Cyclowned: Benjamin Polk blogs Gopher hoops

You know Benjamin Polk from his work on the Timberwolves. He'll still augment Jonathan Kaminsky's coverage of pro basketball, but we've also inked a deal with Polk to cover the emerging Tubby Smith Era at the University of Minnesota. This is his first Gopher post.

Radio On!
Considering that a person can turn on a TV and watch Kent Hrbek fish, I find it rather amazing that Tuesday's Gophers-Iowa State game could not be found on television anywhere, on any channel. I mean, is it possible that the matrix of visual culture could have failed to extend its reach, even to something as admittedly marginal as an early season college basketball game between two mediocre teams? Apparently. So, remembering all that can be gleaned from listening to a baseball game on the radio—the rhythms of the game, the rich textures of sound, the charming and melodic banter — I thought it would be interesting to try and listen to the entirety of the game on good old WCCO 830. It was not interesting. It turns out that listening to basketball on the radio is nothing like listening to baseball. In fact, it's not much different than sitting in front of the computer, watching the score update on the internet, something I'm embarrassed to say I have actually done. The lone advantage of the radio being that you can hear plainly when someone misses a shot, a sound I became very familiar with during the course of this game.

In any case, the Gophers managed to beat the Cyclones 68-58 in Tubby Smith's second game as head coach, boosting their record to 2-0. Iowa State finished in the lower tier of the Big 12 last year, and lost their leading scorer, Mike Taylor, who was kicked off the team for (as commentator Mike Grimm put it) “an accumulation of minor arrests”. But this was a road game, in front of what sounded like a hostile crowd, and considering how unwatchable the Gophers were last year, even against lesser competition (I'm thinking in particular of the excruciating and dispiriting loss to Northwestern), I'd say there's reason to be encouraged.

Ralphie and Me
I was still a very young guy when Ralph Sampson was at the height of his powers with the Houston Rockets, before injuries and a mercurial temperament unraveled his career. He was an epically dominant college player at Virginia and a very good NBA player for a while—he and Hakeem Olajuwan were nicknamed “The Twin Towers” which, you know, probably won't happen again — but I'm a bit young to remember that stuff. My first and lasting memory of the man is watching him punch the Celtics' 6'1” Jerry Sichting in the face, starting a brief but intense bench-clearing brawl in Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Finals. Disgracefully, the episode is nowhere to be found on YouTube but I swear on the memory of my daydreaming, arm-flapping eight-year-old self that it really happened. I don't remember much else about that series (except for the fact that Bill Walton played in it), but the sudden violence of the situation and sheer ridiculousness of watching a 7'4” inch man with history's knobbiest knees attempt physical aggression has been seriously seared on my consciousness. Sorry Ralph, but I'm afraid that, for a whole generation of basketball fans, your crowning achievement is attempting to fight a guy nearly two feet shorter than yourself.

Well, things have really come full circle. You'll not find me reporting on recruiting too often—the whole specter of middle-aged men all googly-eyed and salivating like R. Crumb cartoons over 17-year-old boys whom they intend to professionalize (very, very briefly, and without actual remuneration) is just too unseemly and depressing for me to take. I'll just watch the games, thanks. But I'm very happy to report that Ralph Sampson III — a bit less gangly, but also probably less good at basketball than his famous Dad — has signed to play for the Gophers next year.

This becomes significant because the very same Jerry Sichting is now an assistant coach for the Timberwolves, bringing all the players in that two decades-old drama, myself included, back home to Minnesota where they belong.
-- Benjamin Polk


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