The 2014 and 2015 classes of kids from the state of Minnesota (or near) is looking like they are extremely talented classes. This 2014 class should rival, if not exceed, the talented 2009 class of Rodney Williams, Royce White, Trent Lockett, Mike Bruesewitz, Mike Broghammer, Sam Dower and others. And the 2015 class will two or three (or four) kids who are all going to be in the conversation for 4-stars and top 100 consideration.
This crop of soon to be sophomores and juniors and their decisions about where to play their college basketball is going to have a dramatic and lasting effect on Gopher basketball. I'm certain you will hear more about them in the next couple months as they begin to show their athleticism and skills in AAU tournaments around the country. There are several names that you need to keep a close eye on and all of them are basically in our backyard. There are very likely going to be offers made to kids from all over the country in these two classes but there is significant talent here and they are worth talking about because as mentioned, I believe that they can have a lasting impact on the program.
The Class of 2014
This current group of sophomores collectively has already received scholarship offers from Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Baylor, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Marquette Minnesota and many others. A number of big-time coaches have already made their presence felt within our borders and you can expect that we will continue to see them in gyms around the metro in the coming years.
As things currently stand we only have 2 scholarships available for this class. Available scholarships, particularly ones that are a couple years out, are very fluid. Transfers are always a possibility which would free up an additional scholly. And the staff could hold on to one of their 2013 scholarships (we have four available) and carry that one over to 2014. This would not only balance out our allotment but also to put the needed scholarships towards a year of outstanding talent. My guess is that we will probably have 3, maybe 4, to use in 2014.
So who is available? I'm glad you asked. (after the jump)
Tyus Jones - Apple Valley - PG - there is no sense beating around the bush, Jones is the cream of the crop in either of these classes. This is a kid who for the last year has been talked about as not just a top 100 type kid but one of the 10 best sophomores in the country and possibly the best point guard in his class. Landing Jones would be transformational for the program. Getting a kid to choose Minnesota over Duke or Kansas or North Carolina would not only give us a phenomenal player who would presumably lead us to wins. But perhaps more importantly he would get others to follow. If Jones is willing to stay home and build this program, why wouldn't the other guys on the list follow his lead? I believe they would.
But of all the guys in this post it is pretty clear that Jones is the one who will be the most difficult to land. He publicly states that Minnesota is just as viable an option as Duke but picking the Gophers over a blue-chip program is rare. Final Four opportunities usually trumps the prospect of turning your hometown program around. I feel pretty strongly that Tubby having a very successful season this year (2012-13) and seeing further development of Andre Hollins will certainly make Jones' decision at least a little bit more difficult.
Rashad Vaughn - Robbinsdale-Cooper - SG - Jones is clearly #1 on the list but were this any other year Gopher fans would be going gaga over Vaughn. Instead he feels like he'd be a nice consolation prize. This is crap, Vaughn would be an outstanding get for Tubby and staff. According to Rivals he is already a four-star recruit and is ranked #26 in their early top 100 for the class of 2014. His offer list is full of major programs like Kansas, Baylor, Georgetown, Texas, Wisconsin and several others. Vaughn is a 6-4 shooting guard and he is a very talented scorer both getting into the paint and from behind the arc. His game is continuing to grow as according to reports he is becoming a better rebounder and ball handler.
Vaughn is a dynamic scorer who is being sought after by many other prestigious programs so really he is a "must get." As a true freshman Vaughn would likely be coming off the bench as some instant offense but then with the graduation of Joe Coleman and Andre Hollins he would be thrust not only into a starting role but also as potentially our primary scoring option. It would seem to be a good situation to come into. He will be very difficult to land but our chances are better here than they are with Jones.
Reid Travis - DeLaSalle - SF - Travis is a physical and explosive forward who currently measures out at 6-7. He'll be a few years behind Mbakwe but Travis will be our next double-double machine. So far he does not have a Gopher scholarship offer but he is just a sophomore and it is no surprise that we only have a couple offers on the table in this class. Northwestern is his only major offer with Nebraska coming hard at him without an actual offer yet. I'd love to see us land one or both of the guards listed above and then a physical presence like Travis to man the paint. He has a mature and savvy game (according to ESPN eval) and even if he is a bit undersized for a PF, he will be a major contributor.
Ian Theisen - Osseo - PF/C - Another big man who should not be forgotten is Theisen, almost certainly the #4 prospect in the state's class of sophomores. Theisen is 6-9 and listed as a PF who may eventually be a center. You remember him from the recent state tournament when he nailed the game-winner for Osseo. But it should be noted that as a sophomore he led the team in scoring and rebounding while shooting a very high percentage.
