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Nathan's column: Bring on basketball season

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opinion Farmington, 55024
Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

It’s been a rough run of things for men’s sports teams in Minnesota. The Lynx have won two WNBA titles in three years, and the Gopher women’s hockey team might not lose again until global warming forces everyone to switch to roller hockey.

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But the XY set? Things are not nearly so rosy.

The Twins have been terrible for two straight years. The Vikings are performing so poorly this might be the first season in NFL history that ends with every single coach, player and executive getting fired and replaced by people picked at random off of the street.

Things have gotten so bad Twin Cities sports fans got downright giddy over a combined six wins by the Timberwolves and the Gopher football team.

You know you’re in a tough situation when people start pinning their hopes to a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since before this year’s kindergarteners were born and a team that tends to play only in bowl games named for car-care companies.

I don’t pay any of it much mind. If there’s a positive to the hopelessness of this particular Vikings season, it’s that I suddenly have several hours of free time on Sundays. And there aren’t many Timberwolves games available to me in my cable television-free home.

Fortunately, there’s another option. The Minnesota Gopher basketball team returned to action last week with a pair of exhibition games against competition only a small step up from what they’d find at Farmington or Rosemount high schools. The games were blowouts, and they weren’t particularly exciting. But I was there, just as I have been nearly every year since I was old enough to track baskets on the homemade score sheets my dad printed out.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that the Gophers will be bad this year. They might be terrible. That’s almost beside the point, though. They’re new. New coach. New players. New outlook for the future.

That’s what it was like when former Tubby Smith came to Minnesota. But Tubby’s time as Gopher coach, much like that initial hiring day, always seemed to be full of more promise than payoff. I’m typically slow to jump on the bandwagon to fire any coach, but when I start to dread going to Williams Arena, I figure it’s time for a change.

Last year, the team built everyone up with a few good wins, then brought everything crashing down again. It says something about the state of the program that Tubby managed to get fired after a season in which his team beat No. 1 Indiana and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since players started writing their own term papers.

The job, of course, went to Richard Pitino, son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. I assume the resume he sent to the U of M just said R. Pitino on it.

The Pitino we got is 31 this year, which means he is the first Gopher coach who was younger than me when he took the job. It was bad enough when all the players were younger than me. I’m not sure what to make of this.

The younger Pitino might not be any better than Tubby. His only head coaching experience is one year at Florida International, which I think is one of those schools people wearing headsets in TV commercials try to get you to attend. I think when you sign up you get a free toaster.

He talks a good game, though. He’s working overtime to sell his program to the public and, presumably, to recruits. He also got Maurice Walker, who in three years as a Gopher was more notable for his ability to take up space on the bench than anything, to drop 60 pounds and get into shape to play. If coaching doesn’t work out, Richard Pitino might make a great diet guru.

The product on the court might not always be top notch. But it’s something fresh and it’s got potential. That’s a start.

Besides, it’s got to be better than watching the Vikings, right?

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