With the 2014 recruiting class finally wrapped up it is time to move on to the class of 2015 for Golden Gopher basketball. The past year saw a lot of scholarship movements and roster turnover as Coach Pitino continues to reshape the roster into something that best fits his desired style of play and tempo.
A quick look back at the class that was just delivered, and will be arriving on campus very soon (if not already). 5 new faces will be joining the Gophers this fall. Two traditional incoming freshmen, one JUCO transfer and two international prospects with intriguing upside. One common denominator? They are all athletic and versatile players. I am expecting that we will see three of these five as fairly significant contributors. Carlos Morris, the JUCO transfer, should be a strong candidate to start in the spot left vacant by Austin Hollins. Point guard, Nate Mason will be a scoring option off the bench. And Josh Martin should be getting regular minutes at power forward, possibly even earning himself the starting role. Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate are more raw big men who will likely be behind Eliason and Walker in the minutes pecking order and one or both are strong redshirt candidates.
About this time of the recruiting cycle a year ago, Pitino and staff were working hard to get in front of some high profile recruits both locally and on the East Coast. But with very little time to build relationships and very little experience at a major college under his belt, inevitably these recruits chose other programs. This second recruiting cycle for this staff should be interesting now that they've had more time and achieved some success in the Big Ten this past season.
As it stands today, there will be four available scholarships for this class of recruits. And there are two things we want to dig into today. What positions are the biggest need? And who are they targeting?
Here is how our roster balances out in regards to position and eligibility remaining.
There is obviously some position flexibility on the roster which makes this chart a little bit subjective. Diedhiou could end up playing more PF than C, Zach Lofton could potentially be a SF in this offense, things like that make this not an exact science. But generally speaking this is how our roster shapes up.
Based on the information above, a bit of an understanding of what kind of player is needed to really make our style of play successful and knowing what caliber of player is available locally; then I think we begin to make assumptions about what positions will be targeted in this recruiting cycle. Ultimately we are fairly balanced and there are not any glaring needs, with PG the one exception and taking four of the most talented players they can land at any position is ideal. But I want to dig in a little bit.
The most obvious need in this class is clearly point guard. Deandre Mathieu will be running out of eligibility and that would leave only Nate Mason as point guard in 2015-16. Landing a quality point guard to either take the starting spot as a true freshman or at the very least share minutes with Mason is imperative. For this position it is really important that a point guard capable of playing Big Ten minutes as a true freshman is pretty important. We'll get to some potential names in a bit, but as far as positional need this is clearly a top priority.
Next I would argue that a SG and/or SF would be the next position of priority. Andre Hollins is graduating and taking a lot of points per game with him. Lofton may take up a significant chunk of his minutes and points but more help will be needed in this department. Getting perimeter players who can score, who can beat their defender is important in this offense. Guys who can stretch the floor with their shooting as well as put the ball on the floor and get by people. Landing a dynamic perimeter player to go along with a dynamic point guard would really make this an exciting offense going forward.
Lastly, another big man is going to be rather important. We'll be graduating Eliason and Walker, leaving the center minutes left to a couple of raw and inexperienced big men. Getting a guy who is capable of playing minutes in the post should also be pretty important in the 2015 recruiting class.
Power forward is probably one position that will not be as high of a priority in this class. I believe that Josh Martin will be a multi-year starter at the position and there is some depth here over the next couple years. Are we strong and deep enough to ignore this position? Not remotely, but this position is less critical in this recruiting cycle, in my opinion.
So lets look at some of the potential targets...
The recruiting cyle is just now heating up. AAU tournaments are happening every weekend and coaches are beginning to focus on specific targets, offers are being made and we as fans can begin to fall in love with this year's recruit-crushes.
Top the list...
PG - Jarvis Johnson - I would be very surprised if this name wasn't the name at the very top of the 2015 recruiting targets list (if this list actually existed). Johnson has been a key member of the Islander's back-to-back-to-back 3A state championship teams. And now he'll be back for his senior year and will try to make it 4 in a row, this time without Reid Travis. Johnson is a consensus 4-star prospect, top 100 rated player and top 15 point guard in this class. And he's in our backyard. And the coaching staff has had more than ample time to build a relationship to actually have a shot at landing him. A bit of his ESPN recruiting eval.
