(Apologies for the extremely long post. I thought about breaking it up but I didn't so get some popcorn...)
Richard Pitino has been with the Gophers for a couple months now and already it is apparent that recruiting is going to be not only a primary focus for this new staff, but it may also be a strength. There are many questions yet to be answered about the Pitino era including but not limited to player development, motivation, ability to teach, game prep, opponent scouting, in-game decision making, in-bounds plays, etc. So far this spring, really the only thing we can judge the new staff on is their recruiting efforts. To date there have not been a barrage of outstanding commitments to the program but the groundwork is being laid, the first impressions from recruits is very positive and the effort by the staff has been outstanding.
The list of recruits being pursued by the new Gopher staff is growing, almost daily and it is filled with high-major recruits with lengthy lists of high-major offers. This staff is casting a wide net, putting in effort to quickly build relationships and isn't afraid to go up against other big name schools.
But as I said, recruiting is going at break-neck speed for the Gophers and I want to break down the efforts into three distinct categories. The first is 2013 recruiting. Considering the staff either lost or passed on Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster, they started with zero commitments to help replace the five open scholarships. So getting some immediate help is certainly a priority. Next, and probably more important, is the recruitment of the local 2014 talented trio of Rashad Vaughn, Reid Travis and Tyus Jones. Lastly the staff isn't making any assumptions about the local 2014 kids and they are pursuing many other top notch juniors because we'll still have scholarships to fill if the big three all turn down the local squad. Many of those other juniors are from the Northeast where most of the staff has plenty of recruiting relationships built.
Let's get into the weeds of Gopher hoops recruiting a little bit...
Following the release of Joe Coleman the Gopher staff has up to two scholarships to play with for 2013 after securing commitments from incoming freshman Daquein McNeil, JUCO point Dre Mathieu and FIU transfer Malik Smith. Typically I get really nervous about signing guys so late in the process because you often end up with guys like Ahanmisi and Chip Armelin far more often than you land guys who are going to be meaningful contributors or starters. With that said, the current staff is targeting some players who are in unique situations who very well may be impact players. The roster is very fluid but as it stands today this is our current scholarship allotment.
Here is the look at 2013 recruiting with potentially 2 scholarships available to use right away.
Daquein McNeil was the first Gopher commit for 2013. He attended prep school last year and is a Baltimore native. McNeil is likely a SG who can slide to the point in a pinch, but what intrigues me the most about him is that this is exactly the type of player who is going to fit well into the new system. He is a lanky kid who can defend and offensively is pretty good at penetrating to the paint. Shooting isn't a real strength, but penetrating and defending will go a LONG way towards being productive in Pitino's system.
Dre Mathieu is a JUCO point guard who visited this past weekend and made his decision to be a Gopher on Tuesday. Formerly a Moorehead State walk-on who went the JUCO route in Arizona. Mathieu went from zero offers after a productive high school career in Knoxville, TN to a handful of high-major offers after a year a Central Arizona C.C. The kid is somewhere around 5-9 (maybe taller), can supposedly show off a 360 dunk and is lightning quick. There should be no question about his position on the floor and his ability to get into the paint.
Malik Smith is the latest new guy coming into the program. He will be coming in as a senior, transferring from FIU where he was 2nd on the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game and shooting 36.2% from behind the arc. He is going to be the most familiar with the new offense and should help improve our long-range shooting.
That leaves us with potentially 2 more scholarships to fill and some interesting names who are or were being pursued.
Allerick Freeman is a high profile UCLA commit who backed out after they hired Steve Alford. Coincidentally he committed to Baylor within hours after we learned about Dre Matthieu had committed to Minnesota. He would have been an outstanding get, but since we didn't get him I'm not wasting anymore time on him. Tariq Black is a PF who decided to leave Memphis with one year of eligibility remaining. This would be an ideal fit for the Gophers and another outstanding pick up. But he is taking his talents to Lawrence, Kansas.
Rakeem Buckles is another FIU guy. By all accounts it appears as though Buckles will be a Golden Gopher assuming he is cleared to play right away. Buckles is a former Louisville Cardinal who suffered two ACL tears and spent the last year rehabbing while redshirting at FIU. He played 3 seasons for Louisville with his best season coming as sophomore where averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in just under 19 minutes per game. Considering we need a big man and he wants to be here, I would expect that he'll be a Golden Gopher this fall. It all depends on the NCAA.
Another potential transfer is Derrick Randall, a big man from Rutgers. 6-8, 240 lbs and played just 8 minutes per game last year as a sophomore for Rutgers. Out of high school he had a number of Big East offers, mostly teams from the current Big East, not the new American Athletic Conf teams). He would have 2 years left to play and likely would be allowed to play right away due to what went down at Rutgers. More of a strong defender and rebounder than a scorer, but we need able bodies inside. Visiting campus this weekend.
Recently on GopherIllustrated the name Nkosi Ali has come up as a big man garnering Gopher interest. Ali is a JUCO center and the Gophers are trying to get him on campus for a visit this weekend.
