(KMSP) - Watching the Gopher Mens Basketball Team's turnaround this season has been exciting. A program that had been near the bottom of the Big Ten climbing it's way back to prominence. Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey and their talented teammates finally giving Gopher fans what they had been longing for. A team with NCAA hopes.
To date, Minnesota's only connection to the NCAA Basketball Final Four was hosting the event in 1951, 1992 and 2001. I still have the program from the '92 event at the Metrodome!
Also worth noting is a similarity between this year's team and the last time the Gophers made a deep run at the NCAA's.. when coach Clem Haskins 1989 Gophers featured another Lynch-Coffey combo. Kevin Lynch is Reggie Lynch's uncle. Richard Coffey is Amir Coffey's dad. In the late 80's Kevin and Richard joined leading scorer Willie Burton and a spirited bunch to resurrect a program that had been decimated by an awful sex scandal.. leaving the Gophers at rock bottom. "We had talent but we were young so at first we lost a lot." Kevin said, "Including a stretch of 20-plus Big Ten losses. A record that I think still stands." The Gophers were a dismal 0-8 in Big Ten road games that year, but then Kevin and his started their turnaround. "It was like a switch just went off and we started to get it together." Before long they found themselves in the NCAA's Sweet 16. I remember being at The Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey covering their "Cinderella Story." I couldn't help but feel Minnesota Pride in a team that had struggled so much and was now just across the river from New York.. the unlitmate of being in the spotlight.. The Big Apple! The Gophers run came to a halt against national powerhouse Duke, but they were back and with lessons learned.
The next season the Gophers made it all the way to the Elite 8. The entire state was caught up in Gopher Basketball Fever. The 1990 team used all their past experience and took us all on a wild ride. In the end the Gophers came just a basket shy of The Final Four losing to Georgia Tech 93-91. Coming so close was difficult for Kevin and his buddies to accept. But on his return home he learned another lesson. His parents were typical Minnesotans, not seeking the spotlight. But they found themselves caught up in the Media Frenzy with TV cameras and reporters parked outside their house nearly every day. And when Kevin walked in the door his mom, his biggest fan but uncomfortable with their lack of privacy, served up a dose of reality. "She looked at me and said, 'Maybe it's a good thing you lost, so we can back to reality'." Sounds like something my mom would say!
It took Kevin a few years to come to understand what mom meant. He and Richard Coffey and Willie Burton went on to play in the NBA. These days Kevin keeps busy as a Timberwolves TV Analyst on Fox Sports North, as well as helping with his family run sports camps. More info. here: www.lynchcamps.com . (I told him I'd give him a plug!)
He also looks forward to when he gets to bump into the always smiling Richard Coffey and other former teammates at Gopher games. "We had our time now it's someone else's turn." He says. "But I can tell you this, of all the things I went through in basketball those years hold my fondest memories. We were like a bunch of guys in the service who went through adversity and managed to turn it around. And I'm willing to bet that years down the road this Gopher team and Coach Pitino just might be looking back and doing the same."
So if you're concerned about the Gophers losing to Michigan at the Big 10 Tournament, remember this. The 1989 and 1990 Gophers Teams did pretty much the same before the NCAA's. And just like then, this talented team includes a Lynch-Coffey combo.
The late, great Yankee Yogi Berra was famous for his "manipulation" of the English language. And years ago he came up with a gem that fits pretty well here when he said, "It's Deja Vu all over again." Gophers fans sure hope so!