The year 2000 did not bring about any sort of armageddon, and those empty milk cartons your eccentric aunt filled up have now been emptied and tossed in the recycling bin. But it seems as if the change of year did do one thing — it transformed Gophers sophomore Joel Przybilla into a bona fide player.
Most of us don’t know what the air is like 7-feet up, but whatever is entering Przybilla’s lungs has delighted Minnesota fans and coach Dan Monson.
After Saturday’s disappointing 86-61 loss at Indiana, Monson’s squad sits at 10-4, 2-2 Big Ten. But the first-year coach has watched in amazement as his man in the middle has upped his scoring average to 20.3 points and 13 rebounds per game in conference play.
The change started with a 16-point, 11-rebound stint in the Gophers’ 85-68 drubbing of Michigan in the Big Ten opener at Williams Arena. Przybilla followed that up with 15 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks in the team’s 71-63 loss at Ohio State.
Then came last Wednesday when Iowa came to The Barn. While Mother Nature was dumping 10 inches of snow on the city outside, Przybilla dropped in a career-high 28 points against the Hawkeyes in the 85-82 win. He also set a career high with 18 rebounds, tied a career high with five assists and had seven blocks.
In the Indiana loss, his string of double-doubles was snapped but he still finished with 22 points and nine boards.
Monson, who is normally recognized as a coach with a perimeter-oriented philosophy, said fans are watching Przybilla emerge each and every game. Monson said the people have known about Przybilla’s potential for a long time, but until recently that ability hadn’t been turned into production.
But it’s all coming together now.
At 61.4 percent (78-of-127), Przybilla leads the conference in field-goal percentage, and although many of his baskets come on dunks and put-backs, his offensive game continues to develop beyond the power stuff.
“Przybilla has really worked on his offense and he’s turning the heads of a lot of people in this league,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said.
Part of the credit for Przybilla’s recent offensive surge has been a maturation. After he was booted out of the team’s loss at Oregon on Dec. 18 for swearing at a referee, opposing players saw Przybilla could be taken out of a game mentally.
A big test came in the Iowa game in the form of Hawkeye thug Jacob Jaacks. Jaacks threw several elbows and forearms at Przybilla, but the Gophers center did not retaliate.
Instead, Iowa Coach Steve Alford took Jaacks out of the game with more than 18 minutes left and never put his second-leading scorer back in.
“We watched film on him and knew he was a little on the wild side,” Przybilla said. “I knew he was going to throw a few elbows, and I had to stay away from doing that. We all had to keep our composure and we did.”
Michael Dougherty covers football and men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]