Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bostick, Mbakwe, White and the U of M

Much has been made of Devron Bostick, Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White's absence from the lineup of Tubby Smith's Minnesota Gophers. Mostly, the focus is on how their absence affects the team's chances for success in 2009-2010.

That, of course, is the wrong question.

Still, let's pause to say that, for the most part, the impact of their absence has been vastly overstated. One early report said that the loss of Mbakwe alone would relegate the Gophers from a third place team in the Big Ten to sixth. This, of course, is nonsense. No one player is going to have that sort of an impact on the Gophers' success. Maybe in the days of the Iron Five (1973 or 1986, take your pick), but not when Tubby is already rotating 10 guys.

The Gophers are essentially two platoons worth of guys who can match up a lot of different ways, and maybe wear somebody out now and again, and go cold at the most inopportune times. After a 4-0 start, they've lost three in a row while shooting 33, 39 and 43 percent. And, in the latter case, tied at 53 at Miami, Fla., Minnesota failed to score from the 2:52 mark until just 26 seconds remained in the game and the Gophers trailed 61-53.

I am not down on Tubby's Gophers. Miami is 7-0. I said in my season preview that the Gophers are a 20-10 team, and I still believe they're a 20-10 team. All I'm saying is bring back Bostick, Mbakwe and White, and they're still a 20-10 team.

But my real point is that doing what's best for the Gopher basketball team isn't even on the radar, and shouldn't be. Doing what's best for the kids is important. But what matters most to those who call the shots, and should--though they've been fairly tight-lipped about it--is doing what's best for the University of Minnesota, and the public. The U is a public institution and a corporate citizen. It has an obligation to support good public values. And it has a reputation to protect, one that has been tarnished by its basketball program so many times in the past that a substantial dollop of extra care and caution is warranted.

Some say it all began with Bill Musselman, but I remember the Gophers' starting point guard, a Minnesota kid, getting booted off the team in December 1964 for sending a buddy into class to take a test under his name. That team went on to finish second in the Big Ten and #7/8 in the national polls.

But, yes, all hell broke loose under Musselman. The intense, win-at-all-costs, bullying fellow that he was, he intimidated the U administration into looking the other way, and illegal inducements were handed out to the players like Halloween candy. As a result, the Gophers' trip to the 1972 NCAA tournament later was voided by the NCAA. Also, in 1973, Musselman's Gophers got into a bit of a brawl with the Ohio State Buckeyes at Williams Arena. Several Gophers were suspended in the aftermath, and an Iron Five guys played almost every minute of every game throughout the rest of the season, and won a tainted Big Ten title.

Musselman left town in 1975 just ahead of NCAA sanctions, saying, "The (NCAA) investigation is of the university, not a single individual. And I am no longer a member of the University of Minnesota."

Jim Dutcher moved in as Gopher coach in 1975. His 1976-1977 team was probably Minnesota's greatest ever. Because of Musselman's transgressions, however, the NCAA lists the Gophers' record that year not as 24-3, as it appeared at the time, but as 0-27. Still, his 1982 team won Minnesota's only untainted Big Ten title since 1937. But, then, on January 23, 1986, after a dramatic 67-65 win at Wisconsin, three Gopher players were picked up by Madison, WI, police for raping an 18-year old woman. The three never played for the Gophers again, though they were acquitted of the rape charge. When Dutcher failed to quietly accept a decision to forfeit the Gophers' next game, he was asked to resign and he did. Missing the three players, a second Iron Five remained, but this time the Gophers won only one more game the rest of the way.

He was replaced by Clem Haskins, and by now everyone knows that Clem also left the U under a cloud. Clem orchestrated an elaborate academic fraud--well, okay, it wasn't so elaborate but, again, the administration had determined that it would look the other way--in order to keep All-American guard Bobby Jackson eligible. It (the scheme) was successful, and so were Clem's Gophers, earning the U's only men's Final Four appearance ever. But, of course, like the 1972 NCAA tournament appearance, this one also never happened because it too was vacated by the NCAA when the scheme finally became public in 1999.

This is not a record of which Minnesotans can be proud and, as a result, the basketball program, the athletic program and the U administration have to aspire to a higher standard of conduct than other schools. If this frustrates efforts to compete on the basketball court, well, we've got Haskins and Musselman and some of their peers and superiors to thank for that.

1 comment:

  1. Two days after I posted the above, the U announced that Devron Bostick's suspension was being lifted and he will play against Brown tomorrow (Saturday, December 5). No reason for the suspension itself or for it's lifting was given. Good luck, Devron.