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Bill Musselman's Minnesota Gophers: When The Barn Was A Circus Tent

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If you read one thing today, it has to be Chip Scoggins profile of the Bill Musselman era pregame warmups at Williams Arena!

Minnesota Basketball Facebook

HATS OFF to you Chip Scoggins for getting your HipsterGopher historical sleuth hat on. Because as rabid and die-hard of a Gopher fan as I am, I never knew about the Musselman pregame shows. I'm too young by far to have ever witnessed it in person and for whatever reason this bit of Gopher lore was never passed down to me. Which is sad, because something this legendary should never be allowed to fade into the mists of time.

If none of this is making sense to you yet don't worry, it will soon.

Gophers fans have long held Williams Arena in reverence because of the Barn’s antiquated charm and home-court advantage that it provides when bursting with noise.

That romanticism can be traced to Musselman and his pregame warmup, which gave the Barn its soul and made Gophers basketball the hottest ticket in town in the early 1970s.

The routine was fantastic and Globetrotter like. What was in it?

The routine mimicked a Harlem Globetrotters act, featuring a glorious mix of basketball, big-top flair and circus tricks. Players juggled basketballs. They had fancy ball-handling maneuvers. Everything was scripted and synchronized to music.

One player juggled a ball on his foot like a soccer player and then bounced it off his head to a teammate. Musselman gave a scholarship to a player known as "Crazy George" primarily because he was a ball-handling wizard who could wow the crowd.

One season, Musselman gave a drummer in the pep band a spot on the team after watching him juggle three basketballs while riding a unicycle. Never mind that the drummer hadn’t played basketball since sixth grade.

Musselman was a regular PT Barnum, because the pregame show turned a half empty Williams into a packed house.

The warmup became Musselman’s pride and joy, and fans loved it. In the five seasons before Musselman’s arrival, the Gophers averaged 7,202 fans for home games. They averaged 16,004 in Musselman’s four seasons. They crammed 19,121 into the Barn one night, to the chagrin of the fire marshal.

Fans filled Williams Arena an hour before tipoff to make sure they didn’t miss the warmup. Games became so popular that the school moved overflow crowds to the hockey rink adjacent to Williams Arena and showed the game on closed-circuit TV. Some nights fans left immediately after the warmup.

Before you go any farther, you need to read the rest of Chip's story. Seriously, you'll be missing good stuff if you don't. Don't worry, I'll wait.

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All caught up? Excellent. I bet the whole production sounds too good to be true. Thankfully, YouTube exists and is full of wonderful treasures like this video of the warmup show before the Gophers faced top ranked Indiana in 1975.

The whole thing is worth watching (NOTE: you'll need to set aside 20 minutes) but I'm also going to point out some of the highlights if you've got limited time.

2:00 - Gophers enter and break into the warmup drills I remember from elementary school.

5:15 - It's "Globetrotter Time" for Minnesota. Includes unicycle riding while juggling basketballs, ball spinning tricks, what can only be described as basketball hackeysack, etc.

unicycle juggling


12:30 - A ball spinning trick with a giant MN state cutout/sign.

state cutout


13:30 - The old Goldy bouncing a giant basketball around.

14:13 - Giant unicycle riding.

giant unicycle


15:40 - Loud Rouser chant from the fans. I mean, LOUD. Love that the entire crowd does the "RAH" at the end!

17:00 - Retro Goldy entrance tunnel FTW!

retro Goldy tunnel

Happy Monday everyone! May the thought of unicycle basketball juggling turn your Monday into a maroon and gold wonderland!