Currently no offers. I would imagine that if his game continues to grow he will easily be a Big Ten caliber recruit.
There are plenty of other talented kids in this class both from Minnesota and others who we are pursuing. Andre Wallace from Eden Prairie is an explosive SG and then a handful of kids from outside of our borders are also getting some Gopher love. But the names listed above, particularly the top three are guys who can really be program changers.
I am desperately longing for a successful season in 2012-13. Maybe some luck falling our way, finishing top 4 of the Big Ten and making a run to the Sweet 16. This current squad is capable of that and winning will only help to convince the class of 2014 studs to stick around and help the program to take more steps forward. Then the success continues and recruiting success continues on to 2015.
This class has a trio of Minnesota kids and then the one Wisconsin native that I'm including in this post. He is being included because the Gophers have an in with him. It helps that his brother is a Golden Gopher and while he isn't exactly "from here" one would think we are in the driver's seat to land him.
This class should have a ton of available sholarships. Assuming nothing changes over the next three years (which it will) we will have five available to offer as we lose Dre Hollins, Coleman, Oto, Elliott and Mo Walker. I doubt we'll be bringing five new freshmen in with this class but that is what projects to be available.
Henry Ellenson - Rice Lake, WI - PF - possibly the class of the 2015 class, at least in terms of kids the Gophers have a shot at landing. Ellenson is obviously the brother of Wally who will be a JR when Henry walks on campus as a true freshman. Rivals recently released their super-duper early top 50 for the 2015 class and Ellenson was not listed, but he is almost certain to be in the top 100 and I'll bet you lunch he'll be a four-star. He is on ESPN's top 100 watch list where he is described as a "power forward with elite shooting skill, very good athletic ability and strength."
A high school freshman and he has offers from Georgetown, Minnesota, Marquette and Iowa State. At 6-9 and 200 lbs he has a body and skill set that is beyond other freshmen, further growth and development will make him a national prospect. I would imagine that our chances are pretty good at landing Henry as long as Tubby's relationship with Wally doesn't turn "Devoe" on him. This one is a few years away but we will all be celebrating this commitment when it happens.
Alex Illikainen - Grand Rapids - C - Illikainen will be our future Gopher center. Can you think of the last time an out-state big man was offered as a high school freshman? It is a very uncommon occurrence. Illikainen has more than just the requisite Gopher offer. Iowa State, Nebraska and a couple Missouri Valley schools have all offered. Ryan James of Gopher Illustrated described his dominance over the U14 teams as "video-game like!" He is going to be another big-time product that Minnesota should have a legit shot at landing.
Personally I don't want Illikainen to commit here or anywhere in the Big Ten so I don't have to type his name, it is even worse than Osenieks (which I get wrong every time and have to look it up). But if I put my selfish desires aside I would love to see
Illik Alex grow and be a dominating Big Ten center to go along with a couple of dominating guards that we land the year prior.
Marshawn Wilson - Tartan - SG - A very athletic guard who scores well and is a very good defender. It is early and there are not a lot of evaluations available for high school freshmen but Wilson will be an outstanding recruit.
Jarvis Johnson - DeLeSalle - PG -Started at point for DeLeSalle's state tournament winning team as a freshman. Currently has offers from Wyoming, Buffalo and New Mexico St but it is REALLY early. ESPN is very complimentary of the young Johnson saying that he "has the speed, quickness, athleticism, motor and ability to change gears to be a special lead guard. Johnson has excellent court vision and does a great job using the advance pass on the break and finding the open man down the sideline or rim running." He will move up the list to become a must-get. Even if we land Tyus Jones in the 2014 class, we will need Johnson for when Tyus leaves early.
The point of this post is less about dreaming of Final Fours and predicting lineups four years from now. But there are some very high-end, program changing caliber players that are within our grasp. Five of the eight names listed above are strong candidates to be four-star recruits or higher. The rest are potentially top 150 caliber guys. Landing the majority of the names listed above will give the Gophers back to back ranked recruiting classes. I don't believe I'm dramatically overstating anything here.
We all want to see Gopher teams that are consistently making the NCAA Tournament and even occasionally competing for a Big Ten title. It begins this year with having a successful season and then that has to translate into some recruiting success with kids who are in our backyard.
OK, now I get obnoxious and make ridiculous line-up predictions. We land everyone listed above or at least the ones we absolutely want the most. This is our starting lineup in 2016 after they've all had a year or two under their belt. The 2017 Final Four has not yet been decided but when it is announced, book your hotel rooms! Maybe it will be in the Vikings new stadium! :)
PG - Tyus Jones
SG - Rashas Vaughn
SF - Henry Ellenson
PF - Reid Travis
C - Alex Illikainen