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BEST COACH Minneapolis 2001 - Dan Monson

Readers' Choice: Flip Saunders

The guy takes his team out on the hard court and leads the Gopher fans in the U of M rouser after every game, win or lose! Need we say more? Okay. Fine. Relatively speaking, the NCAA went easy on the U's basketball program last October. Still, the already undersize, star-starved hoopsters--facing five fewer scholarships, significant recruiting restrictions, and a marred national image--looked like a lock for long-term care. Gopher faithful prepared themselves for the inevitable: at least four years staring up at the Big Ten standings; lackluster media coverage resulting in half-empty bleachers; and a drawer full of N.I.T. T-shirts. Second-year coach Dan Monson had other ideas. His well-schooled, highly motivated team burst out of the gate with 12 wins, over a host of respectable opponents including Georgia and Florida State. Then the Big Ten season began with three barn-burning, defensive triumphs over Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana. Suddenly Williams Arena--just stripped of its 1997 Final Four banner--was rocking with pride. At the same time, Monson was working behind the scenes to recruit the six-foot-ten-inch Duluth East star, McDonald's All-American Rick Rickert, and MCC transfer Jerry Holman. Inevitably (and predictably) this season's successful run was short-circuited by key injuries and a lack of talent. But no one was taking the Golden Gophers for granted, and it's a good guess that as long as Monson hangs around, no one ever will.

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