Gophers ready for Euro Valparaiso

by David La

Try as he might, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson proved himself just another college basketball fan unacquainted with Valparaiso athletes.
Asked about the Crusaders players he’s impressed with, Monson said, “We’re going to see the best post-player we’ve seen this year.”
Would that be center Ivan Vujic?
“Is that his name?,” Monson asked assistant coach Mike Petersen.
“Yes,” Petersen replied.
Though the Croatian center leads his team in points and rebounds, he’ll have to do without name recognition.
That’s nothing new to Valparaiso coach Homer Drew. Now in his 12th year, Drew finds success in recruiting European talent with less-than-household names.
“Minnesota and the rest of the Big Ten kept taking all the best players in the region,” Drew said.
“Europe was a level playing field,” he said. “The kids there didn’t know the difference between Minnesota, Duke or Valparaiso.”
Clever fellow this Drew, using lack of familiarity to his advantage. Among his Euro-talent acquisitions are Vujic, guard Lubos Barton (13.1 points per game last season) and guard Milo Stovall, last year’s Mid-Continent conference tournament MVP.
While his cross-Atlantic recruiting landed Drew five players on his current roster, the Crusaders also carry two Minnesotans — guards Jared Nuness and Dwayne Toatley — both of whom are, “excited about going home to play,” according to Drew.
Valparaiso comes to Williams Arena in the wake of Virginia, an ACC team that gave the Gophers 25 tough minutes of play before imploding down the stretch in a 74-62 loss Tuesday night.
While not as athletic as the Cavaliers, Monson calls Valparaiso the most skilled team Minnesota will face in the nonconference schedule.
In the estimation of Drew, the Gophers offer his team a handful of challenges.
“They’ve got great scoring balance,” Drew said. “Six to eight guys are putting points on the board for them.”
But even Drew concedes that every game features one big matchup, and Saturday afternoon the centers look to take center stage.
Vujic draws Minnesota’s Joel Przybilla, a player who doesn’t suffer from anonymity at The Barn.
“Both Joel and Ivan will help each other become better players,” Drew said.
Saturday’s game should also help Monson get to know the opposition a little better, too.

David La Vaque covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].