Lastly there is a chance that Eagan's own, Joey King may transfer to Minnesota from Drake. King would need to appeal to the NCAA to be allowed to play right away and thus avoiding the typical transfer rules. There is a family health issue which is the stated reason for King's tranfer which may allow him to play immediately but again, nothing appears to be eminent.
I would not be at all surprised to see the Gophers bring in another big man who is eligible to play right away.
Moving on to the 2014 class, specifically the local Big Three of Rashad Vaughn, Reid Travis and Tyus Jones. The staff currently will have 5 scholarships to play with next season pending any further additions in 2013. At the very least there will be three seniors graduating leaving a minimum of three available for 2014.
From Pitino's first day on the job it was evident that he was going to put the full-court press on these three (pun intended). Phone calls and visits were set up as quickly as possible and each weekend of AAU ball has had Gopher coaches in the stands. Vaughn, Travis and Jones are clearly the priority and they are putting in maximum effort to woo these guys. Things then got really interesting when I saw this GopherHole tweet
A long time Minnesota AAU coach told us today that "5 weeks ago the #Gophers had no shot at the Big 3, now any combination is possible."— GopherHole.com (@GopherHole) May 1, 2013
So you're saying there's a chance...
Typically the conversation of the Big Three begins with Tyus Jones who is arguably the #1 recruit in the country and has been in that conversation for two years. But I'd like to start this conversation with Rashad Vaughn. Any other year this is the guy we'd be falling all over ourselves to talk about. According to Rivals he is the #1 shooting guard in the country and 6th overall. He is 6'5", 200 lbs and is a scoring guard who will be a rock star wherever he chooses to go to school. Jones is ranked slightly higher but Vaughn isn't some sort of "decent consolation prize", landing him would still be the biggest recruit to sign with the Gophers in decades (maybe ever). It sort of amazes me how much ink Jones has received compared to Vaughn though this started to even out over the past season.
Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports referred to him as possibly the best pure scorer in the country.
The 6-foot-5 Vaughn is ranked No. 8 in the 247 Sports Composite, and is arguably the best pure scorer in the class of 2014. He can get to the rim on nearly any defender, and knows how to finish through contact. He also has good range on his outside jumper, and is good in transition.
So what are Minnesota's chances?
Well, he also has an outstanding offer list, he can play pretty much wherever he wants. North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville, Kentucky, Baylor, UCLA, Texas, yada, yada, yada, Minnesota. Pitino and staff have spent time with Rashad and his father and they spoke about their trip to practice and their time with Pitino here.
We drove to the office and he (Pitino) gave us his vision. What stood out the most was for a guy not from Minnesota, he knew so much of our history and has a feel for our people. The main thing is he's the bridge to gets Minnesotans to that next level. He said there's a great fanbase, it's a beautiful area, and all that's missing is me. The enthusiasm and how he thinks he can take us to the next level is good.
I absolutely love Vaughn and in my humble opinion he should be the #1 target for the Gophers this offseason. He would absolutely thrive in Pitino's system. And I believe that we actually have a legit shot at landing him. In every interview he mentions how he likes Pitino's system and he previously had a recruiting relationship with Ben Johnson so we are not completely starting from scratch. There is typically a recruiting bump for a new staff in their first full recruiting class (see Tubby, Monson, Brewster, etc) and landing this particular 5-star scorer would be an incredible "bumb" for this new staff.
Recently he nearly committed to North Carolina while visiting. But he didn't and since then Roy Williams has added his second small forward to his 2014 class who projects to play the "two guard role."
Reid Travis is another highly ranked and sought after local kid who is lost in the local coverage. You may remember how much ink the duo of Rodney Williams and Royce White got in the 2009 recruiting class. Reid Travis is right in the same rankings ballpark as they were at this time of their recruitment. 4-star, power forward currently ranked as the 41st overall player and ESPN ranks him as the 8th overall PF.
Travis has been getting plenty of love from Pitino and in this case the Ben Johnson hire may really pay huge dividends. This Gopher Hole interview shows that he is buying what Pitino is selling and the potential impact of having Ben Johnson as his primary recruiting contact.
"It has been great. I like Coach Pitino a lot. Just his enthusiasm for the game and how he has treated me so far. I am just excited to start the recruiting process with him."
On Ben Johnson - "Yes, it is interesting. I have seen Johnson pretty much my whole life throughout DeLaSalle. He is like a legend at our high school. It is nice to see him take the Minnesota job. It was nice to see that."
Travis is being heavily pursued by a host of great schools both for basketball and possibly for football. Michigan State, Stanford, Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and many others. Travis is also doing very well academically which also makes him a target of Northwestern, Harvard, etc. His brother plays at Harvard and his cousin plays for Penn State so this family doesn't have a history of sticking close to home.
