igh Hopes: A capsule look at the Gophers’ prospects for the 1998-99 season

Murali Balaji

For 12 young men at the University of Minnesota, it’s time to lace up the high-tops, rip off the warm-ups and get ready for some basketball.
With two former state basketball players of the year (freshman center Joel Przybilla and sophomore guard Mitch Ohstad) and a wealth of talent from all over the country, Gophers’ coach Clem Haskins will lead his troops into a season filled with both promise and uncertainty in a conference that might be more competitive than any other this season.

Five reasons the Gophers will win the Big Ten:

Depth. Of all the reasons to consider Minnesota a legitimate contender in the conference, this one might stand out the most. The team returned three senior starters and will be at least two-deep at every position. Haskins may lose hair over what combinations to put out on the court, but he certainly won’t lose any sleep worrying about his team’s depth. The Gophers have plenty of speed and size, a healthy combination that usually wins a lot of games.

Quincy Lewis and Kevin Clark. Lewis isn’t a dominating player, but in Haskins’ program, he doesn’t have to be in order to make opponents pay. This season, he’ll be playing at his natural small forward spot, freeing him on the wing and allowing him to use his explosiveness on the baseline to create mismatches. Clark started slowly last season, but his increased comfort level in the backcourt showed with his MVP performance in the NIT tournament. Lewis (14.5 points per game) and Clark (11.6 ppg) give the Gophers a rare combination of pure scorers in the conference.

Defense wins games, and the Gophers have plenty of it: Haskins preaches and pleads with his players to play aggressive — make that harassing — defense, and the results have shown. Last season, Minnesota ranked third in the Big Ten in steals and limited its opponents to 35 percent shooting from the floor. Newcomer guards Ohnstad, Terrance Simmons and Kevin Burleson will only add to the team’s ability to flood the lanes, while big men Antoine Broxsie (1.2 blocks per game) and Joel Przybilla are potential disrupters in the post.

The three-headed monster: Okay, it’s not exactly the Chicago Bulls’ once-mighty triumvirate of Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, and Robert Parish, but the trio of 6-foot-11 Kyle Sanden, 6-foot-10 Antoine Broxsie, and 7-foot Przybilla gives the team some size and muscle on the inside. Sanden, a 265-pound sophomore who struggles with a fainting affliction, has developed into a serviceable post player with a decent short jumper, but freshman Przybilla is the player to watch.
Already touted as the first true center on the team since Bob Martin, the 240-pound native of Monticello, Minn., Przybilla runs the floor well and has a solid all-around offensive game. It remains to be seen if or when he will assume the starting center role this season.

Last — but certainly not least — Haskins: For those people who doubt his ability to win under adversity, just look at last season’s team.
With an undersized frontcourt and a backcourt that lacked explosiveness, Haskins guided the Gophers to a 20-15 record and an NIT championship. Not bad for a team that started out 0-6 in conference play.
Haskins has his players believing they can become one of the best teams in the country.
“I can actually say that we have a great team,” guard Kevin Clark said. “I think coach Haskins has got us confident that we can really be one of the top teams in the Big Ten.”