Sanden’s return to play ends eligibility saga

by Michael Dougherty

The Kyle Sanden eligibility saga lasted much longer than both he and the men’s basketball team wanted.
But when it finally came to an end Thursday, there was no type of pomp and there was certainly no circumstance.
“I don’t even know … I kind of heard it through the grapevine,” Sanden said when asked who told him he was ready to play again. “I read it in the paper actually.”
So, a team that took such a beating from the press after the academic fraud scandal is finally getting some good news.
And Sanden’s return is good news for the Gophers. After romping through the nonconference season with an 8-2 record, they have dropped five of eight Big Ten games.
Saturday’s 69-60 win against Northwestern halted Minnesota’s four-game losing skid. The Gophers travel to Illinois on Wednesday, but then play three straight games at home against Wisconsin, Indiana and the Illini.
Along with junior John-Blair Bickerstaff, Sanden was voted one of the team’s co-captains during the tumultuous offseason.
Even though Sanden’s career averages of 3.7 points per game and 2 rebounds per game don’t necessarily strike fear in the opposition, his 6-foot-11, 275-pound frame has been sorely missed.
If there is such a thing as a crafty veteran in college basketball, Sanden is it. He provides much-needed rest for center Joel Przybilla, plays good defense, sets physical screens and can knock down the 15-foot baseline jumper.
Sanden said he first found out about his ineligibility when he met with an academic committee in August shortly before the team left for the European exhibition trip.
Over the next few months, his status was continually up in the air. His grade point average was high enough, and he had enough credits. In the eyes of the University and the NCAA, he was OK to play.
But the Big Ten put the clamps on him. Sanden said it was confusing, but worth it.
“One minute everything was OK, the next minute something didn’t follow through,” he said. “That was a real roller coaster that really took a toll on me. Once everything was set I got everything done and now I’m back.
“It’s been frustrating but it really gave me a chance to get to know the coaching staff better and to watch our team and see the things I can do to help — some of the smaller things like a screen here or a screen there something like that, it’s just the small things that will help us win.”
Gophers coach Dan Monson said his first appearance Saturday was as expected.
“Rusty,” Monson called it.
“I think he’s going to be a great addition but I think anybody that expected him to be in the form the last time they watched him play here is doing a terrible injustice to that young man,” said Monson. “He hasn’t played competitively now for a long time, and that’s hard to be in midseason form when you haven’t been competitive for a while.”

He said, he said
The postgame news conference in the basement of The Barn was home to a less-filling — tastes-great argument after the Gophers’ win Saturday.
Monson was asked about the media attention Przybilla’s play and his possible exodus for the NBA after this season.
With much uneasiness, Monson addressed the issue — and skirted it as well.
“As for the NBA, as you said there’s been a lot written about it and that’s all it really has been — is people writing about it,” Monson said. “I’ve never mentioned NBA to Joel one time, and he’s never mentioned it to me. I think it’s the farthest thing from his mind right now. It’s just makes a good media thing for everybody to project.”
About 10 minutes later, Northwestern coach Kevin O’Neill strolled in and offered this nugget when asked about Przybilla.
“He’s a lottery pick, let’s face it. Last year Evan Eschmeyer just kicked him around up here because of age, but he’s put on weight,” O’Neill said. “The kid will go in the top six or seven when he goes this year. He’ll be a guy that’s going to be a longtime NBA player who will be a star in that league at some point.”

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