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Where are they now?: John Kundla

05/03/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Rob Litt

Where Are They Now?

The road from The Barn to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts is a path seldom taken, but when former Gopher player and coach, John Kundla, was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1995, he capped off his legendary career with this prestigious honor.

Kundla's playing and coaching career spans five decades and includes a Big Ten title, four NBA championships, the development of some of the games all time great players and a stint coaching the Moroccan National Team.

Kundla played for the Minnesota from 1937-39 where he led the Gophers to a share of the conference title in 1937. An all-conference performer in 1938 and team captain in 1939, Kundla led the team in scoring all three years. After his playing days ended he took his passion for the game to the sidelines where he joined Coach Dave McMillan as a Gopher assistant 1939-42 and again in 1945-46. From 1942-45 Kundla coached De La Salle High School where they won two state championships in three years.

After a year as the head coach at St. Thomas College, Kundla was named the head coach of the Minneapolis Lakers at age 31 where he went on to compile one of the greatest head coaching careers in league history. He compiled a 466-319 record, including a 70-38 playoff record and won the NBA Championship in 1950, '52, '53 and '54. He was also selected to coach in the All-Star game from 1951-54. The former Gopher coached Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Clyde Lovellette, Slater Martin, George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard.

Kundla returned to his alma mater in 1959 where we he took over the Gopher program for nine seasons from 1959-68. During this time Kundla compiled a 110-105 overall record and brought a national recruiting base to Dinkytown. During his tenure, Kundla coached three All-Americans including legendary Gopher, Lou Hudson.

After his nine year Gopher coaching career ended, he went on to teach physical education and basketball at the University of Minnesota. As a college teacher, one of his students was Flip Saunders. Kundla did get back into coaching in 1983-84 where he coached the Moroccan National Team.

Kundla and his family returned to Minneapolis following his international coaching stint and is currently retired. His basketball career culminated on May 15, 1995 when he was enshrined into the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In the same Hall of Fame class was Vern Mikkelson and the two became the first coach/player combination to receive such an honor in the same season.

Kundla's passion for the Gophers, Timberwolves and Lakers continues strong at age 87. He attends as many Gopher and Timberwolves games as he can, but has also added the attendance at many local high school and AAU games as his grandchildren are very active players. One in particular, Isaiah Dahlman of Braham High School in Braham, Minnesota, is creating a lot of buzz. The 6'6" sophomore was recently ranked as's #2 ranked player in the Class of 2006 and has garnered much attention from many high-major D1 programs including Kundla's Gophers.

Kundla recently spent time with talking about his days as a player and coach for the Gophers, his thoughts on the Timberwolves and Lakers, how the game has changed since his playing and coaching days as well as his thoughts on his grandson's recruitment. You have obviously had the chance to see the game of basketball go through many different changes, what are some of the good and bad changes you have witnessed?

John Kundla: Wow, over the years the game has changed so much. I think more than anything on the court, the biggest change is the lost art of passing. No one passes like they used to any more. The bounce pass has gone by the wayside and I cringe when I see how guards are giving entry passes now-a-days. The other big change from when I was around is the three-point shot. I would love to see what a guy like Trent Tucker would have done with a three-point line in college.

Off the court the biggest change is the way players are recruited. These AAU tournaments are great experience for everyone, but it puts a lot of pressure on guys knowing that coaches are watching them. I am shocked that my grandson who is a sophomore already has scholarship offers. I guess though if one coach does it, it forces every coach to do it. What Gopher players have you most enjoyed watching through the years?

Kundla: There have been so many wonderful players go through the program. I think the guys that stick out most to me that I enjoyed watching were Jim Brewer, Flip Saunders, Kevin McHale, Willie Burton and Arriel McDonald. I'm sure I left some guys off the list, but those were a few that I really enjoyed watching develop.

On the pro game, the two recent players that I could watch every night are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Both guys are outstanding role models. Every time I talk with Garnett he always refers to me as "œSir" or "œCoach." Most guys at his level wouldn't even know who I am but he has a real sense of basketball history. I admire that. Are there any former players that you still keep in touch with?

Kundla: I hear from Lou Hudson quite often. He's in Utah doing really well. I also run into a number of former Gopher players and coaches around the city and often chat with them. I didn't necessarily coach them, but enjoyed watching them play. What are your thoughts on the current state of the program?

Kundla: This past season was obviously a tough one. I felt really bad for the players and staff. You can tell they are working very hard to turn it around. Clem Haskins left this program a mess and Coach Monson is doing a good job of cleaning up his mess. If they keep doing what they are doing, they'll be fine. How was it coaching and playing in The Barn and how does the atmosphere compare today?

Kundla: No matter what year it is, Williams Arena is always one of the best venues to play in. I loved playing and coaching in The Barn and wouldn't have traded it for any stadium. I hope the football team can get this type of atmosphere one day. My ears still ring from some of those wins versus Michigan. Your grandson, Isaiah Dahlman, is starting to receive a lot of recruiting interest from many of the nations top programs including the Gophers. Would you like to see him in maroon and gold?

Kundla: It would be a thrill for me to see him as a Gopher. I think his parents would like that as well, but we're not going to push him one direction or another. It's his decision and we'll honor that no matter what he decides. We're hoping he ends up with Minnesota though. Who would you cheer for if the Lakers played the Timberwolves in the playoffs?

Kundla: Now you are asking the tough questions! I love the Wolves and think that Flip has done a great job with this team considering all of the injuries. My heart says Minnesota but my head says the Lakers. Oh, and if the Lakers win I get a championship ring as well. The last few titles they have won, they gave myself, George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen honorary championship rings. We get the same rings as the players. It is an awfully generous gesture. We are all grateful. After your Gopher coaching career was over, you taught physical education and basketball at The U and it is reported that Flip Saunders was one of your students. Did he pass the basketball class and if so, what kind of student was he?

Kundla: I knew right away that Flip had a very high basketball IQ. He has a great feel for the game and was a pleasure to teach. He would often come up to me after class to show me defenses he was designing and just asking questions about my years as a coach. I have enjoyed following his career. What has it meant to you to be a part of the Gopher program?

Kundla: The University of Minnesota is a very special place to me. I spent many great years there and met some incredible people. The U opened doors for me that I would have never been able to experience if it wasn't for the school. The people at the University as well as the fans of both the Gophers and Lakers have always been so wonderful to me and my family.

Talk about Coach Kundla and his grandsons on our Gopher Basketball message board.

Tag(s): Where Are They Now?