Players feeling punished for elders’ problem

Michael Dougherty

It’s like when the little brother gets punished for something the older one did wrong — the current Minnesota basketball players got spanked on Tuesday afternoon as part of the fallout from the alleged academic fraud investigation.
University President Mark Yudof, Men’s Athletic Director Mark Dienhart and Gophers basketball coach Dan Monson sat at a table in Morrill Hall and announced a one-year ban on postseason play for the team, as well as an NCAA probation for an unspecified period of time.
Yudof said he expects more sanctions to be imposed once the final investigative report is released. He said those sanctions will be leveled by both the University and the NCAA.
There is a good chance that a loss of one or more scholarships might be part of that further investigation. And McKinley Boston, the vice president for student development and athletics, said there is a possibility Minnesota’s 1996-97 Big Ten title could be taken away. He also said money received from the team’s Final Four appearance might have to be repaid as part of a fine the NCAA might exact.
While those possible sanctions penalize the University and the athletics department, the postseason ban is something the current players are having a tough time with.
“We’re the innocent victims here,” center Joel Przybilla said. “It’s not really fair that we get penalized and the guys who did it get nothing.”
“It hurts more knowing you had nothing to do with it,” Gophers co-captain John Blair Bickerstaff said, “but you get the brunt of it.”
Bickerstaff, Przybilla and the rest of the team were told of the penalty right after the 2:45 p.m. press conference and right before practice. The decision to make the announcement came late Monday night and the players said they were surprised it came so quickly.
Yudof said the timing of the sanctions will “give coach Monson, players and prospective recruits a clearer understanding of the future.”
The prospective recruiting list shrunk by one important name on Tuesday when Adam Boone, a point guard from Minnetonka, orally committed to North Carolina.
Boone reportedly had Minnesota on a list of schools that included Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Boone was supposed to make his official visit to Minnesota this weekend. And Darius Miles, a coveted player from East St. Louis, Ill., who is rated by some recruiting services as the second-best player in the country, is also supposed to make a visit this weekend.
Monson had Duluth East’s Rick Rickert in town last weekend and the two attended the Gophers football game with Monson’s wife Darci and the rest of the coaching staff.
Rickert, a 6-foot-10-inch, 205-pound forward is still a junior in high school. His father was on the Gophers basketball team for two years before he transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The younger Rickert said he hasn’t narrowed his list of schools down yet, but said Florida, Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Minnesota are the top schools that are recruiting him.
He said his feelings about Minnesota changed once the news of the alleged academic fraud became public.
“I’m not so hot about it anymore,” he said, “but they are still a possibility.”
Both Monson and Dienhart said the sanctions will hurt recruiting a little. But players like Bickerstaff and Przybilla said they don’t think it will affect recruiting because the sanctions should be over by the time incoming recruits would be playing here.
But if speculation about the possible future loss of scholarships proves to be true, the contents in Monson’s bag of recruiting tricks might be empty.
“For the upcoming recruits it’s going to be difficult for them knowing that there could be more sanctions,” Przybilla said. “I’m so glad I didn’t have to deal with it.”
The loss of postseason play and the NCAA probation will cause Monson some short-term aches and pains. But the loss of Boone and possibly Miles, coupled with the souring of Rickert, are what might eventually paralyze the new coach and his rebuilding efforts.

Michael Dougherty covers football and basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]