Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Despite problems Gophers look to rebuild

November 30, 2000

This is the fourth in a series of Big Ten men’s basketball previews

The good news for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team is that postseason play is still a possibility.

The bad news is the road to a March tournament appearance is an uphill climb.

Beginning in March 1999 and ending in October 2000, the Golden Gophers’ basketball program endured extreme NCAA scrutiny for various wrongful acts.

Former university tutor Jan Gangelhoff admitted she wrote more than 400 pieces of coursework for Minnesota basketball players between 1993 and 1998. And there were other forms of academic misconduct uncovered.

Feeling the heat, former coach Clem Haskins accepted a $1.5 million buyout to quit on June 25, 1999.

Finally, in October, the NCAA handed down its sanctions: four years of probation and scholarship cuts were imposed, but the Gophers were not barred from postseason play.

Now, a new era in Minnesota basketball has begun.

Former Gonzaga coach Dan Monson is entering his second season at the helm of the Gophers, and he’s excited about the possibilities. Last year, the Gophers went 12-16.

“We’re realistic, and we know there’s still some clouds out there,” Monson said. “But the sun has finally peeked through.”

Minnesota’s two leading returning scorers are forward Dusty Rychart, 11.8 points per game, and guard Terrance Simmons, who averaged 11.1 points a game.

Simmons, who transferred from Louisiana State after the 1996-1997 season, said the team is relieved to finally put its thoughts on basketball.

“We feel very happy right now,” the 6-foot-3 Simmons said. “We’re like little kids waiting for Christmas. We didn’t have anything to do with the problems here in the past.”

The 6-foot-7 Rychart is from the ugly-but-effective school of hoops. Fans aren’t particularly enamored by his play, but Rychart’s teammates love his style.

“Dusty is a workaholic, and he gives his all every game,” Simmons said of Rychart, who averaged 7.9 rebounds a game last year. “He’s not flashy, but we appreciate him.”

John Blair-Bickerstaff is another of Minnesota’s few experienced players. The 6-foot-6 forward transferred from Oregon State after the 1997-1998 season. Last year, Bickerstaff averaged 7.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest.

“The only way we can go is up,” Blair-Bickerstaff said. “I like the feeling of being an underdog. I look at it as motivation.”

Monson said the team knows its limitations.

“The NCAA gave us new life, but that doesn’t do any good if we don’t achieve,” Monson said. “Our main goal is definitely making the NCAA tournament.”

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