Midnight makes things a little normal for hoops

As the clock struck midnight Friday night, University students got their first look at new coach Dan Monson’s Minnesota men’s basketball team.
Ironically, the last time the Gophers walked off the floor was after a loss to Monson’s Gonzaga team in the NCAA tournament.
It’s been a long summer for Minnesota off the court — allegations of academic fraud still overshadow the program — but Monson hopes Friday night was the beginning of a fresh start for his team.
“It’s not by any means over,” Monson said. “But it’s another step to being over by having their first practice.”
The program has taken a lot of heat since March, and that showed with a smaller, less vocal crowd than usual on Friday at Williams Arena.
The students who did show up at The Barn — like the players — are trying to put the allegations behind them.
“I didn’t even think about (the allegations),” said Molly Platisha, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore. “I just wanted to have fun.”
Monson was just happy to see a renewed student interest in the Gophers.
“It was very rewarding for our kids,” Monson said. “They’ve had six hard months here. To be cheered again and know they have some support is a very good feeling.”
Sophomore center Joel Przybilla was happy to get back on the court to start a new era in Minnesota basketball.
“It was great,” Przybilla said “We had a rough summer. It’s good to see the fans back out supporting us.”
But not everyone was able to enjoy the excitement of Midnight Madness.
Missing in action Friday night was junior forward/center Kyle Sanden. Monson said Sanden — a co-captain with John Blair Bickerstaff — is taking time off from the team to focus on academics.
“Our academic support staff and the University of Minnesota have decided it’s best for him academically right now to concentrate on that,” Monson said.
After the team — minus Sanden — was introduced to the crowd in a smoke and light show, the players dazzled the fans in a slam-dunk contest. The crowd erupted when junior Terrance Simmons skyed over a ball rack for his contest-winning dunk.
Although that type of dunk would scare most coaches, Simmons jokingly told the crowd Monson had faith in him.
“He knew I would make it,” Simmons said. “He had all the confidence in the world.”

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]