Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Mathieu joining list of elite Gophers JUCOs

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: January 13, 2014 - 12:22 PM

My faithful attention to Gophers basketball didn’t really start until the winter of 1963-64, when Lou Hudson, Archie Clark and Don Yates arrived off the freshman squad, brought true integration to the program, along with true hope for glory.

The Gophers finished 10-4 in the Big Ten and 17-7 overall with Hudson, Clark and Yates as sophomores. They were 11-3 and 19-5 as juniors in 1964-65, and finished rated No. 7 in the country.

There was optimism and enthusiasm as they looked forward to a senior season. And then Yates was declared academically ineligible before the season -- a more common occurrence back when athletes weren’t hand-carried through classes by intense tutoring and academic counseling as is the case today.

And then Hudson suffered a broken right wrist. He played the bulk of the season with a cast on his natural shooting hand; handling the ball and shooting left-handed.

Gophers basketball returned to the backburner of the local sports scene after that season, until the arrival of Bill Musselman for the 1971-72 season.

Still, I take credit for a half-century as a follower, and it’s my belief that DeAndre Mathieu is the smallest regular I’ve seen in the Gophers lineup in that time.

Mathieu is listed at 5-foot-9. I’m guessing that’s generous by 1½ inches.

So far, he’s been the catalyst in giving Rich Pitino a competitive start to his Minnesota tenure. When have the Gophers had a flat-out faster guy on the court than Mathieu? I’m not sure.

To me, with junior Andre Hollins and senior Austin Hollins being more erratic in game-to-game performances than anticipated, Mathieu has been the Gophers’ most valuable player.

Yes, Mathieu’s going to throw it away on occasion, but when he’s the one being asked to push the Gophers to the fast pace his coach wants to play, turnovers are going to happen.

Mathieu is shooting 49 percent and averaging 11.4 points, with 38 turnovers, 74 assists and a team-leading 32 steals. On Saturday, Mathieu got to the basket for a game-tying layup in the final second, and if it had been in Minneapolis and not East Lansing, he might have been shooting a free throw to win the game.

The Gophers disappeared in overtime, but it certainly was the best you could feel about Pitino’s club in the first four Big Ten games – preceded by a home loss to an injured Michigan team, and unimpressive victories against Purdue and Penn State.

Pitino was able to come in late and land Mathieu out of Central Arizona junior college. The point guard was a first team JUCO All-America and had good offers elsewhere. If Mathieu had taken one of those, this Gophers team would be completely out of luck.

Mathieu’s success in the first half of the schedule got me wondering: Does he have a chance to be part of the Gophers’ all-time team for junior college transfers?

There hasn’t been one named, so I decided to give a try. The trouble with lists, of course, is that you miss people … and this group is more off the top of head than based on exhaustive research.

It takes some manipulation of positions (where they could’ve played rather than where they spent most of their time on the court) to come up with a starting five for greatest Gophers JUCOs:

G-Bobby Jackson, Western Nebraska (1995). The star of the Gophers’ Final Four team in 1997 and, to me, second on my list of greatest of all Gophers only to Lou Hudson.

G-Dick Garmaker, Hibbing J.C. (1952). I only remember Garmaker vaguely, but he was good enough to be a consensus All-America in 1956 along with legends Bill Russell, Tom Gola and SiHugo Green.

F-Ray Williams, San Jacinto, Texas (1975). He was 6-foot-2 and started at small forward on the greatest Minnesota team ever – the 24-3 club of 1976-77 that entered the season ineligible for the NCAA tournament. In small games, Sugar Ray was casual; in big games, he was gigantic.

F-Vincent Grier, Dixie State, Utah (2003). The 6-foot-5 Grier was a light-it-up shooter when he got on a roll. He was responsible for Dan Monson’s only trip to the NCAA tournament at Minnesota in 2005. I ran across this quote from the UNC-Greensboro coach that season:

"I think Vincent Grier just totally dominated the game. When he's making jumpers, he's virtually impossible to stop. You look to try to contain him in the open floor. You try to limit what he can do by what you do on offense ... [to limit] his number of transition opportunities."

The source was Fran McCaffrey, now the very colorful coach at Iowa.

C-Ron Behagen, Southern Idaho (1971). He was 6-foot-9, maybe 6-10, and could play anywhere on the court. He's most notorious for his role in the Ohio State brawl in January 1972, but Behagen was a fantastic talent and the seventh overall selection in the 1973 NBA Draft.

The rest of an eight-man rotation for Gophers JUCOs would be Trevor Mbakwe and Clyde Turner up front and Bobby Nix in the backcourt. Mbakwe’s knee injury in December 2011 cost him what seemed a place in the first round of the NBA Draft. He remained a tremendous rebounder.

Turner and Nix came in with Behagen as JUCO transfers in 1971. They were not sucked into the fallout from the brawl, and helped lead the Gophers to the Big Ten title in that winter of 1972.

And now I’m nine deep in my JUCO rotation with DeAndre Mathieu. Who am I missing as an outstanding JUCO with the Gophers? Let me know.

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