Gophers coach Clem Haskins began his weekly media luncheon Tuesday by bringing to the podium Herb Isakson, longtime volunteer assistant coach for the Gophers baseball team, who is being honored with a retirement ceremony on Sunday at the Pro-Alumni game.
“He reminds me of so many guys who helped make Clem Haskins what he is today,” Haskins said.
After Ike finished talking about his favorite memories and favorite players, Haskins turned the spotlight from the past to the present — Minnesota’s upcoming games with Illinois and Michigan. But only briefly.
The questions soon turned to the future, namely the Big Ten tournament and the Gophers’ talented recruiting class for next season. The former could be considered Minnesota’s only glimmer of hope in this disappointing season, and the latter an elixir that could ensure a season like this won’t happen again for a number of years.
In any case, the Gophers’ current situation, specifically their 9-11 overall record, 2-7 in the Big Ten, was largely ignored. First, Haskins was asked if his anti-Big Ten tournament attitude had changed, now that winning the tournament and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that goes with it appears to be the only conceivable way Minnesota will be playing in mid-March.
“I like it in terms of the chance to go to the postseason, but it still doesn’t change my reason for voting against it,” Haskins said. “I still feel strongly that the parents should be invited and given money to come watch their babies play. We’re making too much money off basketball not to do that. Until they make that change, I won’t vote in favor of it.”
Even a conference tournament, which has resuscitated many flagging teams in the past, might not be the remedy for Minnesota. After being hampered by injuries and the effects of departed players all season, winning four games in four days would be as much of an accomplishment for the depleted Gophers as going to the Final Four was last season.
“We have seven more basketball games left (before the tournament),” Haskins said. “Our number one concern is health. We cannot afford to lose anybody else. We would have a much better record if we had all 12 guys on the floor for practice every day.”
Haskins was then asked what he might do to increase Minnesota’s depth during the late signing period in early April.
The Gophers still have two scholarships to offer in addition to the ones already taken by incoming freshmen Joel Przybilla, Nick Sinville and Kevin Burleson. That recruiting class was ranked in the top 20 by national recruiting expert Bob Gibbons.
“We’re definitely going to sign one, maybe two players in the spring,” Haskins said. “We need scorers.
“We think we need a three-man (small forward), a two-man (shooting guard), and a big-time scorer. With that, with Joel at the center spot to mix with what we have, we’ll be very competitive — a top 20 or 25 team.”
Of course, Haskins was allowed to comment on a few current events. He was asked if he had heard anything from the Big Ten office about his ejection from Saturday’s game at Indiana, which came after a center court tirade at an official.
“Not yet,” was the reply.
He talked about how hard his team played after his ejection, despite being outmanned by a talented Hoosiers team.
“We don’t quit,” he said. “In coaching, you have better players, you have better teams and you have better years. But I don’t think I’ve had a team that competes as hard as this team. And that’s what’s important. We’re not a very talented ballclub from top to bottom, but we have guys who play big parts and they listen.”
Finally, he was asked in jest if Przybilla might leave Monticello High School early to help this year’s Gophers.
“No,” Haskins said with a smile. “We’ll be just fine.”