I know that football season is just days away, but we are also entering an important period for Gopher Basketball recruiting. Once we get into gameweek for football, this kind of a story becomes even more likely to get lost in the coverage. But why not get this out for your consumption before we completely forget about hoops.
The all-important summer evaluations are over and the critical stretch for basketball recruiting begins in early September. This is when kids will be taking their official visits and most will be making their decisions for the Nov. 13-20 early signing period. This summer and this coming fall have been and are absolutely crucial for the new coaching staff who have been working their asses off trying to get some high caliber talent into the program's pipeline. There are some exciting names out there, beyond the local names that we have talked about quite a bit around here for several months.
But before we get into the names I want to give you some key dates and definitions for the fall recruiting calendar.
- Now through Sept. 8 - Quiet Period - During a quiet period a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with recruits or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. Coaches may write or telephone prospective recruits or their parents during this time. Player can however visit a campus and have face-to-face contact with a coach on their campus.
- Sept 9 through Nov. 10 - Recruiting Period - During a contact period a college coach may have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, watch student-athletes compete and visit their high schools, and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents.
- Nov 13-20 - Early Signing Period - Recruits can sign their national letter of intent, thus ending their recruitment (pretty much).
- Nov 11-14 - Dead Period - Similar to Quiet Period but there is no face-to-face contact allowed on or off campus. Writing and/or telephone contact is still allowable.
- Nov 15 through March 31 - Recruiting/Evaluation Period
- DEAD PERIOD Dec 24-26 - nice break for Christmas
- April 16 through May 21 - Signing Period - Spring signing period, usually by now the majority of recruits have signed.
So now you know.
We have ended the summer evaluation period where, as I mentioned, Pitino and staff were flying all over the country to watch kids play. Watching and evaluating is part of the process, being seen in the stands is just as important. Stories of watching players in one city and another player in another city the next day were common this summer. This staff was getting out on the road and doing their best to out-work the competition. Why? Because they have to. There is very little track-record for recruits to go on when it comes to Pitino and staff. He is currently living off his name and his system.
The staff's pursuit of elite talent is getting noticed nationally.
I counted Minnesota on the list of nine prospects of significance. Granted, three of those players are in-staters, including Reid Travis, who lives two blocks from campus. Regardless, just being listed with national level players of this caliber is a tip of the cap to Pitino and his staff. Getting them? Uphill battle outside of Travis and Rashad Vaughn, but the Gophers are fighting.
A wide net is being case, particularly at the PG position. We are aggressively pursuing a number of highly regarded point guards. Adding elite talent to the backcourt really seems to be a priority, which makes sense for this style of play, and it starts at the point.
Tyus Jones...I'll start with the big fish. Jones is one of the elite high school players in the country. A consensus top 5 player nationally and arguably the best overall. It is no secret that he desires to attend college with buddy and fellow elite, Jahlil Okafor. Right now the smart money is on these two attending Duke and instantly making the Blue Devils a Final Four contender.
He did take an unofficial visit to campus last week and by all accounts things went well and he might use one of his five official visits for Minnesota after taking officials to Baylor, Kentucky, Kansas and Duke. Reading between the lines, Minnesota is a fall-back option and Jones isn't seriously considering the Gophers as an option unless things fall apart at other schools and/or with Okafor. Part of me wishes he would just state this (especially to the staff, which he may have actually done) so they can move on and focus their time and efforts elsewhere. If he comes back to them in a few months and says those other schools didn't work out, I'm sure they'll accept him with open arms. But don't pretend to be interested so you waste their time and resources, if you've moved on then let them move on as well.
Chances: slim to none.
Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn - We move from the highest return, but least likely to join us to the guy that it appears is the most likely to be a Golden Gopher. And this is certainly a guy we should all be excited about. Nairn is a 4-star recruit according to both Rivals and ESPN. He is originally from The Bahamas and currently is living in a suburb of Wichitah, Kansas. Tum Tum stands at 5-10 and is lightning quick.
His name is not Tyus Jones but PLEASE don't be disappointed if/when he commits to the Gophers. This guy is not a top 5 player in the country but he will instantly be the best point guard recruit we have seen here in years. Not only is he very talented but he is the kid of talented kid who will be in your program for 3, probably 4, seasons. He will be an instant asset that will fit very well into Pitino's system.
