For the first time, the games really count.
This season’s games, that is.
The big story in Gophers basketball camp has been about a team happy to have Rick Rickert here. Coach Dan Monson has stressed that his arrival gives the Gophers a promising front court. More importantly, Rickert’s signing is a chance to put outside respect back into the program.
By the way, Rickert doesn’t arrive until next season.
“It won’t help us this season,” said forward Michael Bauer, who’s friends with Rickert. “We’re trying to keep the focus and what we have to do; just keep the shoes tied tight for (tonight).”
That’s right. The Gophers begin this season tonight against UNC-Greensboro at Williams Arena.
Basketball must be played.
And that has Bauer pumped.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for over a year,” he said. “I’ll be nervous before the game.”
Bauer injured his ankle early last season, and was given a medical redshirt, ending his season.
But Bauer is one of few who has fully recovered from injury. Many players are still trying to recover from injuries, including forward Travarus Bennett and point guard Kerwin Fleming.
Bennett hasn’t practiced much this season, but could see some minutes.
“If he gets re-injured,” said Monson, “it’ll be in a game.”
On Thursday, Monson said all eight players are available to play. The ninth-man, forward Dusty Rychart, will not play.
Rychart played one minute of an exhibition game as a 1997-98 redshirt player. As a final punishment, Rychart must sit out one game. He practiced with the team all week and will play Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena against Georgia.
What great news for a team with little size and even less depth.
“The problem is going to be how good they can realistically be,” Monson said. “That’s going to be a difficult task.
“If Bauer and (center) Ryan Wildenborg get in foul trouble,” Monson said, “that’s why we’ll need Travarus with his size (6-foot-7) even though he’s a small forward.”
On the plus side, senior point guard Terrance Simmons will see his first live action this weekend.
Simmons can’t play power forward or center, but if a few things go right, Bauer thinks the off-season won’t begin in early March.
“I think we’re very underrated, ” Bauer said. “A lot of people improved over the summer. There aren’t too many of us, but without injury, we could beat a lot of teams.”
Mark Heller is the associate sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]