Enough talk about the coaching search (for now). I was talking with my 6-yr old the other night about how the Gophers need a new coach and he kept asking me "well, what if they DON'T hire a coach?" And I said, they will. And then he'd ask "Well, what IF they don't hire a one?" I had no good answer other than if they couldn't find anybody, I'd go be their coach. That seemed to appease him. But eventually it will be completed and we will have a new coach sometime between now and mid-October when the practice begins (not likely to be me, but I'll answer the call).
So until we know that name the more important thing is what will the new coach have to work with? What is stocked in the cupboard? And will that next coach realize that there is a significant opportunity to land premium talent over the next couple years?
If painting next year with a really broad brush we have a real strength in the backcourt and then question marks in the frountcourt and on the bench.
The backcourt is the obvious strength of the Gopher roster in 2013-14. The new Gopher coach will be returning his starting backcourt, highlighted by the Andre and Austin Hollins (who are not related btw). Combined these starters, Hollins, Hollins and Joe Coleman, accounted for 49.8% of the Gopher scoring. That all returns and the old adage goes that you win in college basketball with guards (I tend to not fully support that statement, but it is the adage and we can talk about it another day). Clearly Dre is the offensive leader here and assuming he has a couple more seasons similar to the one he just finished, he may sneak in to the top 5 on the Gopher's all-time scoring list.
The frontcourt has more questions than it does answers. I expect Elliott Eliason will be starting at center but PF could be any number of guys. Is Oto Osenieks the shooting PF? Will we go big and start Maurice Walker alongside Eliason? Or will we go with one of the freshman forwards in Charles Buggs or Alex Foster? This group should be solid defensively but getting any offensive contributions out of any of the above names is going to be a real challenge. Who contributes from this group is largely going to depend on the incoming coach and his particular points of strategic emphasis and style.
Then we get to the bench which might have some scoring punch and we should have some experience. Maverick Ahanmisi is likely the first guy off the bench, remember that he did hit some really huge shots for us at times this year but turnovers also kept his minutes down. Wally Ellenson is athletic, but the Big Ten game was too fast for him as a true freshman. A year to catch up should allow for this young man to showcase his athleticism and shooting ability.
The incoming freshmen, assuming they remain our incoming freshmen, are going to provide a boost of athleticism for the new Gopher coach. I am really excited to see Alvin Ellis as he is a natural born scorer and has a chance to make an immediate scoring impact for the Gophers. Keeping his commitment should be one of the first phone calls the new coach makes. Alex Foster is a bit raw offensively but he is athletic. I'd be a little surprised but not totally shocked to see both of these freshmen starting at some point next season. These guys aren't future lottery picks but I think they will be very good 4-yr contributors. Some nice additions for the incoming coaching staff.
It is really hard to gauge what to expect from next year's squad because so much depends on the new coach's system and how these parts fit. But the point of this post is less about the current talent and more about the talent pool coming available in the next couple years. There is some talent here, there is some talent coming this fall and where things should really start to look appealing for the incoming staff is the incredible high school talent that is in our backyard over the next two recruiting cycles.
Beyond this season is where the right coach can really start to make a name for himself. Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis are all outstanding juniors and will make a huge impact wherever they decide to attend college. The right coach, who can connect with one or all of these kids and convince them that they can be a part of something special at Minnesota has an opportunity that no other Minnesota coach has had. Landing all three would be grounds for erecting a statue for the new head coach, that is unlikely. But landing a couple of them gives you an early foundation to build something here.
I find that often new coaching staffs tend to get a little recruiting bump in their first couple years. Tubby's first two classes were his best. Devoe, Sampson, White, Williams, Mbakwe all came in his first two full recruiting cycles. New coach, needs to sell the "we are building something special" pitch and secure one or two of these juniors. And the cupboard doesn't go dry after that. Alex Illikainen of Grand Rapids, PG-Jarvis Johnson of DeLaSalle and Henry Ellenson, brother to Wally are all 4-star sophomores. Amir Coffey is a freshman at Hopkins with some obvious family ties to the Golden Gophers.
Without having to travel more than a couple hours from campus the next Gopher coaching staff has a real opportunity to land back-to-back top 25 recruiting classes! The right guy can get this done! The right guy has to recognize that there is some talent in the cupboard and there is a huge opportunity to restock with some premium talent in the next couple years. Of course, the next coach could recruit other parts of the country and bring in highly rated talent. I don't really care where the talent comes from, but having so much talent within driving distance is a rare opportunity for a Minnesota coaching staff. The future of Gopher basketball could be very exciting but it all depends on the hiring the right guy.