Souhan: Osenieks gets one last moment on the Barn floor

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2014 - 11:44 AM
hide

Gophers junior forward Oto Osenieks

Photo: Associated Press file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Oto Osenieks had a senior moment.

This senior moment was not about forgetting, but about remembering something for the rest of his life.

“Nobody can ever take this away from me,” he said.

Sunday, the Gophers beat Penn State 81-63 to keep them in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. It was Senior Day, meaning coach Richard Pitino honored senior players and their families before the game, and asked them to speak to the crowd after.

Three of the players honored — Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi and Malik Smith — were playing in their last scheduled game at Williams Arena. The fourth — Osenieks — is a senior in terms of classwork but a junior in terms of athletic eligibility.

Osenieks began the season as a starting forward looking forward to two seasons under Pitino. Then his left knee, twice repaired when he was a youngster, started bothering him. He discovered that his knee joint had become little more than bones rubbing together.

Six weeks ago he realized he could no longer compete. “I couldn’t jump off of that knee, couldn’t play defense, couldn’t play this game at a high level,” he said. “I’ve been trying to play through it. Then we did an MRI and they said there was a cartilage breakdown and all kinds of other stuff in there. The doctors said they can’t really fix it.

“There’s no surgery for it. I talked to people who said, ‘Well, if you want to walk when you’re older you probably shouldn’t play basketball at a high level.’ ”

Pitino announced last week that Osenieks would not be a scholarship player next season, but would stay with the program as a coach. “The reason we announced that … was I wanted to honor him tonight,” Pitino said. “If we didn’t have that opportunity, I would have waited and we would have worked on it in the offseason. But I just wanted him … he’s such a good kid and representative of the university that I wanted him to have this opportunity to get a jersey, speak to the crowd, and I got him in.

“I didn’t want to show up Penn State. I wanted to find a way to get him on the court, somehow. I was struggling to figure it out.”

Late in the game, PItino inserted Osenieks to inbound the ball, then removed him from the game a few seconds later. Osenieks received an ovation, and a dozen handshakes and hugs. In the boxscore, he is credited with “0+” minutes of playing time.

“I got really sad,” Osenieks said. “I was almost crying.”

Osenieks said this after dressing in the Gophers locker room. Behind him, in his locker, was a hand-scrawled sign reading “Oto-Matic.” All around him, players were joking, relaxing, conducting interviews in the satisfied glow of victory. Osenieks knows he’ll miss that.

He grew up in Latvia. At 17, he was waking up in the middle of the night to watch college and pro basketball from the U.S. “I decided, ‘I want to do that,’ ” he said. “And when I did that, it was my dream come true. It was really, really fun, with the fans here and the atmosphere.

“It’s been wonderful. I made a lot of new friends, had great teammates. I met my fiancée here. It really has been wonderful.”

As Pitino introduced Osenieks to the crowd after the game, the coach asked if anyone had a summer job for Osenieks. Osenieks wants to stay in town this summer and prepare for his new career, but he is not ready to turn the page, even after the most poignant “0+” minutes of his career.

“I’m still in the process,” he said. “The doctor put a shot in my knee, something like a gel. Right now, it still hurts bad, but the doctor said it might help.

“I’m still trying to practice with the team, through the pain. I’m trying to tough it out this year and stick with the team until the end.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Fla Southern 2 FINAL
Detroit 12
FIU 2 FINAL
Miami 7
Toronto 114 FINAL
Philadelphia 103
Golden State 108 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
Phoenix 98 FINAL
Miami 115
LA Clippers 110 FINAL
Minnesota 105
New Orleans 93 FINAL
Dallas 102
Nashville 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Carolina 1 3rd Prd 4:10
Chicago 5
Montreal 0 2nd Prd
San Jose 2
Virginia 59 FINAL
Syracuse 47
Baylor 59 FINAL
Texas 61
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
Northwestern St 92
Central Arkansas 49 FINAL
Sam Houston St 76
Norfolk State 59 FINAL
Howard 61
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 75 FINAL
Delaware State 85
Lamar 69 FINAL
McNeese State 70
Nicholls 89 FINAL
New Orleans 79
Incarnate Word 62 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 83
NC Central 62 FINAL
Savannah State 49
Texas Southern 77 FINAL
Alabama A&M 75
Prairie View 65 2nd Half 0:36
Alabama State 62
Oklahoma 62 2nd Half 2:34
Iowa State 69
Grambling St 62 2nd Half 0:01
Miss Valley St 64
Boston College 65 2nd Half 0:27
Virginia Tech 54
Jackson State 43 2nd Half 11:27
Ark-Pine Bluff 46
Bethune-Cookman 55 FINAL
NC A&T 58
Hampton 78 FINAL
Delaware State 63
Norfolk State 63 FINAL
Howard 60
NC Central 54 FINAL
Savannah State 65
Texas Southern 83 FINAL
Alabama A&M 46
Prairie View 42 FINAL
Alabama State 60
Jackson State 78 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 74
Grambling 56 FINAL
Miss Valley St 61
Tulsa 71 FINAL
Cincinnati 58
(1) Connecticut 88 FINAL
South Florida 65
UCF 57 FINAL
East Carolina 67
Central Conn St 53 FINAL
Bryant 55
Wagner 66 FINAL
Robert Morris 60
Sacred Heart 75 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 84
St Francis-NY 73 FINAL
Long Island 49
Mount St Marys 87 FINAL
St Francis-PA 90
Temple 56 FINAL
Houston 45
Texas Tech 65 FINAL
(6) Baylor 75
Iowa State 64 FINAL
Kansas 68
SMU 60 FINAL
Memphis 53
Oklahoma 66 FINAL
Oklahoma St 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close