MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball season opens with an exhibition Wednesday night against Division III St. Olaf at Williams Arena, and the Gophers’ lone returning starter from last season will not be available.
Gophers’ coach Ben Johnson said late last week forward Jamison Battle is "week to week" after having minor foot surgery. Johnson said Tuesday he suffered the injury in a recent practice, and opted to have surgery to fix the issue early in the season.
Battle will not play Wednesday night, and isn’t expected to be available Nov. 7 when the Gophers open the season for real against Western Michigan at Williams Arena.
"So much is going to depend on how it heals. Thankfully it is a low-level surgery. Realistically do I think he’s going to be back for Game 1? Probably not," Johnson said. "Then you just assess it after that. Hopefully he’s a quick healer."
The Gophers are also without Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen, who suffered season-ending knee injuries in summer workouts for the second straight year. Battle is not only Minnesota’s lone only returning starter from last year, he’s the Gophers’ leading scorer and rebounder. He averaged 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in 29 starts last season.
His absence will give Johnson a closer look Wednesday at other players expected to contribute early on. It’s a group that includes guard Ta’Lon Cooper, and freshmen Braeden Carrington, Joshua Ola-Joseph and Pharrel Payne.
It’s not clear yet if Battle will be available against St. Francis-Brooklyn on Nov. 11, or DePaul on Nov. 14. Johnson is not going to rush Battle, and wants to make sure he’s healthy for the Big Ten season. That’s also why they had the surgery now, instead of after the season.
"We don’t ever want to jeopardize a player’s career, our season or even our team for a short-term goal. A game or two here or there versus having to deal with something for the rest of the year if he didn’t have it just made no sense," Johnson said.
Wednesday’s exhibition is also a reunion for St. Olaf coach Dan Kosmoski. He’s in his 29th season with the Oles, but played for the Gophers and was teammates with Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders on the 1976-77 team that went 24-3. Kosmoski also spent nine seasons with the Gophers as an assistant coach under Jim Dutcher, Jimmy Williams and Clem Haskins. He’s also worked with current Minnesota assistant Dave Thorson.
Wednesdasy night will mark unofficial Gophers' debuts for Dawson Garcia, Payne, Ola-Joseph and Carrington.