Here we go again it seems. A promising season has been thrown into disarray. A promising career has come to an end. A team captain who had noticeably improved his game will spend the rest of the season on the bench. Again. It always has to be something. But we are a hearty people, the children of refugees from war-torn regions of the world, grandchildren of the winners of the great wars and survivors of the Great Depression, great-grandchildren of pioneers who fought off freezing cold and blazing summer to settle the great-plains, and great-great grandchildren of the bravest group of soldiers that the country has every known. Why us? Because we can take it. But it sure does get frustrating enduring the barely unendurable.
It is tempting, oh so tempting to write the season off, try to become a hockey fan, pretend the Timberwolves are relevant, and bury our heads in the sand until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. That would be a huge disservice to a bunch of kids, and we must remember they are just kids, who have committed to playing basketball for the Golden Gophers, and will have no choice but to play through adversity.
The rest of the season is not going to be fun if you only care about wins and losses, and there will inevitably be more ups and downs. If you are reading this I am going to make the assumption that you are a Gopher fan through thick and thin, even if you’ll be looking away or covering your eyes at times. This is for you, a guide to making this season not only tolerable, but possibly enjoyable.
Do continue to support the team, and if anything support them more. Drag your family, friends, frienemies, and even casual acquaintances. Once upon a time the Gophers had the best fans in all of college basketball. In 1986 fans filled The Barn to cheer on the Iron Five, the only five remaining players on the team after a series of suspensions. I know stories like that are far less common, but I think we have it in us. More importantly, it will let the team know we are invested in them. Too many players have left the team in recent years. Another losing season accompanied by a lack of fan support might be enough for someone to leave, which would once again lead to scrambling for spring recruits, which could lead to another rough season.
Don’t forget to look ahead a year or two down the line. The Gophers were exceedingly young to start the season, and if Ralph Sampson’s ankle continues to have issues, they won’t have a single senior playing tomorrow or until Sampson’s ankle is better. The young guys will be thrown into the fire this year, but they’ll have an opportunity to mature and grow together. The Gophers will undoubtedly be worse in the short-term, but they’ll also undoubtedly be better in the long run assuming everyone sticks around. They weren’t going to have Mbakwe next year anyway. At least they’ll be more ready.
Do watch as players take on new roles and responsibilities. Ralph Sampson III will have to be a true post player once he is healthy and will need to assume the role of a leader as the only senior. Will this be what it takes for him to show more than flashes of brilliance. Rodney Williams will move to power forward like he did in high school. Is he a viable power forward and can he fill the gaping hole the Gophers will have at that position next year? Austin Hollins will be a small-forward. Can he use his quickness to get by bigger players. What happens to the rest of the back court rotation and who steps up?
Don’t get hung up on wins and losses. Hey guess what? The Gophers are going to lose plenty of games this year. Adjust your expectations right now. Hope the Gophers can avoid getting embarrassed and win a few games no one expects them to win. As long as they play hard, you should be fully behind them, regardless of the mistakes they will make and the lumps they will take.
Do compare this season to last season. Last year the back-court vanished and Tubby had little choice but to slow the game down. It obviously didn’t produce wins, and worse, it was boring to watch. Now the front-court is shot, and with a lot of guards, things should speed up. It should at least be more entertaining. Also pay attention to how this season’s team handles adversity. They crumbled last year. Can they grow stronger this year?
Don’t give up on the team. They play the games for a reason, and I can count on both hands and both feet things crazier than a team losing their best player and exceeding expectations.