Much has changed; Mencel’s legacy has not

On Wednesday, Charley Mencel became the seventh player in Gophers’ history to have his jersey retired.

by Andrew Baker

There have been a few changes to the game of basketball since Charley Mencel played for the Gophers.

In his day there was no three-point line, no shot clock and trains were the preferred mode of team transportation.

âÄúI became a Gopher in July of 51,âÄù Mencel said before WednesdayâÄôs game against Northwestern, at which he became the seventh player in Minnesota basketball to have his jersey retired. âÄúHow long ago was that? âĦ That in itself is just an awesome honor, because to be recognized from that era is just fantastic. Can you imagine how much the game has changed?âÄù

The students in attendance Wednesday night probably could not, but at least one thing has remained constant at the University of Minnesota since MencelâÄôs playing days.

âÄúItâÄôs The Barn,âÄù Mencel said. âÄúIt hasnâÄôt changed.âÄù

Mencel played for the Gophers from 1951 to 1955, under head coach B.J. âÄúOzzieâÄù Coles.

As a senior, he earned the Big TenâÄôs most valuable player award, averaging 18.6 points and five rebounds per game.

His 1,391 career points are still good enough for ninth all-time in school history.

After college, Mencel played two professional seasons with the Minneapolis Lakers.

Asked to describe his playing style, Mencel compared himself to a Gophers âÄî ahem âÄî fan favorite from this season.

âÄúDevoe Joseph played a lot like I played,âÄù Mencel said.

The comparison may evoke painful memories for Minnesota faithful still trying to understand why Joseph left the Gophers for Oregon earlier this season, but for those old enough to remember watching Mencel, it likely has more positive connotations.

âÄúI was quick,âÄù Mencel said. âÄúI could take anybody on the first step, so that always helped.âÄù

Mencel chided media members for being too young to have seen his quickness firsthand, but he was quick to praise the current team and said he was pleased with how the game has evolved since he hung his jersey up for good.

Mencel said a lot of the changes made in the last half-century would have made his playing experience more enjoyable.

âÄúThere was no March Madness then,âÄù Mencel said, âÄúand the other thing that really bugs me, we only got to play 22 games âĦ I couldâÄôve played 40 more games as a Gopher had they allowed us to play 32 games back then.âÄù

That was about the extent of anything negative Mencel had to say about his basketball career.

âÄúI got to play at a great university with some great guys âĦ I canâÄôt imagine my life having been any better after the decision in July of 1951 when I decided to be a Gopher,âÄù he said.

Mencel belongs to the ages now. His number âÄî 30 âÄî was unveiled at halftime, and now hangs from the Williams Arena rafters next to Trent TuckerâÄôs, whose jersey was retired two seasons ago.

Gophers head coach Tubby Smith took part in the ceremony and was seemingly able to forget about a late first-half run by Northwestern long enough to joke with Mencel, getting a chuckle out of the crowd when he said the Gophers could make use of MencelâÄôs jump shooting abilities.

âÄú[Mencel] is a special guy,âÄù Smith said after the game, later adding, âÄúIt was great to see his jersey raised. IâÄôm glad we honored him with a win tonight too.âÄù