Haskins proves his media critics wrong

In the middle of February last year, the Gophers were 14-10, 6-6 in the Big Ten and clinging to the slim hope of an NCAA tournament berth.
Coach Clem Haskins’ odd substitution patterns were the fodder for more than a few critics, and it was widely held that the team wasn’t playing up to its potential. Some even said Haskins should go.
Under fire, Haskins took what many considered an unfair jab at the media. Speaking of his inability to secure a commitment from Minneapolis North guard Khalid El-Amin to attend Minnesota, Haskins said, “You can blame this one on the media. I can’t blame him (El-Amin) after all the negative publicity recently on all the talk shows and newspapers.”
El-Amin had given Haskins a verbal commitment to play for the Gophers, but reneged and added Cincinnati, California, Kansas and Georgetown to his list. He has yet to decide on a school.
Haskins has never gotten along particularly well with the media, win or lose. In fact, he shuns reporters and allows only minimal contact with his players. But his comment made him appear thin-skinned and vindictive.
Shortly thereafter, I wrote a column railing on Haskins and the program. It said the Gophers were stinking up Williams Arena and that a trip to the tournament was about as likely as a media pajama party at Haskins’ home.
I never called for Haskins’ head, but I wrote that El-Amin would be nutso to go to Minnesota when he could play under the likes of Kansas’ Roy Williams or Georgetown’s John Thompson. A top-10 recruit can do better than a second- or third-tier school, I said.
A friend of mine read the column and sent me an e-mail detailing the reasons that I, not El-Amin, was nutso. He basically agreed with Haskins that the media was wrong about the team, the program and the coach.
After the Gophers beat UCLA last weekend to go to the Final Four, that same friend reminded me of the column. In the five months of hubbub surrounding the team, I had forgotten how far the Gophers — and Haskins — had come.
OK, I admit it. My bad. While everybody else is enjoying their Easter jelly beans, I’m busy gnawing on the foot now firmly entrenched in my mouth.
A year after being denied entrance into the NCAA tournament, the Gophers earned a No. 1 seed and advanced to their first-ever Final Four. Haskins is national coach of the year, and senior guard Bobby Jackson was named Big Ten Player of the Year.
The substitutions still drive me crazy and I find the tattoo and earring restrictions a little trite, but it’s hard to argue with a 31-4 record. And it’s nice to hear every single Gophers player stand up for their coach and say he’s made them better people.
I thought before that El-Amin could do better. Now I’m not so sure. True, he could go to Kansas or Georgetown or wherever, and would likely have a very successful basketball career. And there’s no doubt that there are plenty of great coaches around, too.
But with the rumors of El-Amin’s — uh, interesting family life — he might be better served by staying close to home, under Haskins’ wing. He won’t get the playing time he might like, but he’ll leave Minnesota a better person.
Common sense indicates that the Gophers’ recent success can only help in recruiting, and El-Amin’s at the top of the list.
With the Gophers’ success this season, Haskins has proven that a team can win without a slew of NBA first-round draft choices. And chances are good that he’ll continue to win — with or without El-Amin.