Mid-December is typically a period of relative inactivity for Gophers basketball, and this year is no exception. If you want to read about some of the issues the Gophers dealth with during their early-December slump, you can do that here.
In the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to use the light schedule with the finals break and holiday break to switch things up in this space. Instead of writing about this year’s team (we’ll get back to that later this week), I’ve put together what I’m calling the Gophers All-Millennium Team. The aim of this exercise is to select the best players of the “modern” era. Only players who have competed for Minnesota since the new millennium dawned are eligible, so Gophers greats like Kevin McHale, Bobby Jackson, and Voshon Lenard don’t qualify. Call it an All-2000s team if you like.
The three teams are made up of two guards, two forwards and a center—the traditional way all-conference and All-American teams are structured. Feel free to disagree with my selections in the comments; these lists are always fun to debate. Okay, let’s get to it.
G: Vincent Grier (2004-2006): Grier only played two years in maroon and gold after transferring from Charlotte, but he made his mark. In 2004-2005 he was particularly dominant, averaging 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while earning first team All-Big Ten honors. Grier led the Gophers to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999 that season, losing to Iowa State in the first round.
G: Nate Mason (2014-present): Mason, of course, is in the middle of his senior season, and by the time he’s done he’ll go down as perhaps the best Gophers point guard since Bobby Jackson. Mason has, somewhat quietly, scored over 1,400 career points. He was the best player on a Minnesota team that earned a No. 5 seed in the tournament last year, and became the first Gopher since Grier to make first team All-Big Ten. Mason still has a chance to end his career with a deep NCAA run, something that hasn’t happened in the Twin Cities in more than 20 years.
F: Kris Humphries (2003-2004): Ahh yes, the oft-forgotten Kris Humphries season. Humphries played only one year at the U before leaving for the NBA, competing on a 12-18 team that finished last in the Big Ten. Humphries, though, was outstanding. He averaged 21.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, on his way to first team All-Big Ten honors. When you think of Gophers basketball, Humphries probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind, but his one year stop in Dinkytown was good enough to earn him a spot on the All-Millennium team. I’m sure he’s thrilled.
F: Jordan Murphy (2015-present): If I’d made this list a month ago, this would be Trevor Mbakwe’s spot. There might be some recency bias at play here, but Murphy’s been so good this season that I couldn’t justify keeping him off the first team. Murphy’s recorded a double-double in every game this season, and is a legitimate All-America candidate. At times, he’s almost single-handedly carried Minnesota to victory (see: Providence, Drake). Murphy had a good freshman year on a horrible 8-23 team, jumped up to third team All-Big Ten as a sophomore, and barring injury, will be first team All-Big Ten as a junior. The way he’s playing, there may not be a senior year.
C: Joel Przybilla (1998-2000): Pryzbilla barely meets the qualifications for this made up team, playing the second half of his sophomore season in 2000 before declaring for the draft. He had a solid 13-year career in the NBA, but before that, was a very good player in his two years at the U. As a freshman, he played on Clem Haskins’ final team, which made the NCAA tournament but played short-handed after the program’s academic scandal came to light. In his sophomore year, Przybilla averaged 14.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game while shooting 61% from the field.
G: Andre Hollins (2011-2015): Hollins was the program’s anchor during a 4-year period of instability. He played his first two years under Tubby Smith, starting as a freshman on a team that went to the NIT finals. In his sophomore year, he averaged 14.6 points 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game on the first Minnesota squad to win an NCAA tournament game since the 1997 Final Four team. After Smith was fired and Richard Pitino took over, Hollins led the Gophers to an NIT championship his junior year, before Pitino’s rebuild started during his senior season. In total, Hollins scored more than 1,700 points and represented the program, and university, with distinction.
G: Lawrence Westbrook (2006-2010): This was a tough choice. Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber, and Austin Hollins all had solid four-year careers and put up comparable numbers. Westbrook, though, was the leading scorer on two tournament teams (2008-09, 2009-10), so I’m giving him the edge. Those two seasons, he averaged nearly 13 points per game. His most memorable game came in a rare road win in Madison, when he scored 29 points and hit a game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds left to send the game to overtime.
F: Trevor Mbakwe (2010-2013): Nobody played harder than Trevor Mbakwe. He made up for his relative lack of height by outworking his opponents, particularly on the glass. After transferring to the U, Mbakwe had a monster junior year, averaging 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He took a medical redshirt after tearing his ACL early the next season, and his numbers went down a bit his senior year as he came back from the injury. His destruction of Cody Zeller in Minnesota’s upset of No. 1 Indiana his senior year was one of the most memorable games in recent Gophers history.
F: Rick Rickert (2001-2003): Rickert might be best known for reportedly getting punched by Kevin Garnett, but before that he was really good in his two years at Minnesota. Rickert averaged 14.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, before declaring for the NBA draft amid Dan Monson’s rebuilding effort in the early 2000s.
C: Reggie Lynch (2016-present): Lynch is a true center. The 6-foot-10 Edina product was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season, finishing first in the conference and third in the country in blocks with 114. He’s on pace to eclipse that this season, and is also averaging 10.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, teaming with Murphy to form on of the best frontcourts in the country.
G: Austin Hollins (2010-2014): Like Andre, Austin Hollins was a solid 4-year player who won a tournament game and an NIT title while enduring a coaching change. Hollins averaged 9.4 points per game for his career and often guarded the opposing team’s best scorer.
G: Blake Hoffarber (2007-2011): He’s one of the best 3-point shooters in program history, shooting 41% behind the arc in his career, including 46.7% his junior year. He’ll probably always be remembered for this, though.
F: Dusty Rychart (1998-2002): Rychart was a solid all-around player, with career averages of 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and stuck with the program through an academic scandal, coaching change, and postseason ban.
F: Damian Johnson (2006-2010): Johnson, Dan Coleman, and Rodney Williams could all go here, but Johnson gets the nod due to his outstanding defense. He was top ten in the Big Ten in steals and blocks each of his last three years at Minnesota, leading the conference in steals his senior year.
C: Spencer Tollackson (2004-2008): Tollackson was a solid contributor all four years. As a freshman, he came off the bench for the 2004-2005 tournament team, before entering the starting lineup as a sophomore. His best year came as a junior, when he averaged 12 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Honorable Mention: Amir Coffey, Al Nolen, Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie, Rodney Williams.