Gophers men’s basketball team hires assistant coach

Todd Zolecki

The Gophers men’s athletics department announced Monday the hiring of Charles Cunningham as a new assistant men’s basketball coach.
The announcement came just in time. Minnesota begins practice today for the 1996-97 season.
Cunningham replaces Milt Barnes, who left the program Sept. 23 to accept the head coaching job at Eastern Michigan. Cunningham leaves his current post as an assistant at Arkansas State.
He joins Larry Davis and Bill Brown as Coach Clem Haskins’ assistants.
“He’s going to represent the University of Minnesota with class,” Arkansas State coach Dickey Nutt said. “He’s a relentless worker, a great recruiter and a very fine basketball coach. He has the total package. The University will be quick to fall in love with Charles Cunningham because he’s that type of person.”
One of Cunningham’s greatest assets is his ability to recruit. As an assistant at Murray State from 1986-88 he landed Popeye Jones, now a star with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
Haskins believes Cunningham will help Minnesota recruit in the south. Cunningham is a Pickensville, Ala., native.
“It seems like the majority of players are coming from the South,” Haskins said. “He has Southern ties. We want to get into the South and continue to recruit. We can attract players from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.”
Cunningham said the success he’s had recruiting has to do with hard work and a little luck.
Nobody recruited Jones initially, Cunningham said. And by the time other schools realized he was good enough to play Division I basketball it was too late. Murray State had already signed him.
Cunningham, while an assistant at Western Kentucky from 1988-92, recruited Darnell Mee of the Denver Nuggets and Chris Robinson of the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Haskins said this is a lifetime hire. And as long as he is head coach, Cunningham will be his assistant. But Haskins knows that’s not likely to happen.
“When you have quality people, you know that somebody else is going to want them as a head coach,” Haskins said.
For now Cunningham is looking at this as a great opportunity.
“It was an opportunity for me to come and work in a program in the Big Ten and to work for Coach Haskins,” Cunningham said.
The Gophers were in a bind when Barnes left last month. Nutt found himself in an even worse predicament with Cunningham leaving just before the season.
“Sure it’s bad timing, but I’m very happy for Charles Cunningham,” he said. “This is a good move. A move to the Big Ten from the Sun Belt is obviously a good one.”
Fast-break points
ù Gophers freshman Kevin Loge, who partially severed the fifth finger on his left hand Sept. 19 in a freak gun accident, had surgery Monday. Loge was training his dog near his family farm in Morris, Minn., when his shotgun accidentally discharged.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins said Loge will be redshirted for the 1996-97 season and probably won’t be able to touch the basketball court until January.
Haskins said he will find out more about Loge’s condition today.
ù The Gophers decided not to hold Midnight Madness this season because practice began in the middle of the week, Haskins said.
For the past few years Midnight Madness has marked the beginning of the Gophers season. Technically, it is the first practice of the season, but it is more of a spectacle for fans.
“I didn’t have the time to put the energy into having it,” Haskins said. “I just want to make sure we put on a good show with our players.”
Last season the Gophers appeared live on ESPN2. Part of the festivities included a celebrity game with stars like Magic Johnson, Kirby Puckett and former Gophers guard Trent Tucker.
“We’ll try to do it again next year,” Haskins said.