Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Wild entered the season with new head coaches, Rick Adelman for the Timberwolves and Mike Yeo for the Wild. The Timberwolves are 13-16 and did recently reach the .500 mark while the Wild is 25-22 with 58 points and challenging for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference after cooling down after a hot start. Which coach has done the better job?
-Dorr: I think that Adelman has better material than Yeo. It’s hard to judge Yeo’s performance because management still hasn’t provided many goal scorers for that team. It’s also hard to figure out how the team could start so well (best record in the NHL for a month) and then fall flat on its face. Do you give Yeo credit for the start and blame for the fall, or was it bound to happen, given the inability of the team to score goals? I’d have to say Adelman, a veteran coach, has done the better job but maybe he has better personnel. He doesn’t have a shooting guard and that’s the team’s biggest need. Ricky Rubio has displayed some talent, although he’s had more turnovers lately, a couple at key times, and Kevin Love is a budding star. Adelman has seemed to bring a certain calmness to the team. Let’s not get too wrapped up in the Wolves making the playoffs, though, until they display consistency. I told Gary a month ago I thought both Rubio and the Wolves were overrated and now the team has averaged 21 turnovers a game while losing four straight. Give Adelman the edge so far but let’s wait until the season is over to say he has done a better job than Yeo.
-Marxhausen: I feel both teams have shown vast improvement comparative to their previous seasons. Both coaches have arrived with some new players on their respective rosters. The Wild have Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to add to their roster while rookie sensations Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio are good additions for the Timberwolves. If the Wild would have been able to keep the pace they had at the beginning of the season, they would have won their division hands down. The Wild finished the season last year with a slightly above .500 record while the Timberwolves finished the season with a .200 winning percentage. I would give the edge to the Timberwolves because it took them 39 losses before they could muster 13 wins last year and because they are bringing fans back to the stands while the Wild have a stronger following.
-Larson: While the Timberwolves are currently in a slump, their play has sparked more fan interest than at any time last year. A few games haven’t been televised this season and fans have actually called FOX to complain. That likely didn’t happen last year.
Adelman appears to have the attention of his players, something previous coach Kurt Rambis appeared to not have. Adelman is a more experienced coach than Rambis was and it shows. He handles his personnel better and he has better personnel. The Timberwolves will likely flirt with the .500 mark all season but at least now fans can see a flickering of light at the end of the tunnel. Yeo faces much the same problem previous coach Todd Richards did – not much scoring punch. There’s not much he can do except hope defense and goal-tending can keep the Wild in contention. I’d give Adelman a B for his performance so far and Yeo a C+.
•Question: Last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a point/counterpoint feature on the merits of refurbishing Williams Arena, the legendary home court of the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball team and the site of many state high school state tournament games. Columnist Michael Rand took the position that the 83-year-old facility, with its famous “raised” court, should be, at most, updated a bit. He said the building is too iconic to be discarded. Columnist Patrick Reusse wrote that “The Barn” has outlived its attraction and has too many blemishes and should be replaced by a new facility that will be more appealing to fans, players and potential recruits. What do you think?
-Dorr: I love Williams Arena and want to see it stay. My last trip there was a couple weeks ago when Minnesota beat Illinois in an overtime game and it was a loud, fun-filled night. I was at Target Center last week for a Wolves’ win without Kevin Love but it’s just not the same there. I’m not sure that getting a new facility is the answer to anything for the Gophers – recruiting or anything else. I began going to games there more than 50 years ago and still enjoy going back. I didn’t like it when the high school tournament was moved to other sites. I hope the Gophers stay there and I wish all the high school tournament games were still played there. The facility in St. Paul had a distant, artificial feel to it, while Williams Arena has a closeness that other facilities can’t match, even though you can’t even get 15,000 people in there now, compared to the old days of 18,000 or more for Big Ten games and state tournament games.
-Marxhausen: As far as I am concerned the court is still usable just the way it is. A place of that historical value could always be updated and brought up to present standards, but to replace the entire facility at the moment seems to be a waste of money. Minnesota is already wasting its money with that outrageous salary that they are giving ex-athletic director Joel Maturi. The old saying of spending money to make money can be used in this sense because a new stadium would be more appealing, but does not seem worth the investment at this time.
-Larson: Reusse is almost always right on the money. This time he’s all wet. I think they needed someone to write the counterpoint and his name was drawn out of a hat. A guy who’s written colorful and compelling accounts of games played on the elevated Williams Arena floor and the players involved doesn’t stiff an old friend.
High school athletes I’ve seen over the years are a lot more in awe over “The Barn” than the other Twin Cities venues. If fancy modern facilities and sparkling new arenas have replaced tradition and the opportunity to play as recruiting tools, then this is a sad time for college athletics. Invest some money to spruce Williams Arena up, but don’t tear it down.
•Question: It was recently announced that the St. Cloud River Bats team in the summer collegiate Northwoods League has been sold to local residents Gary Posch and Joe Sexton. The team, which opened play in 1996, had a huge following for many years, but, attendance has dipped the past few seasons. The new owners plan a new mascot name and team colors and plan to stock the team with the best players they can get. Do you think the team can rejuvenate fan interest? How often did you attend River Bats games?
-Dorr: I attended a couple games when a player from Princeton was playing in St. Cloud for the Rochester team and have been to one or two other games in the 15 years of the team’s existence. As much as I enjoy baseball, I just haven’t gotten to St. Cloud to go to the games. If I lived in St. Cloud I would probably go to more games. I have followed the team, especially when it has players from Minnesota, in the St. Cloud newspaper. I have no idea if fan interest can be rejuvenated – just don’t know enough about the situation. I wish the new owners well and hope they can get things going again.
-Marxhausen: I have averaged one to two River Bats games every summer for the past three years, with most of them involving coverage for SCSU’s The Chronicle. The thing about the River Bats is that they have done a very good job marketing the team to fans. They have deals for groups of people or meal deals for fans. They keep the fans occupied with in-between inning entertainment that allows for fans to not get bored. Right now, though, they can pitch and sell their team all they want to fans and local viewers, but they will not rejuvenate interest unless they start winning consistently. Victories are the only sure thing to fill stands with fans and that is step one for the new organization to take care of.
-Larson: Milaca High School graduate Marc Jerzak, now one of the owners of the Willmar Stingers in the Northwoods League and a former River Bats official, worked long hours to help make the River Bats a success before heading to Willmar two years ago. And, Janelle Packard, another Milaca grad, also worked for the River Bats. I know several Milaca area residents have made frequent trips to River Bats games since the team began play and I have several friends in St. Cloud who attend many games each summer. A drop off in the team’s success, the Twins’ Target Field and a poor economy have likely been the factors in the decline in attendance. It would have been nice if the team could’ve maintained its River Bats name but apparently that tag was held by the previous owner, Joel Sutherland. It may take some fans a while to tie the new name with the old name.
I’ve attended 10 or so games over the years and enjoyed the games. Personally, I’d rather watch top amateur teams like the Princeton Panthers, Cold Spring Springers, etc. The team is good for the St. Cloud area and I’m hoping the new owners are successful.
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