U remains focused during hot streak

Todd Zolecki

From California to Europe, the word is getting out about the Gophers men’s basketball team. And the more people become aware of the No. 4 team in the country, the more Minnesota players want to stay away from the hype.
Easily said, but not as easily done. The Gophers haven’t been ranked this high since 1973, and when fans want to read, see or hear anything they can on the team, how are the players supposed to get away from it all?
They can’t. But they can keep sight of their goals and keep themselves from getting too cocky.
“People talk about you no matter where you’re at,” sophomore forward Miles Tarver said. “They could exile us to an island, and I think we’d still get some of this hype that’s going on.”
Actually, Gophers coach Clem Haskins wouldn’t mind it if his players were isolated from all the outside distractions. Give them a court, a ball and some indoor plumbing and Minnesota would be fine.
All Minnesota would have to do is travel back to Williams Arena for its games, like the one tonight against Penn State.
But so far, Haskins said, the hoopla hasn’t affected his players, and he’s trying to keep it that way. He has told them to try and stay away from watching TV and reading the papers. And he said he won’t allow the media more access now that Minnesota is in the top five.
“If you get the big head and start listening to people brag about you, then all of a sudden your jumpers don’t fall and all of a sudden somebody steps up and beats you,” Haskins said.
Tarver has noticed the attention Minnesota is getting. Back home in Oakland, Calif., his mother, Mary Miles, has been stopped by friends who tell her they saw Tarver on ESPN or on the news. He said his friend in Europe saw the highlights on TV of when Tarver got into a fight against a player from Long Island two months ago.
The demand for the players’ complimentary tickets is also high. Each player has four tickets for each game, and they’re not having any trouble getting rid of them. They could probably use 400 more.
Senior center John Thomas said he gives his tickets to his family, but said he has plenty of friends from his parent’s neighborhood asking for them. Tarver said he has a schedule in his room and has the rest of the season mapped out to try and satisfy everyone.
The demand will probably reach epic proportions once the NCAA tournament rolls around. For fans, the March Madness talk is never too early, but the team wants to concentrate on the nine games remaining on its regular season schedule.
Thomas said all the talk can get to the players.
“It does subconsciously,” he said. “You might not think it does, but it does. Players get to the point where they think we’ve got it made. But we don’t have it made. We’re not the national champions, and that’s the only time you have it made.”
While they might not want to hear it, tournament hype has already started. According to a prediction on ESPN’s Internet home page, the Gophers will be the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. If the prediction was true, Minnesota would open up against Southwest Texas State and play either Iowa State or Georgia in the second round.
Of course it’s all fictitious, but it serves the purpose of getting people excited for a team that hasn’t played this well since 1982, when it last won the Big Ten title.
“We have to just stay the way we’ve been,” Thomas said. “We can’t be thinking we’re all high and mighty. We’re not. The best team is the one which goes and plays hard every night. That’s what we’re trying to do.”