Kevin McHale's Houston Rockets beat Flip Saunders' Timberwolves in Mexico City last night, and the two meeting reminded me of something.
Glen Taylor, owner of the Wolves, once told me the biggest mistake he probably ever made was firing Saunders as coach during the 2004-05 season after Saunders took the team to eight consecutive playoff berths and the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers just nine months earlier.
For some reason, McHale, who was then the Wolves vice president, and Saunders had their great friendship on rocky ground. Taylor was told by either McHale or the general manager, Jim Stack,that Kevin Garnett said that Saunders had lost control of the team. The Timberwolves had just dropped below .500 and were ninth in the Western Conference.
Garnett, in a later conversation, denied ever telling anybody that. In fact Garnett and Saunders had a great relationship that has continued to this date. For a long time, Saunders and McHale didn’t talk. But after Wednesday’s game, Saunders was off to shake McHale’s hand, indicating they are back on good terms.
What McHale has going for him right now is two of the best players in the NBA in Dwight Howard and James Harden. For the Timberwolves to become a contender they will have to get at least one player of the caliber of Howard or Harden. Right now, those two players make Houston one of the favorites to win the NBA title.
And the Timberwolves, without injured Ricky Rubio, and with No. 1 draft choice Andrew Wiggins still developing, are bound to struggle for a while.
You can’t overstress the importance of Saturday’s Big Ten football game between the Gophers and Iowa. The Gophers are starting a four-game stretch against top teams in the conference, and they are going to have to grab a victory or two to get a good bowl game bid.
Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague is making sure that Iowa fans don’t gobble up a lot of the good tickets, and you can be sure there will be a limited number of people in the stands at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday who are yelling “Let’s go Hawkeyes, Let’s go Hawkeyes.”
The Gophers have done OK against Iowa at home, but terrible on the road. This Iowa team, which started the season slowly, has really come on. They are every bit as good as Ohio State, every bit as good as Wisconsin, probably not as good as Nebraska – but they have established themselves as a Big Ten power.
The Gophers are going to have to be at the top of their game to beat Iowa. They are going to have to play their best game of the season, and quarterback Mitch Leidner is going to have to throw the ball well if his team has any chance to win.
Although the weather won’t be great, Gophers coach Jerry Kill hopes the crowd can be loud and Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock won’t be able to call audibles or change the play at the line of scrimmage. The Gophers also have to shut down Iowa’s great running game.
This is the biggest game of the year for the Gophers. They finish with Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. This will be a very rough stretch. They’ve had a bye week to prepare and are eager to get the sting of losing at Illinois out of their systems.
I am looking forward to this game as much as I’ve looked forward to a Gophers football game in a long, long time.
One very positive thing about Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is that, while football is his primary duty, he spends a lot of time doing more for community and needy people than any coach I can recall.
About a week ago he spoke to a group of young people who are dealing with epilepsy. Kill, who has suffered a number of epileptic seizures, spent a long time talking individually and collectively to all the young boys and girls at that session. They certainly felt a lot better after he left.
The Gophers' twitter account said the defensive players packed 11,232 meals.The Gophers offensive players will compete with that and try to pack more than 11,232 meals for Kids Against Hunger this week.
One thing about Kill -- he cares about people who are underprivilaged and are in need. And he makes a great impression on his players in that regard, and shows them how they can help. Believe me, the players love getting together to support causes like that, too.
This is the time of year for a lot of people to rate all the great high school basketball teams. While others rate teams that they read about -- because they weren't born yet -- I can talk about teams that I have seen, including a team that was approached to fix the high school championship game.
The team was the 1937 Minneapolis Edison boys basketball team that went 15-1 and won a state tournament. They beat Crosby Ironton 38-27 in the title game.
Edison had, in my book, the greatest starting lineup of any high school team. Don Carlson, a future Laker, was on that team after playing for the Gophers. Joe Mernik, one of the greatest high school athletes in Minneapolis history, later played for the Gophers football team and was on the 1940 national championship team, kicking an extra point as the Gophers beat Michigan 7-6 in a key game. Willie Warhol went on to play basketball for the Gophers. The Edison center was Walt Andrewski.
Around tournament time it developed that a local fan tried to fix the game by bribing one of the Edison players, something that never happened before in state high school sports. The Edison player reported the attempt to police, and the fan was arrested.
The Edison coach was Ray Parkins, and for years his team dominated the city of Minneapolis when there were only eight schools. The football team, coached by Peter Guzy, was almost as dominant.
In those days, they played every Friday at the Minneapolis Auditorium -- two games in the afternoon and two games at night. All the state tournament games were played at Williams Arena, with crowds of more than 15,000.
Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason is a candidate for the job at New Mexico.
Joel Maturi, Gophers athletic director, received a call from Paul Krebs, athletic director at New Mexico, for references on former Gophers football coach Glen Mason.
Krebs was getting his masters degree in athletic administration at Ohio State when Mason was an assistant coach there in the early 1980s.
Maturi said he gave Mason a high recommendation and told Krebs that Mason would be a very good coach.
Mason could not be reached for comment. However he has told friends in the past that he was eager to get back into coaching.
He did say via Twitter: "The rumors are not correct. I am honored to being mentioned at NMU however I do not have interest at this time."
Mike Locksley was fired in late September and defensive coordinator George Barlow has coached out the season. The Lobos are 1-9 and have to games remaining.
Mason, 61, was 64-57 in 10 years with the Gophers before being fired after the 2006 season. He is working with the Big Ten Network as an analyst.
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