Nairn is a blur with the ball in his hands and has an ability to create tempo that was virtually unmatched in the field. He may have been the best pure point at the Nike Point Guard Camp. He is great at dribble penetrating and finding open teammates for great shots. Nairn will be a high major recruit if only for his speed and his ability to make his teammates better.
Nairn has an official visit planned for Minnesota August 29th after visiting Oklahoma on the 23rd. Indiana also may be getting a visit but they have not yet offered. It appears to be a two-horse race here.
Chances: probably 50/50
Quentin Snider - This is a really intriguing late addition to the offer list. Snider has been a Louisville commit for two years and recently decommitted. He is a 4-star point who ranks as one of the top 30 players in the country. The bad news here is that virtually every major program in need of a point is pursuing him with Memphis, UCLA, Illinois and UConn getting official visits lined up. Can Minnesota get that 5th official? Well, the good news here is that Coach Richard Pitino has a long-standing relationship with Snider and his family.
"He has known Quentin since Quentin was a little kid," said Scott Snider (the father of Quentin) about Richard Pitino. "He was like seven or eight years old going to camps there and Richard was coaching his camps at the young ages and we have just known Richard for a long time."
This would be a major get for Pitino and staff. Snider is 6-1, a good ball-handler and a very good shooter.
Snider is a skilled point guard with good speed and quickness. He can score, run the team and get others involved. He can make plays at end of clock situations as well. He must add strength but with steady improvement Snider has all the tools to be a special guard.
The first real battle here is getting that 5th official lined up for Minnesota. If that happens, then we have a shot.
Alex Robinson - Arlington, Texas native who is in the process of setting up an official visit to Minnesota. Another point guard who excels at pushing the ball, running the floor and getting his teammates involved while still being able to score and shoot. Robinson is a 6-1 lefty, 4-star recruit who ranks easily in the top 100, probably top 75, in the country.
Robinson pushes the ball on the break and does a great job of advancing with the pass or dribble with great pace. This lefty is a good athlete that posses excellent court vision but can also make shots. Robinson can knock down open threes with range to the arc, creates space for his mid range pull up and uses his variety of dribble moves to get to the rim where he can finish, drop off to the post or kick out to an open shooter.
By reading scouting reports, it appears as though Robinson is the weakest defender of the group being pursued by the Gopher staff but I don't think it is a liability as much as not exactly a strength.
He has taken a ton of unofficial visits and is in process of setting up an official to Minnesota. Getting an official is a big deal and instantly ups the likelihood he would end up a Golden Gopher.
Josh Perkins - another 4-star point guard who has the Gophers on his list of final 5, but the assumption is that Perkins will be a Gonzaga Bulldog. He is a Colorado native who is moving to West Virginia to attend Huntington Prep for his senior season. Keep an eye on Perkins, but I think this is the least likely of the bunch listed here.
Chances: Slim has left the building.
Moving on to Shooting Guard where Pitino and staff are also going after a number of elite names that you will see among any top 100 list of 2014 recruits. In this particular case there are 2 names that stand above the rest as ELITE, the best of the best, Top Gun caliber if you will. And I am of the belief that we will be in the running for these two right up till the very end. We desperately need a good, young point guard out of this class but shooting guard is where you just might see us land a kid who will be spending just a year or two at Minnesota before moving on to collect a paycheck for playing basketball.
Rashad Vaughn - has been described on more than one occasion as the premier scorer in the class of 2014. There has been some good news/bad news when it comes to Vaughn's recruitment and the Gopher's chances. The bad news is that he is leaving the state to play out at Findlay Prep in Nevada taking him out of our back yard where he can attend games, watch practices and get to know the staff. The good news is that he is going to wait until the spring to make his commitment, meaning he'll have the opportunity to watch the Gopher's style of play and get a better feel for Pitino. Many of the other recruits will commit in the fall and will have to commit based on Pitino's word and their relationship only; this might be a hindrance for some.
Vaughn has stated his plan is for prep school this year, college next and then to the NBA after his freshman season. i have not reason to believe that he isn't capable of accomplishing that one-and-done goal. He has a great frame at 6-6 and can score in multiple ways.
