Basketball program needs devoted student-athletes

We can’t help but wonder if, somewhere in the back of his mind, former Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins is feeling vindicated.
After all, he was responsible for recruiting center Joel Przybilla, who has apparently left the team and quit school with the intention to enter the 2000 NBA draft. Haskins’ legacy seems more and more like the gift that just keeps on giving.
But instead of looking at Przybilla’s departure as another step toward restoring the program’s academic standing — which was widely hailed as a priority only a few short months ago — fans and others will likely focus on the loss of the sophomore’s 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Once again, the student half of the student-athlete equation will finish second to wins and losses. Such is the sorry state of college athletics today.
Przybilla’s departure likely would have never happened on Haskins’ watch. Instead, the coach probably would have pulled the appropriate strings to shield his star player from the rigors of academia. Just go out there and play hard, Haskins might have said; the grades will take care of themselves.
But this is why Haskins is no longer at Minnesota, and when Dan Monson was hired as his replacement a change in the academic atmosphere was a necessary byproduct.
A source in a Pioneer Press report said, “Joel said he would have stayed four years for Clem,” but we doubt he would have stayed for Clem as much as for what Clem could provide: protection. Haskins was a fine basketball coach, but he was also an enabler. That is likely what academically challenged players such as Przybilla appreciated most.
Przybilla does not want to go to class or think about trivialities such as books and buses and the Big Ten. He does not want to be anything more than a basketball player. And so he must go.
This sort of small-picture thinking is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to talented student-athletes. But then, students who go to class and get good grades — on their own — don’t tend to grab headlines. This is what we expect, or at least hope for. And this is what coaches should demand.
Monson apparently demanded too much, and Przybilla is walking away. Good riddance. While the sophomore was certainly up to the challenges presented by on-court opponents, the same could not be said of his performance in the classroom. The University should not want to have players of this ilk on its teams. They make a mockery of the student-athlete ideal, and no level of athletic prowess should be enough to discount the value of an education.
Players such as Przybilla are a drain on college athletics. He was a prized recruit who was developing into a solid, if not dominant, Big Ten center. But he never belonged here. He did not come to Minnesota to go to school. His departure should not be lamented, but rather applauded.
That probably will not be the case, however. Fans will likely criticize Monson for being too hard on Przybilla and giving him a reason to leave. But Monson did the right thing for his players, the program and the University. Although the team will surely suffer without Przybilla, his departure is a positive step toward an academically solvent future for the program.