If Frank McCormick, the Gophers athletic director in 1948, had not been caught in a snowstorm in South Dakota where he was visiting a friend, the late John Wooden would have been the Gophers men's basketball coach rather than move from Indiana State to UCLA.

McCormick had offered Wooden the job, and Wooden had accepted it but only if he could bring in his own assistant coaches. However, McCormick wanted Wooden to keep Dave MacMillan, the coach Wooden would be replacing and who had another year left on his contract. In order to get approval to let MacMillan go and pay him and add Wooden's coaches to the budget, McCormick had to get permission from then- University of Minnesota President Lotus Coffman.

McCormick did finally get approval from Coffman to allow Wooden to hire his own coaches, but the snowstorm had cut off phone lines in South Dakota and McCormick couldn't get in touch with Wooden. After not hearing from McCormick for a couple of days, Wooden took the job at UCLA. Wooden and the Bruins went on to win 10 national titles, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.

Wooden, who died Friday at age 99, told me more than once that at the time he would have preferred the Gophers job because of his background in the Big Ten as a player at Purdue. But things couldn't have turned out any better at UCLA.

One of my prize possessions is a picture of Wooden, the late George Mikan and myself taken about 15 years ago, when Wooden came to town to speak to a group at Hamline University.

I had a great relationship with Wooden that began when he would come almost every year to River Falls, Moorhead or Bemidji to stage high school basketball clinics. Wooden, his wife, Nell, and myself had many a dinner together over the years and he was always available to be interviewed on my radio shows.

I was on hand when he won his first NCAA title in Kansas City in 1964, and for most of them after that. He was one of a kind.

Happy with Punto

Many so-called baseball media experts believe the Twins won't go beyond winning the AL Central Division without adding a power-hitting third baseman. However, Twins General Manager Bill Smith and manager Ron Gardenhire believe they can go far with slick-fielding Nick Punto at third, despite his lack of power.

Punto was hitting .202 with four doubles, one triple and 11 RBI going into Saturday night's game in Oakland.

"When Nick is in the lineup, things happen," Smith said. "He's a high-energy player and I know Gardy loves having him in that lineup, and he does a lot of things.

"Sometimes he'll get a big hit, and he has had a couple of big hits, but he always plays good defense and always is a plus. I don't know about the whole American League, but I like having him on our club, I know that."

Punto did hit .284 in 2008 and drove in 28 runs, but dropped to .228 last year.

"Everybody would love to have [a power-hitting third baseman], but there aren't as many," Smith said. "The Mike Schmidts [former Phillies Hall of Famer] aren't out there like 25 years ago. Some of that position has changed a little bit over the years, and certainly defense is an important part of our everyday game."

Yes, Smith might be right because Punto has missed a number of games this year because of various injuries. When he is out of the lineup, Twins pitchers miss his great defense.

Violation hurts U

One of the reasons Gophers football recruiting coordinator Dan Berezowitz was given a secondary NCAA violation was because, at the last visit he had at TCF Bank Stadium with recruit Seantrel Henderson, the standout Cretin-Derham Hall offensive tackle, Berezowitz had a business card made up with the No. 77 inscribed on it. That jersey number is what Henderson wanted to wear in college.

Berezowitz's idea was that Henderson could use this card someday after he played with the Gophers and graduated into the business world. Berezowitz was suspended for two weeks without pay in late May.

The Gophers now have seven coaches out recruiting, and no doubt the secondary NCAA violation comes up.

Not helping the basketball situation is the loss of the Jimmy Williams lawsuit against the school and Tubby Smith. The court decision has revived rumors about Smith leaving.


Vikings draft choice Toby Gerhart of Stanford will attend the Organized Team Activities workouts this week, but he will leave Saturday for his graduation ceremonies and return the following week. ... Steve LaCroix, vice president of sales/marketing for the Vikings, said the season ticket renewal rate is well over 90 percent and a big improvement over last season. ... Vikings players such as Jim Kleinsasser, Pat Williams, Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie and others were on hand at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School on Friday, where they helped build a new playground for the students.

The Gophers football team added two recruits in the past week, one for 2011 and one for this season. Cameron Wilson, a wide receiver from Rockwall-Heath (Texas) High School, was going to walk on at Oklahoma. But he committed to Minnesota when he was offered a scholarship and will be in school this summer. The other future recruit is Jephete Matilus, an outside linebacker from Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Fla., who had a number of schools after him.

Tim Brewster said he was happy to have 11 members of the Gophers' 2010 senior class get opportunities to try out for NFL teams. But he added: "We had two drafted and nine sign as free agents. For us to win, we have to change that to nine drafted and two signed as free agents."

On June 17, former Gophers NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion Cole Konrad will fight John Orr at the Bellator Fighting Championships XXII in Kansas City. ... And on July 3, former Gophers national champion Brock Lesnar will fight for the UFC heavyweight championship vs. Shane Carwin at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. ... On June 11-12, Gophers wrestlers Sonny Yohn and Zach Sanders will compete at the USA World wrestling trials in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Gophers baseball recruit Bobby Juan, a senior for La Crosse (Wis.) Central, went 4-for-4 with five RBI and three runs, including a three-run homer, to help La Crosse Central beat Portage 10-1 in a Wisconsin Division 1 regional final Friday. The homer was his 14th of the season, and it came one pitch after a particularly bad swing. "There are not too many times I've seen [Juan] fooled," Central coach Nick Kalina told the La Crosse Tribune. "He learns from those things. A pitcher only has to make one mistake."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com