Monson sees Europe trip as a big plus

by Michael Dougherty

Oh the mistakes rookies make — rookie coaches that is. Newly hired Gophers basketball coach Dan Monson started his team’s European exhibition trip off by nearly missing the team’s flight.
Apparently the departure time for the team’s flight to London on Wednesday was moved up, and while the rest of the entourage had boarded the plane, Monson was nowhere to be found.
Television cameras showed an airline employee paging Monson. A few moments later Monson and his new bride, Darci, strolled up to the gate with a few minutes to spare.
Life with the Gophers basketball team continues to be exciting.
The European trip will last 12 days and include six games — three games in Belgium, two games in London and one in Paris.
Normally, teams cannot begin formal practices until Oct. 15, but this European trip opened Williams Arena for eight practices with Monson and his new team.
The NCAA allows teams to take a trip like this once every four years, and Monson said the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
“I think it’s almost a Godsend,” the 37-year old Monson said. “Certainly we’re not going to get our system all in right now and reinvent the wheel, but it gives us a great chance for our kids to get a little more familiar with us while they’re on the court.
“Even more important than that is getting to know each other off the court. To be a good basketball team you have to be a family. You’ve got to know each other and trust each other, and I think with 12 days together overseas it will give us a real opportunity to do that.”
Familiarity with Monson and his new coaching staff is something both sophomore Joel Przybilla and junior co-captain J.B. Bickerstaff said is significant. And they both said the trip will provide the opportunity to get to know all the new faces.
Both players are used to transition, with each of them playing with their third coach in as many years. Przybilla played for former Gophers coach Clem Haskins last year, and high school coach Max LaVelle while he was a senior at Monticello.
Bickerstaff, meanwhile, spent last year practicing with Haskins and the rest of the Gophers while sitting out one year because of his transfer from Oregon State, where he played for Eddie Payne.
“It gives us a chance to come in and play with the guys and develop some chemistry,” Bickerstaff said. “But more importantly, it gives us the chance to get to know the new coaches and learn how they want us to play.”
“So far I think it’s been an easy transition, especially with this European trip,” Przybilla said of the new coaching staff. “We’ve got a lot to prove to a lot of people, and this will help us show it.”
Although Przybilla said the transition has been easy, he said the months of speculation regarding Haskins’ future with the team was particularly hard on him.
“It was so up and down,” Przybilla said of the highly publicized four-month period that started in March with former team tutor Jan Gangelhoff’s allegations of academic fraud in early March, continued with Haskins resignation the last week in June and finally ended with the July 24th hiring of Monson.
“Everyone came here for one reason, and that was Coach Haskins,” Przybilla said. “He’s a great coach, but we’ve got a great replacement with Coach Monson and his new coaching staff.”
While Przybilla declared his fondness for his new coach, Monson said he is not only happy to see the seven-footer on his side, but he’s even happier seeing the 25 to 30 pounds of extra muscle the 260-pound Przybilla put on over a rigorous summer of workouts.
During his freshman season, Przybilla suffered from some late-season fatigue that hindered his play during the tough Big Ten schedule when his weight eventually got down to 230 pounds. Przybilla said he knew he would have to bulk up to be able to handle the banging in the conference.
“He’s put on not just 30 pounds, but 30 good pounds,” Monson said. “A lot of kids will put on 30 pounds but it won’t be in the right way — a way that can help him.”
A whole new coaching staff, 30 more pounds of Przybilla and a large new tattoo on his right arm that warns the competition, “Not in my house,” are just a few of the many changes the winds have blown into Williams Arena. Most of the changes have been positives — except for the change in departure time for the team’s flight.