Hartman: Local NBA draft picks were once the norm

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2014 - 12:06 AM

In the 1940s and ’50s, the Lakers won titles with a roster featuring many players from Minnesota.

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Vern Mikkelsen -- former Hamline star, Minneapolis Laker great and NBA Hall of Famer -- in a 2006 file photo.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

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An issue has been made over the fact that the Gophers have not had a player selected in the NBA draft since 2004 when Kris Humphries was selected 14th overall by the Utah Jazz.

But if you look back to the George Mikan days with the Lakers, from 1948 to 1957 there were at least three local college players on the Minneapolis Lakers roster alone each season. During that period, the Lakers went 380-240, a .613 winning percentage, and won five NBA championships.

Using their territorial pick in 1949, the Lakers selected Vern Mikkelsen, who had played at Hamline. Two years later they took Whitey Skoog, a Gophers guard, and in 1955 they selected Dick Garmaker, also from the Gophers.

But even outside of the territorial picks, which helped NBA teams acquire popular local college players before the regular draft began, the Lakers grabbed a number of local college stars. In 1950 they used a second-round pick on Hal Haskins of Hamline. Haskins never played for the Lakers, but two other later local picks from that year did: fifth-rounder Bud Grant from the Gophers and seventh-rounder Joe Hutton from Hamline.

In 1953 they drafted another Hamline player, Jim Fritsche. The following year, they picked Gophers center Ed Kalafat. And in ’55, the same year they selected Garmaker, they drafted Chuck Mencel from the Gophers.

That’s nine local draft picks from 1949 to ’55.

Mikkelsen, who grew up north of the Twin Cities in little Askov, Minn., essentially invented the power forward position and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was a six-time All-Star who averaged 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

Haskins grew up in Alexandria and passed on playing for the Lakers, instead deciding to play for the St. Paul Lights of the National Professional Basketball League, only to have the franchise fold midseason.

Grant was selected by both the Lakers and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL draft. He averaged 2.6 points off the bench in two seasons with the Lakers, winning an NBA title as a rookie, before deciding to play football instead and eventually becoming the Hall of Fame coach of the Vikings.

Hutton, who would become the Minneapolis North boys’ basketball coach later in life, played three seasons with the Lakers and averaged 2.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, winning a title with the 1952 squad.

Skoog was a Brainerd native who played with the Lakers from 1951 to ’57, winning three titles with the Lakers. He averaged 8.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 points per game.

Fritsche was selected seventh overall and played parts of two seasons with the Lakers, the Baltimore Bullets and the Fort Wayne Pistons. He averaged 3.9 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Kalafat, grew up in Montana before coming to the University of Minnesota, and played for three years with the Lakers before joining the Army. He averaged 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and he also ended his military career with the rank of captain.

Garmaker, an All-America with the Gophers who grew up in Hibbing, was a four-time NBA All-Star and averaged 13.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists over seven seasons.

Mencel was the Big Ten MVP in his senior season with the Gophers in 1955, and the Lakers took him in the second round. He played three seasons with the team, averaging 7.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.

The difference, though, is that all of those local college stars were mostly local high school products as well, and they stayed in town to attend college here. The Gophers had only one player on their roster who was from Minnesota last year, Joey King, an Eastview High School alum who transferred here after one season at Drake.

Mbakwe with Lakers

Incidentally, there will be a local high school and college product playing with the Lakers summer league team.

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