Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith has previously compared junior standout Damian Johnson with Tayshaun Prince, who played four years for Smith at Kentucky and was in town Wednesday when his Detroit Pistons faced the Timberwolves at Target Center.

Prince took time to visit Smith at Gophers practice Wednesday, bringing up the comparison Smith has made to Johnson. That is quite a tribute to Johnson because Prince was a former Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and has been a great pro for several years now.

"I hadn't seen him since the Olympics, I guess," said Smith of Prince, a member of the gold medal-winning United States team in Beijing last summer. "He's a young man that did it the right way, he stayed four years. I remember him talking about when he put his name in the draft his junior year and came back and was [second-team] All-American, All-SEC.

"... Damian has that reach and that basketball savvy and that understanding of how to play. He's not skilled like a Tayshaun Prince, he's not 6-9 or 6-10, but he has the length and that anticipation and that understanding of how to play the game."

Prince was a first-round pick in 2002 by Detroit and has been a big part of a team that won the 2004 NBA championship and has appeared in the past six Eastern Conference finals.

Asked if Johnson can reach Prince's heights, Smith said: "That's a good question. Damian has a lot to learn as far as he has to develop some outside shooting at that size [6-7]. But, if he continues to work on his game, the sky's the limit. I'm not going to say he can't, I'm just saying not now. He has to do a lot more.

"Tayshaun was more of a complete player. By that I mean he could play any position on the court."

Johnson appreciated the chance to meet Prince on Wednesday, as well as the compliment Smith gave him. "I'd love to be in his situation," Johnson said of Prince. "It's all about hard work, so I'm going to try to work hard, keep working, and maybe I'll be in his same shoes."

Vikings income up

Total ticket revenue from the Vikings' 10 preseason and regular-season home games in 2008 was about $50.1 million, compared to $46.9 million a year ago, according to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which runs the Metrodome.

The Vikings' share of concession sales was up about $26,000, from $891,000 in 2007 to $917,000 in '08.

The Vikings sold 521 fewer tickets in 2008 (610,306 tickets) than in '07 (610,827). However, the turnstile count was considerably higher, by 14,937 fans: The Vikings had 555,187 fans actually attend games in 2008, up from 540,250 the year before.

The Gophers don't pay any rent, but they do get a share of Metrodome concessions for their home football games. Their total turnstile attendance for 2008 was 275,996, 21,540 less than '07.

The Gophers' share of concession sales was $850,000, $68,000 more than the previous year.

Saunders did good job

At this point in the season a year ago, the Pistons, under coach Flip Saunders, were 31-13. Following their victory over the Wolves, they are 25-19 under Michael Curry.

Saunders had taken the Pistons to three conference finals in a row, losing to Miami, Cleveland and Boston.

The Celtics eliminated Detroit in six games last year. On May 31, the Saturday after the Pistons were eliminated, Joe Dumars and Saunders met, and the team president of basketball operations reportedly told Saunders he was coming back for the 2008-09 season, for which he was under contract. But on June 3, the team announced Saunders was being fired.

I wonder if Dumars has any regret about firing Saunders, who was one of the most respected coaches in the NBA. The Associated Press ran a story earlier this week reporting that some say Curry looks as if he is overmatched. I doubt that the Pistons will go to the conference finals this year.


New Gophers men's track and field coach Steve Plasencia is very proud of the fact he has two athletes -- middle-distance runner Chris Rombough of Fremont, Wis., and heptathlete R.J. McGinnis of Burnsville -- who have the top indoor marks in the country this season, with their performances at home over the weekend at the Jack Johnson Classic. Rombough's 3,000-meter time of 8 minutes, 0.66 seconds is a school record, and McGinnis' heptathlon score of 5,511 points is fifth-best in Gophers history. Both were honored by the Big Ten as athletes of the week this week.

Gophers quarterback Adam Weber recently had surgery on his left shoulder, keeping him from lifting weights and other conditioning drills for now. But he is expected to be ready for spring football. ... Gophers coach Tim Brewster is in Florida trying to recruit a couple of blue-chip football players.

The 20 consecutive Illinois victories against the Gophers men's basketball team is the longest winning streak against an opponent since the Illini started playing basketball in 1906.

All-Star goaltender Niklas Backstrom looks for the Wild to have a good second half of the season. "I think we've been pretty good, pretty solid," he said. "You look at our special teams, they're great. The power play has been really good for us, the penalty kill is being solid every night, and our defense, they're playing strong defense. I think we're a pretty tough team to play against. The standings are tight; you win a couple games you're up, you lose a couple of games you're down. So, if we could have a couple good weeks and get some points, our situation in the standings would be completely different. But we have to also remember the only thing that matters is where you are in the standings after 82 games. Now, we just try to get as many points as possible to get in the playoffs."

The recent cold spell hasn't set back the work on the new Gophers football stadium, and everything is on schedule for TCF Stadium to open this fall. Most of the remaining work is inside, with the exception of a few seats that need to be installed.

The Gophers baseball team opens its season Feb. 20 vs. Seton Hall in St. Petersburg, Fla. John Anderson, in his 28th season as Gophers coach, goes into the season with 966 career victories. Anderson and his staff will conduct a coaches' clinic Feb. 14. ... As for a new Gophers baseball stadium, all the paperwork is done and the administration has given it the OK. All that is needed now is to raise the money.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at