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Where are they now?: Al Nuness

04/12/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Rob Litt

Where Are They Now?

It takes a rare combination of hard work, good fortune, timing and passion to sit in The Barn and cheer for the Gophers as a player, coach, fan and parent of a player, but that is exactly where former Gopher captain Al Nuness finds himself now. A native of Maywood, Illinois, Nuness immersed himself into everything that is Minnesota. From playing and coaching for the Gophers, to working for the Minnesota Timberwolves and now putting together a dynamic and successful corporate career, Nuness is a familiar name around both Gopher basketball as well as the Twin Cities business community.

After two years in Junior College, Nuness made quite the impact on the Gopher basketball program. An All-Big Ten and team captain selection in the 1968-69 season, Nuness scored 740 points in just two years, averaging 15.4 points per game as a Gopher and was named team MVP in 1969.

Nuness became a true coach on the floor for coaches John Kundla and Bill Fitch and shortly after his playing days ended, Nuness took his basketball knowledge to the sidelines where Fitch hired him as the Gophers' first ever African-American assistant coach. Nuness spent two seasons on the Gopher sideline where he worked under Fitch, George Hanson and spent two months on Bill Musselman's staff.

Following his stint as a Gopher coach, Nuness coached and taught at Central High School in the Twin Cities where he was named the Minnesota Coach of the Year in 1976. Following a seven year career as a teacher and coach, Nuness took his experience to Corporate America where he has worked for three Fortune 500 companies as well as serving as the Director of Ticket Sales for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the franchises infancy. Nuness is currently Vice-President of Sports Sales for Jostens where he heads its collegiate and professional sports relationships.

In addition to his corporate and volunteer activities, Nuness has also taken on a new role as a parent of a collegiate athlete. He and his wife Sherry have two sons, both of whom followed their father's footsteps to play college basketball. Their oldest son, Jared, played at Valparaiso and was the "œother option" when Valpo shocked Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament with Bryce Drew's "œthe shot." The youngest Nuness, Jordan, joined the Gopher program last fall as a recruited walk-on and after a redshirt season in 2003-04, will suit up this fall for the Gophers and expects to be an outside threat for the team.

Al Nuness recently spent some time with the GopherHole staff to reflect on his days as a Gopher, what the Rouser means to him so many years later, his life in corporate America and the excitement surrounding his new role as a Gopher parent. Where has your post Gopher career taken you?

Al Nuness: I have been very fortunate for the experiences that I have had throughout my career and I have no doubt that the doors that have been opened for me, would not be there had I not gone to the U. The lessons I learned while at Minnesota and the connections I made have proved invaluable. Immediately following my days as a Gopher I was able to coach for the program I love. Coach Fitch hired me as an assistant and I coached under him, Coach Hanson and spent two months on Coach Musselman's staff. After my time as a Gopher assistant I coached at Central High School and then went into Corporate America. I worked with a few different companies in the Twin Cities, spent some time in Atlanta and worked a few years with the Minnesota Timberwolves after a fellow Gopher alum, Bob Stein, hired me to be the Director of Ticket Sales. For the past 12 or so years I have worked with Jostens where I am currently the Vice President of Sports Sales. Our team is responsible for designing the Super Bowl Championship ring each year. How much are the Super Bowl rings valued at these days?

Nuness: They range from $12,000-$15,000 per ring. They are really fun to work on and are absolutely beautiful when complete. One of these days, we'll hopefully be making one for the guys in Purple! Thinking back to your time as a Gopher, are there any games that stick out more than others?

Nuness: There are two games that stick out more than any other. First was sort of a homecoming of sorts for me in the 1969 season when we traveled to Northwestern. There were three bus loads of fans that came to support me and the team from my hometown in Maywood and I had 30 points that night. It was a very special evening to be able to play so well in front of all those that helped put me where I was at that time.

The other game that sticks out so much is when we defeated Detroit at The Barn when they had Spencer Haywood who had just led USA to an Olympic gold medal in the '68 Olympics. We played so well that night as a team and the crowd was just nuts. It was very loud! Are there any former players or coaches that you still keep in touch with?

Nuness: Oh yes, definitely. I keep in touch with most of the guys. We had and still have a very special bond. I talk to Coach Fitch a lot. He has been a great mentor and friend through the years. I also still keep in great contact with LeRoy Gardner, Larry Mikan, Tom Masterson and Roger Arnold. We didn't win a lot of games together, but the depths we overcame made us very close and we are all still great friends to this day. I hope the current team is able to say the same thing years to come. The wins were great at the time, but the relationships we've developed and maintained through the years are what defined my time as a Gopher. Who was the greatest player you ever played against when you played for Minnesota?

Nuness: We played against some of the greatest players of all time while I was at the U. We played against Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Don Chaney. Those there were awesome, but none compared to when we played Kareem. He was so dominant. It was an honor to play against him. Who was the best player you faced in practice as a Gopher?

Nuness: Definitely Larry Mikan. He pushed himself so much each and every day. He was a relentless worker that had an inner drive that made the rest of us push ourselves harder. You've been a Gopher player, coach, fan and now you will enter a new role "“ that of Gopher parent. How will this role be different than the others?

Nuness: It will be very different and I am really excited about it. As a player and coach I felt as if I had some sort of role in helping the outcome. As a fan, I was able to sit back and enjoy the games and really get into enjoying the wins. But as a parent, it will take on an entirely new dimension. The adrenaline rush of seeing Jared play at Valpo and now Jordan play at The Barn will be unlike anything I have experienced. My wife and I are so excited to see him play and are ecstatic to have him be a part of such a wonderful program. It will be neat to hear the name Nuness called out at The Barn again. What does it mean to you to be a part of the Gopher family?

Nuness: I always say that other than asking Sherry to marry me, attending the University of Minnesota was the best decision I ever made. It is such an outstanding place to get an education, to play college basketball and the Twin Cities is the perfect place to live after school. Having the opportunity to be a part of this program is incredible. As the years go on, hearing the Rouser and knowing that I was a part of a Big Ten collegiate program means more and more. When our family lived out of state for a few years we still kept all six of our season tickets and never thought once about giving them up, even though we lived down South. Now that Jordan is part of the program it allows our family to once again be immersed with the program and that is so exciting. And long after Jordan's time is up at The U, my wife and I will still be in the stands singing The Rouser!

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Tag(s): Where Are They Now?