‘Madness’ begins for men’s basketball Friday

Jabari Ritchie

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Don Monson is looking forward to Midnight Madness, but not just to see the Gophers’ new lineup and his top 10 recruiting class.

“The best thing about Midnight Madness is the fact that we get our students excited,” he said. “Right now, to get our program fully back to where we want it to be, we have to get our students back to where they were at one point, in being involved in our program. Your student section is an integral part of your crowd and of your support.”

After choosing not to hold Midnight Madness last year, Minnesota has been hyping this season’s event, which begins Friday night at Williams Arena.

The program kicks off at 9:30 p.m. with musical performances by Malo, LA, and Voicemale.

“(Last year) they tried to do something aimed more at families,” said Deborah Diamond, who is coordinating Midnight Madness. “They decided to really bring back the student section this year… I think the players themselves are more excited about it because they’re students themselves.”

With most of the players returning from last year’s 18-14 team, and at least two newcomers who are expected to have an immediate impact, the Gophers hope to improve.

Freshman forward Rick Rickert, who was a McDonald’s All-American at Duluth East High School, and junior center Jerry Holman, a junior college All-American, are among four players who will practice with Minnesota for the first time at Midnight Madness.

“I think the strength of the team is its versatility,” Monson said. “I think it’s going to be a very skilled team. It’s going to be able to run and be a very finesse team with some added inside depth with Rickert and Holman.”

Friday night, Monson will also get a chance to work on his team’s weaknesses.

“We don’t have a lot of physical strength,” he said. “And we don’t have roles defined as we did last year. We don’t have leadership without (John-Blair) Bickerstaff and (Terrance) Simmons. We’re going to have to find people that understand their roles a little bit this year.”

Monson said he is glad to start his third season as the Gophers’ coach without having to worry about NCAA sanctions.

“Last year, before the season started, the NCAA still hadn’t handed anything down. This is the first year since I’ve been here where we’ve started the year knowing exactly that we control our own destiny,” said Monson, who led Minnesota to the second round of the NIT last season.

“It’s nice for our players, and for all of us, to talk about this team and the accomplishments – or lack of – that may happen this season instead of talking about the past. We know that we’re eligible for anything that we accomplish this year and I think they’re excited to go accomplish that.”