In the midst of a season typified by arrests, academic woes and underachievement, the Minnesota Golden Gophers unexpectedly provided us with one of the best feel-good stories of the year on Thursday night.
When the Gophers learned this week that junior forward Paul Carter's younger sister was recently diagnosed with cancer, they decided to do something that would show their support. Each player sported a freshly shaved head in honor of 13-year-old Bria when Minnesota took the court Thursday against rival Wisconsin, good karma that surely contributed to a 68-52 upset victory over the Badgers.
"That's maybe something we needed to bond together," Gophers coach Tubby Smith told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I'm glad they did it."
If the tribute to Carter's sister serves as a turning point for the Gophers, it probably came a couple weeks too late to resuscitate their NCAA tournament hopes. Minnesota (15-10, 6-7) was supposed to contend for the Big Ten title after back-to-back 20-win campaigns the past two years, but issues on and off the court have weighed down a season that began with so much promise.
Top recruit Royce White, suspended for the season because of multiple legal issues, quit the team and left school in February without ever suiting up for a game. Starting point guard Al Nolen has been out since January after being ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the season. And promising big men Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III have not developed the way many hoped they would as sophomores.
Even if the Gophers don't pull off a miraculous late rally to meet preseason expectations, Thursday's tribute ensured they'll leave a positive legacy.
"Just everyone coming, getting their hair cut, everyone has the same look ... guys were excited about it," Devoe Joseph told the Star Tribune. "We're doing it for a reason."