Vaughn has a terrific frame with broad shoulders and very long arms. Vaughn appears to have grown and added strength. He is clearly handling the ball better especially in the open court and when he attacks his defender from the wing when he makes a move to score off the dribble. In addition, he can stick the 3-point shot, especially off the catch.
This kid is going to be a lot of fun to watch in college, I REALLY hope it is for the Golden Gophers. He recently trimmed his list down to 11 (kind of ridiculous) and he recently took an unofficial visit to Dinkytown last Friday. He appears to like the Gopher staff and the pull of playing in front of friends/family might have some influence, but this will still be a difficult get.
Chances: 33%, but I think he ends up at Kansas.
Isaiah Whitehead - another 5-star shooting guard who is considering Minnesota. Keep a sharp eye on this one as his recruitment is very interesting. Ryan James of GopherIllustrated is really nailing the info on Whitehead. By his accounts the Gophers are not the favorite but with others falling to the side, they just might find themselves getting an official and the opportunity to make a big impression. The presumed favorites are Syracuse and Indiana with Minnesota maybe 3rd.
Whitehead is also a big-time scorer who would be a treat to watch on the raised floor.
He's a pure scoring with a powerful body in the backcourt. He attacks the rim in straight lines, absorbs contact without problem, and gets himself to the free-throw line in high volume. He's absolutely lethal in the open court and also an excellent finisher who combines power, athleticism, balance, and body control around the rim.
Syracuse just landed a guard (albiet a point) and Indiana is pursuing a number of other highly rated shooting guards, including James Blackmon who is a native. So like I said, keep an eye on this recruitment as Minnesota just might end up on top for this one.
JP Macura - The forgotten recruit who is one of us. Macura, any other year would be getting a lot more coverage as a good 3-star shooting guard who has about 30 D1 offers and Rivals ranks in their top 150. Many of those offers are of the mid-major or FCS variety but schools such as Purdue, Auburn, Boston College, Florida St, Iowa St, Kansas St and Miami have also reportedly offered after he had a very productive summer. Macura has taken official visits to Xavier and Creighton with plans for Minnesota and maybe Purdue in the near future.
He is a 6-5 skilled guard who is a very good shooter.
He has a very good basketball IQ and is very confident on the offensive side of the floor. Macura is a good and willing passer when he is crowed by multiple defenders. Macura competes and plays with great energy and has a very good motor.
Chances: I would bet that Macura is the Gopher's first commitment for the class of 2014.
Wade Baldwin has been on the Gopher recruitnic radar for a while now. He is a 6-3 New Jersey native who may be that PG/SG combo kind of a backcourt player. Decent ball-handler who needs to improve his shooting, but it sounds like he is a tough kid and a good defender.
Physically, he's a tough match-up in the back-court because of his size, strong upper body, and long arms. He handles and passes the ball well enough to see minutes at either guard position, is equally effective with both hands, a very good passer in drive and kick action, and a talented finisher with body control to match his other physical tools. He's also a good defender, who protects the paint defending the ball and will slide in to take charges from the weak-side.
He has a final five list of Pitt, Virginia Tech, Vandy, Minnesota and Florida State. This is one kid where the East Coast ties of the new staff may pay off. Coach Dan McHale was previously at Seton Hall, who was recruiting Balwin, and of course the AAU contacts in the NY/NJ area are going to be of help to the Gophers. Maybe we don't land him but this is the kind of 4-star recruit we previously would have never been able to get close to.
Chance: 20%, his versatility means we won't back off if we get a single SG or PG commitment.
PF - Reid Travis - this might be the most important recruit of this class. Yes, we need a point guard and yes, we would get a huge boost from a guy like Rashad Vaughn. BUT, we are really lacking in the frontcourt right now and there are not a ton of talented forwards in this class; particularly guys that we have a shot at getting.
Reid Travis is a top 50 player who lives literally blocks from campus. In fact on one of Pitino's first days on campus he ended up getting a campus tour from Travis. I wonder how that will play out when (if) he takes his official visit, does Pitino get to show Travis around campus this time?