But I do think we have a shot here. The relationship and apparent admiration for Ben Johnson can only help. And he would appear to be a very good fit as an athletic big man in Pitino's system. The other sticky wicket here is that Travis is also being highly recruited to play football for Boston College, Iowa and Rutgers (all have offered). Does he want to play hoops or does he want to play QB at the major college level? Tough decision.
And finally we get to Tyus Jones. And this one should be pretty short as I just don't think he is realistically considering Minnesota. There are multiple articles and interviews where he and the nation's #1 center, Jalil Okafor claim they are going to likely play together in college. I'm pretty sure Minnesota isn't on Okafor's short list, which then effectively should move us off of Jones'.
In this GopherHole interview he claims he is considering waiting till the spring to make his college decision which could only help but I'm still not holding my breath.
I think that it would be nice to have signed by then, but definitely with the "U" making the coaching change, their season wouldn't have even started by then or maybe they'd have a game or two by then. I might have to wait now just because of that, but that would be the goal. We'll see how that plays out.
It would help from the standpoint that at least some of the schools on his list would fill up their scholarships, maybe even with a point guard. Jones is clearly a great player, a program changer and likely only going to be in college basketball for a year or two. He is 2nd in the EYBL circuit in scoring against the best of the AAU best and leads the same league in assists. Would love to see him in maroon and gold but I think it is pretty clear he is the least likely of the big three.
But the staff cannot rest on just recruiting those three kids. For one, we are not going to land all three. And secondly, assuming we get Buckles to play this year we will have 4, maybe 5 scholarships available. So the current staff is utilizing their Northeast and AAU connections to recruit a number of high-major talent. Below is just a short list of some of kids also being recruited for the class of 2014.
What is unique about this current coaching staff are their connections to NYC area basketball. Kimani Young spent several years working directly in NYC AAU basketball. Dan McHale has spent time at Seton Hall, Iona University and Manhattan University; all in the NYC area. And Richard Pitino himself has spent time in the Northeast and has recruited the NYC area. There are a lot of ties and relationships that this staff has in this talent rich region. And you can see that these relationships are at the very least getting them in some living rooms and on the radar for some talented kids out of New York.
Not all of these names below are NYC related but there are a few worth noting.
New York / New Jersey area
Isaiah Whitehead - SG, 5-star, #19 nationally ranked - Listed Minnesota along with Louisville and Syracuse as the three schools "showing him the most love." He is playing his AAU ball for NJ Playaz and obviously is one of the NYC connections.
Wade Baldwin - SG, 3-star, #107 - New Jersey native who was previously recruited by McHale while at Seton Hall.
Dwayne Foreman - PF, 3-star, #135 - Playing AAU for Boo Williams and is having a very good AAU season.
Terry Larrier - SF - Pennsylvania forward playing with NY AAU team; Team Scan. No star ranking on Rivals but has offers from AZ St, Miami, Penn St, Pitt,, Prov, Texas, USC and tons of mid-majors. A good defender with a rising stock.
Abdul-Malik Abu - PF, 4-star, #50 - Technically from New Hampshire but close enough for this grouping. Tons of offers (UConn, Kansas, Mich St, Notre Dame, etc) but is this a Northeastern area player that this Gopher staff can snag?
Marial Shayok - SF, 3-star, #109 - Boston College, Cincy, Georgia and Seton Hall are some of the significant offers. I'm not wondering if McHale has a relationship here with the Seton Hall offer.
Chicago / Milwaukee area
Sandy Cohen - G, 4-star - combo guard from near Green Bay and AAU teammates with Rashad Vaugn. Lengthy combo guard who can shoot and run the floor as a point. One kid I think we have a legit shot to land. Maybe he and Vaugn want to be a package deal!
Paul White - SF, 4-star, #43 nationally - Chicago area forward with a ton of legit offers. White bring the ability to shoot from deep as a 6'8" forward, which is exactly the type of player Pitino is looking for.
Tyler Ulis - PG, 4-star, #69 nationally - a small point guard, standing at 5'8". Ulis is an AAU teammate of White's and he has a number of Big Ten offers (Mich St, Purdue, Iowa).
JP Macura - SG, 3-star - Lakeville native and apparently a lights out shooter, is he the next Blake Hoffarber? No actual Gopher offer yet but I would be that it will be coming.
Tory Miller - PF, 3-star - Initially offered by Tubby Smith, but also was heavily pursued by Nebraska's staff. Is this a Ben Johnson relationship that will continue to be cultivated now that he's at Minnesota?
Josh Perkins - PG, 4-star, #42 - Colorado point with plenty offers from the West Coast.
As the title of the post indicates, this is always a fluid situation. Roster management and recruiting are moving targets. There will be a lot more players offered over the next few months and several of these players will not have Minnesota on their radar in the next several weeks. But it is important to note that the current staff is built to recruit. Hopefully they also are capable of developing players and executing well thought through game plans. Recruiting is a vital element to college basketball (duh) and this staff is working their tails off to build relationships with some high caliber players.
It starts with the local kids but it does not end there. With four of five scholarships for next year, this is a major opportunity to land a program-changing class.