MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Gophers like to talk about a cloud being lifted from their program, but they still feel the stares, hear the jokes and understand the obstacles ahead.
Short in stature and in numbers, the Gophers will be allowed this season to compete for an NCAA tournament berth that probably is out of their reach.
But they're also on probation and have been stripped of some scholarships as they face the burden of cleaning up a dirty program, though few were around when widespread academic fraud under former coach Clem Haskins was uncovered in March 1999.
Across town, the NBA's Timberwolves face their own challenge: Carrying on without forward Joe Smith because of an illegal contract agreement. Their cloud has not begun to lift. NBA Commissioner David Stern stripped them of five future No. 1 draft picks and could suspend owner Glen Taylor, vice president Kevin McHale and possibly even coach and general manager Flip Saunders if they played a role in the deal.
Two teams in one town. Two colossal punishments handed out in the same week.
They latch on to what positives they have. The shorthanded Gophers' latest recruiting pitch promises less competition for playing time. The Wolves, stripped of much of their future, point out that Terrell Brandon, 30, is their only starter older than 24.
But if basketball fans had no other way to judge Minnesota, they would think the place had become the Land of a Thousand Lies. And that's a perception that stings.
"I think the Minnesota Timberwolves are good people," said Taylor, who admits signing the deal with Smith but maintains that he did not understand the ramifications. "Good people don't change overnight."
The current Gophers believe they, too, are good people.
The players who were there said they hadn't even heard rumors of cheating on classwork when the news first broke. Coach Dan Monson, ironically, was on the opposite sideline the day the Gophers, decimated by the immediate suspension of four players, lost to Gonzaga in the NCAA's first round.
He said he did not fully understand how difficult it would be to turn the program around.
"It's been way more difficult, way more involved than I anticipated," Monson said. "I also didn't come here thinking it would be easy.
"The NCAA knows what they're doing when they cripple a program. They know it's a punishment that will show its effects for five or six years, at least."
Haskins did not return repeated calls for this story. Through his attorney, Ronald Zamansky, Haskins has denied that he knew about or participated in academic fraud.
Forrest Gregg faced even harsher circumstances than Monson when he took over as head coach of a Southern Methodist football program that was shut down during the 1987-88 seasons because of repeated NCAA violations. He said Monson shouldn't expect his job to get any easier.
"You're constantly reminded of the past," Gregg said. "For me, everything was before the death penalty or after the death penalty.
"We had to prove ourselves in every way that we were not going to break the rules. I remember we had a minor incident -- and it was minor. We turned it in ourselves and then were just crushed by it. The NCAA is not going to let up on you. There were a lot of people who did not trust the program for a long time."
John-Blair Bickerstaff, one of the current Gophers, said he has felt the mistrust even though he was sitting out the season as a transfer from Oregon State when the scandal broke.
"I felt all last year that we were the innocent ones, yet everyone was taking it out on us," Bickerstaff said. "They were calling us the dumb ones and asking us about term papers. Where before teachers never bothered you, now all of a sudden, on test day, they would set up like a two-pronged eye and just rotate it around the classroom on you."
The Gophers remain the butt of jokes around campus, Bickerstaff said, and will be on the road, too. Monson said it would take a 20-win season for the cloud to be lifted completely, though he said that is an unrealistic goal for this season. Only one of the Gophers' nine scholarship players is taller than 6 feet 8.
Across town, the Wolves still have hope for an immediate future that includes star forward Kevin Garnett. But there will be more hearings to determine the status of Smith and the Timberwolves administrators, and with it a familiar feeling of helplessness.
"What did we do as players?" Wolves forward Sam Mitchell asked. "People have to understand, nobody asks us anything. All we do is go out and play. We don't know what happened. We don't know what's true and not true."
Two teams. One cloud.
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