he went 2-4 with an 8.47 ERA in seven starts, is 9-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 16 starts this year for the San Diego Padres. He will make his third attempt at reaching 10 victories Monday.
• One of the top basketball recruits for 2014 is 6-9 forward Henry Ellenson of Rice Lake, Wis., the brother of the Gophers’ Wally Ellenson. The younger Ellenson being recruited by schools such as North Carolina and UCLA plus Minnesota and Wisconsin, and he’s a player the Gophers would love to sign.