Johnson 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. Johnson excels on the break but can run the half court offense as well.
Johnson would be a huge commitment for Pitino. He is one of the two Minnesota born players in this year's class who are going to be pursued by multiple high-majors and he fulfills a position of great need. I feel good that Johnson will be wearing maroon and gold next year. No guarantees, I just think he's been targeted as a priority long ago, the system will be a great fit and
PF - Alex Illikainen - Also a Rivals top 100 player, 4-star prospect and Minnesota native. Illikainen is a stretch forward with very good shooting touch and range. He can play inside but is likely more of a power forward than a center in this offense.
Illikainen is a stretch 4-man who possesses a soft shooting touch out to the 3-point line and elbow areas. His versatility is evident as well as he'll bang inside for buckets due to his footwork and touch. He is a strong rebounder who snags rebounds with two hands in traffic, usually delivering a solid outlet pass as well.
Another "must get" even if PF isn't exactly a priority with this class. A very good player with a nice skill-set that once again fits the system well. Not exactly a brute force inside but a good rebounder, a capable scorer in the paint and a good shooter out to three.
After those two players the list starts to get more murky. My next set of players are guys who are higher caliber, higher rated kids who would be outstanding to land. Last recruiting cycle the staff swung for the fences with a few kids and may have come kinda close on a couple, but ultimately couldn't get them to sign here. I fully expect that we will take some big swings again this year, hopefully with a little more success.
Some bigger names whom we have offered...
PG/SG - Jimmy Whitt - A 4-star recruit, a Rivals top 75 ranking (65 according to ESPN) and a long list of BCS conference offers. Whitt is a Missouri native who has really seen his stock rise over the spring and early summer. He is rather slender and stands at 6'2" but Whitt is focusing on adding bulk cause he knows he'll need it.
"The biggest thing is physicality-wise, playing strong, trying to play against bigger guys, because at the next level, guys are going to be bigger and stronger," Whitt said.
Offers from Arkansas, Cal, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, K State, Neb, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Wake, Wisconsin and mids. Whitt is not going to be an easy recruit to land but the Gophers are working to develop a relationship and get Whitt to Dinkytown. Look at Whitt as a scoring guard who gets to the rim and plays with tenacity on both ends.
"He's definitely the complete package," Johnson (Whitt's HS coach) said. "There isn't anything on the court that he can't do as far as offensively, and he's a lock-down defender. He's got great athleticism. He can shoot the ball extremely well, he can handle it and he's got a very high IQ for the game of basketball."
Athletic guard with scoring ability who could play either guard spot.
PG - Max Hazzard - LA native who wants to play for a big time school and appears to be more than willing to give Minnesota a chance. Hazzard is a 3-star point ranking in the Rivals top 150. Currently has offers from a number of mid-majors, mostly on the West Coast (Gouchos, Anteaters, Spartans, etc).
Hazzard has become considerably stronger since the summer and his jump shot is now a major weapon. When he gets his feet and is on balance his shot is consistent out to 20-feet. He pushes the ball well in transition and has the ability to attack off the dribble in the half court due to his initial burst. As an on-ball defender, he is tenacious and he always plays with maximum effort.
A point who pushes the tempo and is described as tenacious defensively is certainly a good fit for Pitino.
SF - Chris Clarke - sitting just outside of the Rivals top 100, Clarke has a handful of offers from BCS conference schools (Kansas State, Iowa State, Maryland and Virginia Tech). Clarke visited Virginia Tech, with new head coach Buzz Williams, this past weekend.
Ryan James of GopherIllustrated.com had some complimentary things to say about Clarke's game.
Off the ball Clarke reads gaps in defenses and slices into them to make plays on a regular basis.
In a world full of uneducated and/or careless halfcourt defenders, Clarke is deadly off the ball because he's always moving into spaces from the backside to catch and produce. This is also a reason that Clarke is a fantastic offensive rebounder
Clarke is a Virginia native who seems to be a very good fit for what Pitino is trying to do here at Minnesota. Would be a very nice get for the Gophers in this recruiting cycle.
More Names To Watch
PG - Kevin Dorsey - DC area point guard, 3-stars and Rivals rank of 127. Just over 5'10" and around 150-160 pounds. Dorsey is true point who may be lacking his perimeter jump-shooting abilities.
