Coming off bench doesn’t deter Sanden

by Michael Dougherty

Imagine spending your freshman season as the starting center on the Gophers men’s basketball team for all but three games. Then imagine starting only one game as a sophomore.
This is the adjustment Minnesota forward Kyle Sanden had to make for the No. 18 Gophers this season. Minnesota (14-5, 5-4 in the Big Ten) travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sunday for a rematch of the Gophers’ 76-70 win over the Wolverines two weeks ago.
Sanden has gone from being the starting center on an NIT championship-winning team to the second or third option off coach Clem Haskins’ bench.
Haskins promised Sanden would be the starting center at the beginning of the season, giving freshman center Joel Przybilla the opportunity to develop. But that promise lasted only two games, thanks to Przybilla’s rapid development.
Sanden said the adjustment to role player off the bench has been hard to get used to.
“Last year I’d warm up and be ready to go,” he said. “But now I do that and I have to sit there for a few minutes before I play. It takes a little while to get adjusted to the game.”
The 6’11” Sanden, from Thief River Falls, Minn., was redshirted during the 1996-97 Gophers run to the Final Four. But while most players use that time to grow and gain confidence in their games, Sanden was unable to practice because of a fainting affliction condition called vasovagel syncope.
The condition, which required medication for most of Sanden’s first two years at Minnesota, is now under control and he no longer uses the medication.
But an elbow to the head in Wednesday night’s 75-63 win over Illinois forced him out of the game because he said he was, “a little out of it.
“As a precautionary thing, (the trainers) took me downstairs and did some field tests,” Sanden said. “It took me a little while to shake it off, but I’m fine today.”
Sanden said the fainting condition hasn’t hampered his play. He is having a hard time adjusting to the cut in playing time, however.
He said while the addition of Przybilla has cost him some playing time, he knows the freshman will give the team more wins and that’s the bottom line.
Still, Sanden said he’s human — and a competitive one at that.
“I’m not going to lie; of course everyone wants to play, but this year is a big adjustment for me,” he said. “I’ve always played a lot of minutes through my whole career, and that’s something that I’ve got to work out on my own.”
Haskins, meanwhile, said he’s content with Sanden’s adjustment to coming off the bench. But he said he needs more from him if the Gophers want to win some important games on the road.
“Kyle Sanden is never going to be a guy who can play 20 minutes a ball game,” Haskins said. “He’s not physical and his stamina doesn’t let him go that long. But I think from 15 to 18 minutes he does a nice job, when we can monitor his time.”
When Sanden came to Minnesota, he weighed only 220 pounds. But weight training has added almost 40 pounds to his frame.
The extra weight is something Sanden said has helped him be more physical. But he said he’s had to give up a few things, too.
“I can’t jump as well as I used to be able to — that’s pretty obvious,” he said. “I can definitely tell a difference, but in the Big Ten it’s not really about athletic ability; it’s about being physical.”
Sanden said the parity in the Big Ten is making it hard for the team to win on the road, and the key to the team’s success for the rest of the season is the ability “to find our niche on the road.”
And although Sanden isn’t thrilled about being a seventh man, he said the best thing about playing college basketball takes place while the clock isn’t even running.
“The thing that really sticks out in my mind is coming out on the floor during every home game,” he said. “The crowd is packed to the rafters on a Saturday afternoon against a team like Purdue, and every one is juiced for it. It makes my spine tingle.”