The kid is big, strong and yet nimble. He is 6-7, which might be a tiny bit short for PF but he is a rock with a very strong upper-body. Huge hands, making him a very good rebounder and is great around the rim. He kind of reminds me of a more skilled John Carlson (Viking's TE) who was a very good PF for Litchfield. He ended up playing football for Notre Dame but could also have been a high-major PF. ESPN has this to say about Travis.
He's another kid that rolls up his sleeves and goes to work, and what he may lack in sheer size or outright athleticism, he makes up for with physical strength and toughness. He has a nice low post game, complimented by a low center of gravity which allows him to establish deep post position and a high release on his jump hook. He can also face up effective to 17 feet and should be a tremendous college player.
The Gophers really need a player like Travis in this class and there are not many of them (really none "like" Travis but they need a skilled big man). He has taken an official to Gonzaga and has one scheduled for UCLA next weekend. Stanford has also been considered a major player in this recruitment, particularly after Travis achieved a necessary ACT score.
Chances: 45%, I think we have a legit shot based on what seems to be a good relationship with Pitino and Ben Johnson.
PF - Paul White is a solid 3-star recruit who is planning on a Gopher visit and has included Minnesota in his official Final 5 along with Georgetown, Arizona, UConn and DePaul. White is a Chicago kid who plays for Whitney Young and is the #5 recruit out of Illinois according to Rivals. He sounds like a skilled big man who needs to add some strength.
Skill forward with comfortable range to 17 feet. Crafty low post scorer with good touch. Handles well from the low wing and is a good passer when he draws a second defender. Loves to rip and drive along the baseline in order to get to the rim.
Chances: 20% we are in the final 5 but I would anticipate it will be someone else.
PF - Josh Martin - 3-star PF (ESPN has him as 4-star) from Washington who has named Minnesota in his final 4 along with Washington, Florida St and Oklahoma St (I wonder if anybody else has a final 4 that are all geographically so far apart). 6-7, 210 lbs and a good athlete.
Martin possesses a terrific frame with long arms and he's an outstanding athlete. He runs very well and can finish with a thunderous dunk at the other end. He can step out and knock down the 18-foot jump shot with regularity and he gets good lift on it.
Would appear to be a good fit for the system
Chances: n/a too early to tell and this is a relatively new name (at least to me)
So that is a listing of 12 names to pay attention to. Remember the staff has 4 scholarships to hand out in this class (and 5 the following year so there is no sense in banking 1). There are other names being pursued (James Blackmon, Kyle Kuzma, Jalyn Patterson, Austin Williams, Milik Yarbrough, etc) but I was limiting this list a little bit and these were the big names we seem to be after at this point in time.
My ideal class that I think has a remote shot at actually happening would be Nairn, Vaughn, Macura and Travis. That would be a monster class and would probably earn a top 10 ranking by anyone who would rank classes. I think Nairn and Macura are the most likely and then we need a home run or two with the other two open spots. The next few months should be fun and could spark a very exciting time for Gopher hoops.
2015 Recruits to Remember
PG - Jarvis Johnson - the PG we have to get, especially if we strike out this year. He earned himself a #75 overall ranking in Rival's 2015 Top 100. He has been the starting point guard on back-to-back DeLaSalle state championship teams, looking to make it a three-peat before he even gets to be a senior. Offers from Wisconsin, UCLA, Penn St, Iowa St, Marquette and others.
F - Alex Illikainen - Grand Rapids forward who was #73 on Rival's 2015 Top 100. He has had a Gopher offer for quite a while now and it was obviously extended by the Pitino staff. 6-9 and skilled for a big man, he will be a good fit into the system. Has offers from Texas Tech (Tubby), Iowa St, Nebraska and Oregon.
F - Henry Ellenson - 4-star brother of Wally Ellenson. Now all of a sudden we have some forwards to recruit. Ellenson is currently ranked as the 41st best player in his class and has an impressive offer list including Michigan St, Indiana, Wisconsin, Baylor, Arizona St, Georgetown, Marquette, Oregon and Purdue.
C - Elijah Thomas - this one is a big long-shot but I think it is worth mentioning. Thomas is a 5-star, junior, center with offers from virtually everybody. He was in town recently and took time to make an unofficial visit to campus, which is kind of a big deal.
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