MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men's basketball team hadn't even played a game yet, and it experienced the emotional highs and lows of a season within a single practice in early October.
Junior forward Eric Curry suffered what ended up being a torn ACL in his right knee while closing out on a shooter during a team scrimmage. It was his third significant injury with the Gophers in the last three years. He tore multiple ligaments in his left knee before his sophomore season, then after coming back to play in 15 games last year, had season-ending surgery after a foot injury.
He was finally starting to feel like himself again before being dealt another gut punch.
They didn’t know the severity of the injury until later that night, but coach Richard Pitino had a challenge for his team at the end of that day’s practice. It ended with “85 in 2.” The team had to make 85 lay-ups in two minutes. Only this time, there was a twist and a challenge from the Gophers' head coach.
Pitino announced if they could do it, senior walk-on Brady Rudrud would be getting a scholarship.
“Everybody had this little look on their face like ‘Whoa, this is happening.’ This is stuff you see on Twitter. This is really happening on our team. I just think it was dope, like everybody ran hard,” sophomore forward Jarvis Omersa said . “There was a lot of chat going on, it was great.”
Two minutes later, something Rudrud had always dreamed of became a reality. The Eden Prairie native, playing for his home school, would have his final year of college paid for. Pitino had the team’s camera crew film the event, and Rudrud got to talk with his parents not long after.
“I was like honestly speechless. The camera came up and I didn’t know what to say. But just a great feeling, like calling my mom after, calling my dad after. They were ecstatic,” Rudrud said. “My dad was driving and he like threw the phone, I think it landed on the floor. And then my mom just screamed, so it was nice.”
Rudrud also couldn’t help but think of Curry, his teammate since his freshman year, dealt another season-ending injury.
“I texted him about it and he was like ‘Dude, don’t’ even worry about me. You just got something special.’ He’s an amazing guy and I’m happy to know him,” Rudrud said.
Rudrud grew up going to Gopher games at Williams Arena. He’ll graduate with a degree in business, and his stat sheet won’t jump off the page at you. He’s played 16 games in three seasons, with no starts, and has eight career points. Rudrud hasn't played in a game this season, though he makes a far greater impact in practice and preparation.
The scholarship is no act of charity. Pitino and players said at the team’s local media day Rudrud is more than deserving of a scholarship.
“He epitomizes what Minnesota basketball is all about. He’s a great teammate, a great kid,” Pitino said. “He’s a guy, I’ve said before, if he doesn’t have a great job waiting for him when he’s done, shame on the community because he’s done his part and he’s ready for that.”
One of Rudrud’s best friends on the team, fellow senior Michael Hurt, has been his roommate for four years. Hurt knew there was a scholarship available, and couldn’t contain his smile when asked about it going to Rudrud.
“Brady has worked exceptionally hard. He’s been a huge part for us in practice, when we’ve had injuries, he’s been able to fill in at three different positions. He’s been able to help and make us better,” Hurt said. “He’s been absolutely for the team. I’m really happy for him, he’s been my roommate all four years, so I’m just proud of him that he gets to enjoy that one last ride.”
The “85 in 2” drill will never be the same for Rudrud again. With his scholarship at stake, he thinks it’s the most made lay-ups the team has had in that drill since he’s been a Gopher.
He grew up a Gopher fan, and could’ve pursued Division II or Division III opportunities. He could’ve sought more playing time elsewhere, but wanted to represent his hometown school.
“When this opportunity came up it was just something I couldn’t pass up at the time. Never would’ve thought like to be in this position now, but yeah to have the success that we’ve had, going onto this year, it’s been more than worth it,” Rudrud said.