So here's what's wrong with Gophers basketball team
MINNEAPOLIS — On the way into Williams Arena on Thursday night, I passed a ticket scalper. He was not selling tickets. He may never sell tickets again.
He stood facing away from the arena, in near-zero temperatures. He did not speak to passersby. He stood still, eyes clenched, liquid frozen on his face.
He seemed to be praying. His prayers did not seem successful.
Then I knew the hardships that befall the Minnesota Gophers basketball program every day. That was when I decided it was time for me to take the Tubby Tundra Test.
After watching Ohio State dismantle his team on Sunday, Gophers coach Tubby Smith lamented his team's lack of strength, noting that Ralph Sampson III had a rebound yanked out of his hands by a stronger opponent.
Then Smith linked his team's performance against Ohio State to the lack of a basketball practice facility at the University of Minnesota.
Smith said: "We really don't like going across the street in the cold to lift (weights). We just don't like that."
After watching Tubby's team lose 71-62 to a disappointing Illinois team on Thursday, I now believe Smith. It's obvious his players are too frostbitten to execute a discernible offense.
The trek across Oak Street was, of course, only the latest example of the hardships suffered by Gophers basketball players.
Trevor Mbakwe had his First Amendment rights violated when he was disciplined for communicating with a woman who had obtained a restraining order. Is this no longer America?
And now this: Young men, some not even eligible to drink in the "land of the free," were being asked to defy death, by walking from Williams Arena, all the way across a two-lane street, to the weightlifting facility.
Never mind that Smith now coaches in a state where Bud Grant became a legend for wearing shirtsleeves — and banning heaters — from the Vikings' sideline at Met Stadium.
Never mind that Smith now coaches in a state where freezing your back yard, erecting lights and skating through the night is considered an act of ingenuity and citizenship.
Never mind our state's cozy relationship with black ice.
No Minnesota athletes have ever tempted fate by taunting the weather gods as have our Gophers basketball players.
Every day (or at least a few days a week) they are forced to swaddle themselves in the warmest available rags and imitate Will Steger, or at least the guy in the wood chipper scene from "Fargo," and mush their dogsleds up to 50 feet.
Impressed by this group's gumption, I forced myself to take the Tubby Tundra Test. I walked to Williams Arena, then turned to make the journey back across Oak.
I barely made it back alive.
You've heard of participatory journalism? This was survival journalism.
Before departing on my journey, I signed my last will and testament, leaving my children the fruits of a life as a sportswriter: $8.95 in my checking account, a 10-year-old laptop and a collection of pens guaranteed to leak all over your dressiest blue jeans. I knew I might not return.
Now, though, I know how the Gophers were able to muster the toughness to compete on Thursday night.
They are true Minnesotans. They brave the elements. They knock the frost from their eyebrows before they throw the ball out of bounds.
They are like a bunch of Lindsey Vonns — if Vonn had to ski uphill both ways.
Smith is right: A practice facility would make his players warm and strong, and I'm sure that would keep them from transferring, or looking confused as they dribble the ball off their knees.
"I thought Illinois looked like they were stronger than we were," Smith said late Thursday night, after his team lost a fourth straight. "Especially their backcourt, they seemed physically stronger than we were. ... Physically, maybe we're not capable of doing some of the things we want to do."
If only Oak Street didn't serve as an icy rampart, Tubby might have a team strong enough to make a layup.