Overlooked at U of M

Photo courtesy of U of M Ray Williams

The Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2022 will include Chris Webber, Ben Wallace and Bob Dandridge—three long-deserving inductees who should have been put in the hall years ago.

Dave Grimsrud of Zumbrota, Minn. is a longtime MSR subscriber. He was friends with the late founder Cecil Newman. He retired from running his family-owned newspaper and is a former high school art teacher and graphic designer. A longtime Gopher hoops fan, he regularly chats with this columnist. 

Grimsrud’s most recent email stressed that former U of M and NBA great Archie Clark has not yet been fully recognized by the school. “Archie Clark and Ray Williams have NOT had their numbers retired at the U of M,” he pointed out, supporting his argument with stats:

Clark: 11,817 points, .480 FG, 16.3 PPG

Williams: 10,158 points, .451 FG, 15.5 PPG

“These are the best guards in the university’s basketball history,” said Grimsrud. “Hard to say which was better, Clark or Williams. I like them both equally. It’s a mistake to ignore them.” Grimsrud included Clark and Williams on his all-time Gopher MBB starting five—four of them Black. “It was easy to select my all-time team,” he said.

Clark, shooting guard

Williams, point guard

Lou Hudson, small forward: 17,940 points, .489 FG, 20.2 PPG

Mychal Thompson, center: 12,810 points, .504 FG, 13.7 PPG

Kevin McHale, power forward: 17,335 points, .554 FG, 17.9 PPG

All five former Gophers went on to solid NBA careers: McHale is a HOF. “Lou Hudson was the only player to average over 20 points during his NBA career,” noted Grimsrud.

Unlike Grimsrud, I didn’t see his all-stars play in college but watched them as NBAers. But I agree that the U of M does a poor job of fully recognizing former Black male and female stars in hoops and other Gopher sports, many of them during my 40-years-plus beat coverage.

It took the school three decades before St. Paul native Linda Roberts’ jersey got hung in the Barn’s rafters. Almost longer for Willie Burton, who finally got honored with a jersey hanging ceremony in January 2020. 

The Gopher football stadium should have been named for Sandy Stephens, the only quarterback to lead the school to consecutive Rose Bowls and a national championship. Who can forget when Stephens’ name was misspelled on commemorative game tickets, a mistake that cost the school plenty in reprinting them?

Sue Jackson (1990-93) was a four-time assists leader as one of the Gophers all-time volleyball greats.

La Toya Clarke (2000-04) was the Gophers’ first Black female hockey player, a two-time WCHA all-tournament team selection. She helped U of M to its second national title.

Tyler Walker (2012-15) is U of M’s all-time softball leaders in runs scored, second in home runs, fourth in triples and fifth in hits as one of the school’s few Black players.

I covered Jackson, Clarke, and Walker during their time in Gopherland, as well as Burton, but only his jersey reached retirement status. Bobby Jackson and Voshon Lenard also haven’t been lauded by Gopher officials although both are among the school’s all-time great hoopsters.

The “U” also is selective when they honor the dead. There was no official press release on the passing of former WBB assistant coach Tori Harrison, the school’s second-ever Black female assistant basketball coach in the late 1980s, when she passed away in her early 50s in 2020 due to a lingering illness.

Recognizing former Black Gophers only during Black History Month each February is not enough. The “U” can and should do better. Thanks to Grimsrud for reminding me to keep reminding the school of this.