Consummate energy giver from the point guard position. He's always in motion and makes a point to be an aggressive one on one defender. Should be able to impact defensively. Quick as they come and he's long-armed so he's unique at the point. Quick to the point where he's effortless and almost glides to different spots. Getting a piece of the paint is not difficult for him. He sees the floor, can play at different speeds and passes well.
Offers from Virginia Tech, Neb, VCU, West Virginia, UMass and other mids.
SG - Sacar Anim - Minnesota kid who is getting attention but not a lot of big offers despite playing with an succeeding alongside of Reid Travis and Jarvis Johnson for De La Salle. Good size to play the perimeter at either SG or possibly SF and Anim brings a high level of athleticism to the table as well.
Amin is a terrific slasher that can make plays from anywhere on the floor off the bounce. He is a good athlete that can defend both wing positions. Continued skill development will aid in making an already productive wing much more productive. Amin has excellent potential.
Very good athleticism and should see his list of offers grow throughout the summer and into the fall.
SG - Kain Harris - Chicago area shooting guard with several mid-major offers from schools around the Midwest.
SG - Dupree McBrayer - unranked shooting guard who has put himself on the map after successful outings against highly ranked prospects last season and this summer. This seems to be the kind of under-the-radar kid Pitino needs to find and see him develop into a very good player. McBrayer is a high school grad who is going to take a year at a prep school.
SF - Jordan Murphy - Texas forward who is one of the better small forwards in the state. 3-stars, 105 ranking in Rivals 150 and a very nice offer list. I probably could have listed his name in the section above but other than a Gopher offer I have not read much whether or not he has any interest in the Gophers.
PF - Ed Morrow - A stretch four man or possibly a lengthy three at the next level, Morrow is a 3-star prospect playing in Chicago though he is originally from Nebraska. In fact his father played football for the Cornhuskers and his mother played hoops. He also holds offers from Iowa, Iowa St, Nebraska, Florida State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia; with interest growing. Rivals ranks him 106th overall and ESPN has him as a 4-star prospect.
PF - Jarred Reuter - An interesting prospect who had all the blue-chip programs drooling after his freshman season. But recruiting cooled over the past couple years before catching a second wind this summer. After losing some weight and refining his game, Reuter is having a successful summer that is resulting in increased interest from schools all over the place.
A wide and strong body, Reuter is very good at creating space with his size and strength.
C - Akolda Manyang - Originally played at Duluth East, Manyang is now using his 7' frame to at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. Manyang has had some bumps in the road over the last few years with suspensions, academic issues and some fairly serious criminal charges. All of which led him to Iowa for a couple JUCO years where he is supposedly turning a corner as a basketball player, academically and off the court.
"His basketball skills have improved, his work ethic has improved," Wardenburg said. "He's a tireless worker in the gym, in the weight room. And then off the floor, we've seen some great improvement. He's making excellent choices ... his academics have improved. It's been an excellent move for him."
Might be a good fit athletically for the Gophers assuming he has his life straightened out.
GopherNation's Wish List
Want my opinion on who I most desire to see sign with the Gophers? This is arbitrary
- Jarvis Johnson - top player in state, position of great need
- Alex Illikainen - might differ with me about who top player in state really is, would be a great fit
- Jimmy Whitt - imagine backcourt of Johnson and Whitt!
- Chris Clarke - perfect fit in this system, love his game
- Ed Morrow - versatile and athletic
- Max Hazzard - you had me at 'tenacious defender'
- Sacar Anim - love athleticism
- Dupree McBrayer - maybe a huge diamond in the rough
- Jarred Rueter - Big, strong and relentless.
- Kevin Dorsey - need a point in this class
I really wouldn't mind seeing a JUCO player who is not yet on the radar to end up with the Gophers. Probably a scoring G or SF. Landing the top two on this list would be huge, then after that we do what we can to add scoring and athleticism. Any of the top 6 really intrigue me. Anim would make a fine get as well but were he not a local product I'm not sure we'd be all that excited about him.
The list of names whom the Gopher staff is pursuing is a fluid list. Nobody knows exactly where we stand nor who we are specifically targeting. A few of the names at the top are clearly important targets and the focus of attention right now.