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Meet the No. 1 Gophers men's basketball managers

The Gophers are 4-0 and hoping to make a trip to the Final Four in Phoenix.

Nick Gag was determined to get redemption at Assembly Hall.

When Gag was a sophomore and an undergraduate manager for the Gophers men’s basketball team, he missed two layups in the last minute of a managers’ game at Indiana, a place that was a little extra special for him because his dad was an Indiana fan growing up.

Gag, now a graduate manager for the Gophers, avoided playing at Assembly Hall again after that, but with the U visiting Indiana this season for the last time in his managerial career, Gag was set on getting his redemption in Bloomington, Ind.

Everything went according to plan.

During a game Thursday against the Indiana managers, Gag was left open for a 3-pointer.


“(Gag is) like jumping back and screaming like, ‘Let’s go!’ All that swagger,” said Spencer Cody, a graduate assistant for the Gophers. “It just seemed like he got all that frustration off his chest in that one play. And you know he was MVP of the game. All great feelings.” 

So far, it’s been nothing but great feelings for the Gophers’ managers. They’re currently the No. 1-ranked team in the Manager Games, a competition in which Division I basketball managers across the country compete against each other, which culminates in a 64-team bracket. 

How it works

Managers coordinate games with opposing teams’ managers, with the games typically taking place a day before the Division I programs face off. They play two 20-minute halves with a running clock until the final two minutes of each half and adhere to NCAA rules, and anyone involved with the program who is not a player — managers, graduate assistants, support staff, coaches, etc. — can participate in the games.

After they play a game, they post the score on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and tag the Manager Games account, which compiles scores and posts rankings on, which does KPI rankings for college basketball, as well.

At the end of the regular season, the top-64 teams make a 64-team bracket that mimics the NCAA Tournament, at which point it goes to a fan vote. The teams compete for fan votes until it reaches the Elite Eight; then the remaining teams fundraise for a trip to the location of the Final Four — this year it’s in Phoenix — where they get the chance to compete for a national title. 

Who is playing

The teams are made up of varying levels of experience. Gag, for example, didn’t play basketball in high school. He joined the Gophers as a manager as a freshman in 2018-19 after serving as a student manager for his high school team.

“I’ve always just loved basketball, and I knew even though I wasn’t talented on the court, it was something I wanted to pursue for my future,” he said.

Gag is currently pursuing a master’s degree in sports management, and he hopes to remain in college athletics after finishing his degree — getting excellent experience during his run as a manager for the Gophers.

Cody, on the other hand, not only played in high school but also played Division I basketball at Xavier when Gophers head coach Ben Johnson served there as an assistant coach. Cody walked on his sophomore year after initially missing the tryouts his freshman year when he wasn’t aware he needed a sickle cell blood test to be eligible for the tryout until it was too late and he missed the deadline.

“The next year I vowed to myself that I’d be the first in the coaches’ office,” he said.

Cody made good on that promise and not only made the tryout but also the team — something that has opened doors for him. Johnson gave him a call when he was looking for a graduate assistant, which brought Cody to the U to pursue his master’s in sports management. He has hopes of becoming a coach himself.

“(Johnson) is so helpful, you know last year we were trying to make our push with the Twitter votes and stuff, he would always retweet our posts and say, ‘Vote for the Gophers.’ All that kind of stuff,” Cody said. “And he’s truly blessed me individually. He didn’t have to reach out and give me this opportunity. And then now that I’m here, he’s given me so many opportunities for new connections and new opportunities.”

One of those new opportunities — being a graduate assistant at the U — has also given him the chance to play in the Manager Games, something he wasn't allowed to do while he was a player at Xavier, although he did inquire. He became a fan instead. 

“All of our (Division I) players were told like to go to bed, you’re not allowed to come to the (manager) games. But as a walk on, you’re not really expected to be in the game at all or be that prepared, so I would always sneak in and watch the manager games,” Cody said. “It always seemed like a great idea to me, it was so much fun. The guys loved it. I love cheering on all the guys that put so much work in every day for the program, like the work that nobody sees.” 

New strategy

In years past, the Gophers managers would try to play as many games as possible, pretty much setting up a game anytime the Minnesota program played. Last year, they reached the Sweet 16, but felt like a couple of their losses earlier in the campaign hurt their seeding and ultimately caused the early exit, which has led them to be more strategic with their schedule this season.

“We all kind of decided like we want to buy into making it to Phoenix and playing out the Manager Games into the Elite Eight in front of some fans and some cameras,” Cody said.

So far, so good. The Gophers managers are 4-0 and tout the No. 1 ranking. 

“It’s something that we actually take very seriously. You wouldn’t think of it as like such a serious thing from the outside, but there’s a lot of pride that comes with playing in these games,” Gag said. “And each team wants to win extremely bad, so it’s really fun.”

Last year Michigan won the title, and the Wolverines are currently No. 4 in the rankings. If their recent post on X is any indication, they don't appear too happy to have been dethroned by the Gophers. 

Other Big Ten managers teams in the rankings include Michigan State (No. 6), Ohio State (No. 9) and Purdue (No. 11). There’s a similar rivalry with the Big Ten programs managers like there is with the Division I programs. “The Big Ten ones just mean a little bit more. The Wisconsin game, the Iowa game, there’s always sort of a bragging-rights feel to it,” Gag said. 

Fan voting 

After the competition on the court ends, it goes to the 64-team bracket and becomes a competition of who can draw the most votes. Some of that comes down to self-promotion, but it certainly helps to get some popular backers.

One year when the Gophers were matched up against Notre Dame in the bracket, the Irish had football players, Notre Dame alum and longtime ESPN personality Mike Golic and former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie all stumping for them.

The Gophers managers have also had no shortage of supporters. Johnson and the rest of the coaching staff have been vocal promoters, doing their part to bring out the fan vote on social media. GopherHole, a Gophers fan website with a large social media presence, has been a regular supporter, as well.

“We always try to get Ric Flair, but it never works,” Gag said.

Maybe this is the year he can give a “woo Gophers” to the top-ranked team. 


Spending hours together each and every day, Gag said the Gophers managers are like a “close-knit family.” They see all the hard work they all put in each and every day and root for each other’s success on and off the court.

Gophers men's basketball managers with Indiana managers

The Gophers men's basketball managers pose with the Indiana managers. 

“It’s pretty fun to share the court with them and kind of get to play outside of work,” Gag said.

And while it’s a rivalry on the court, Gag said the Big Ten is like a larger family, getting to spend time with the other teams’ managers a couple times a year. “I’ll have managers from Illinois reaching out on my birthday, which is pretty cool. It’s just kind of — you build a community with these other managers that isn’t very common in other industries,” he said.

And it’s also an opportunity to make connections. Cody isn’t the only aspiring coach among the ranks of graduate assistants and managers. “I know that’s the future of coaching like these guys who are passionate about it. … You never know who they’re gonna grow to be one day,” Cody said.

All in all, the Manager Games are a special experience. Not only for the chance to compete but also to make friends and build connections.

“It’s been so much fun. And we’ve been blessed to be at this great program that allows us to fly all over the place and meet new people and play at these historic arenas,” Cody said.

The only thing that could make it better is a trip to Phoenix.