Stauber sits at top of world with U

Todd Zolecki
Staff Reporter

This whole thing is a bit unusual for Aaron Stauber. Not everybody gets to play on the second-ranked men’s basketball team in the country. And yet, here he is, a walk-on senior with the Gophers. Listen to Stauber talk, however, and he sounds like it’s no big deal — just get up, go to class and fly to Indiana for a game.
Stauber is so relaxed, so laid back, he acts convincing. But he knows what’s happening. His team won the Big Ten championship for the first time in 15 years, and it’s on the brink of being a top seed in the NCAA tournament and has very real aspirations for a national title.
And tonight against Michigan State, he’ll make his first start in a Gophers uniform.
Still, it took his brother to put this season into perspective for him a month ago. At the time, Minnesota was ranked fifth in the nation and had a 19-2 record.
“My brother was like, ‘Man, you know you’re on the No. 5 team in the country?'” Stauber said. “You don’t think about it. You always think of some other team up there, but there’s nowhere else to look.”
Ever since the Gophers jumped into the top 10, all eyes have been on them. Stauber, though, has avoided the hype. On a team with no star players, Stauber fits that description perfectly. He isn’t a star. Just an average guy on the No. 2 team.
He transferred to the University two years ago from Michigan Tech. He played guard there, but didn’t like the school and wanted a change. Thoughts of trying out for the Gophers entered his mind, but it became more serious once he began playing with some Gophers players.
Student coach and former player Hosea Crittenden discovered Stauber at the University Rec Center courts during the spring of 1995. Crittenden, then a player, saw Stauber’s talents and asked him to play with the team more often.
Stauber, from Sheboygan, Wis., didn’t know much about the team at the time. He remembers playing with Ryan Wolf, Townsend Orr and a few team managers. He knew names, not faces. During one game, a manager asked Stauber to guard Orr. Stauber said he would, but first had to be pointed out who Orr was.
After a short time, Crittenden and Stauber exchanged numbers and called each other anytime they looked for a game. Stauber joined the team for pick-up games at Williams Arena and talked to Crittenden frequently about trying out for the team as a walk-on that fall.
Crittenden, a walk-on himself, spoke with Gophers assistant coach Bill Brown and former assistant coach Milt Barnes, now the head coach at Eastern Michigan, about Stauber. The coaching staff said Stauber should try out in the fall.
“He’d ask me, ‘What’d he say? What’d he say?'” Crittenden said. “It was kind of funny. I was like, ‘Aaron, just calm down. It’s not going to happen in one day.'”
Stauber went to work at a steel plant that summer in Sheboygan. Once he finished his nine-hour shift, he worked out with his friend, Phil Hicks, a former player in the NBA and Europe.
That fall, he made the team but found out he had to sit out the season and redshirt. He is glad he stuck out a year of practice to be a part of this experience.
“A friend of mine called me who I used to play with at Michigan Tech and he said, ‘Staubs, I heard you play with the Gophers. What the hell is going on?'” Stauber said.
What’s going on is something Stauber thought he’d never be involved in, but something he’s enjoyed. Despite his relative anonymity among fans, Stauber is recognized among his teammates.
“You just start to get to know the guys a little more,” he said. “They accept you as part of the team. I fit in real well. Respect is a big factor as far as I’m concerned, and I think I’ve gained respect from a lot of people.”
Players say the same thing.
“We don’t think of Aaron as a walk-on or anything,” sophomore Charles Thomas said. “He’s probably one of the toughest guys to guard on the team. He can play. Aaron’s got a real good game. He got skills.”
Thomas said Stauber gets along with everybody and always cracks jokes in the locker room. Crittenden particularly likes one of Stauber’s schticks.
“He tries to act like a homeboy sometimes,” he said. “It’s hilarious. He’s a great kid.”
Crittenden and Stauber share a special bond. Crittenden, like Stauber, walked onto the team. He said he’s Stauber’s fan and roots for him on the sideline.
Usually, Stauber is right there with Crittenden. Stauber has played in 11 games this season and has logged a total of 20 minutes. But as a starter tonight, Stauber, a six-foot guard, will start at small forward.
He relishes the opportunity.
“I did play power forward in Michigan (for a practice),” he said. “I’d like to think they have to match-up against me, I don’t have to match-up against them, right?”
Crittenden said he has already talked to Stauber about tonight’s game. The student coach started on senior night last season and said it’s an experience he’ll never forget. He said nothing compares to his name being announced and running out with the other starters.
“And I guarantee, I guarantee, he hits a 3-pointer before the game is over,” Crittenden said. “Guaranteed.”