So much for a quiet start to the offseason. Here’s a brief timeline of what has happened to the Gophers basketball program over the last several weeks.
- February 28 - Gopher Season Ends
Rutgers mercifully ended what was a very frustrating and disappointing season for the Gophers. At one point a top-15 caliber team that had Gopher fans excited about a potential run to the Sweet 16 was totally derailed by injuries and a suspension. Now begins the offseason and looking toward a rebound year in 2018-19.
Often injured and only saw game action when other injuries or foul trouble necessitated it. Fitzgerald transfers to Stephen F Austin as a graduate transfer. He goes to a talented Lumberjacks team that very well could be in the NCAA Tournament next year. This leaves the Gophers with 2 available scholarships to use.
- April 3 - Assistant Coach Kimani Young Leaves for UConn Staff
Primarily a recruiter on the Gopher staff with a major focus on the East Coast, Kimani Young left Minnesota to take a role on the new staff at UConn. A step up for Young and potentially a big loss for Gopher recruiting.
Likely related to the fact that Young, his primary recruiter, left. Harris played off and on as a freshman and was potentially was developing into a dangerous Big Ten shooter who could defend. But for whatever reason he decided to leave Minnesota, his destination has not yet been determined, but for a team needing depth in the backcourt next season this was a blow. Now three scholarships are available.
- April 9 - Rob Jeter Added to Gopher Staff
Formerly the head coach at Milwaukee, formerly an assistant under Bo Ryan and most recently an assistant at UNLV. Jeter was hired to replace Young on the staff. A good recruiter, a guy with 11 years experience as a head coach and a guy with a lot of ties to the local basketball community. Jeter seems like a very good hire to replace Young.
- April 10 - Ben Johnson Leaves for Xavier Staff
Johnson is a former Gopher, Minnesota native and had a great reputation within the local basketball community. He was the primary recruiter for the state and responsible for a number of current and incoming Gophers. Johnson leaves to be the associate head coach on the new Xavier staff, certainly a step up for him as well and another blow to the Gopher staff.
What does it all mean?
Individually each of the departures listed above are not terribly alarming.
- Fitzgerald transferring is really not a big deal as he wasn’t going to be a contributor next season anyway.
- Losing one assistant coach, regardless of who it is, really isn’t a big deal either. One of your assistants getting a new role that is clearly a promotion indicates that you had good guys on your staff and are grooming coaches.
- Harris transferring is unfortunate, but kids transferring happens.
The concern is that when you put them altogether it paints a more concerning picture.
One transfer? No big deal, especially when it isn’t one of your primary contributors. One assistant coach leaves? No big deal either. It happens.
But having two assistant coaches leave within a couple weeks hurts. It hurts your continuity and in this case it can really hurt in recruiting. Young and Johnson were your two biggest recruiters and for virtually every kid on the roster one of them was their main point of contact for the past however many years. Relationships matter, both in recruiting and when you need to have a guy or two you can trust in the gym.
The addition of Jeter is a very good one, in my opinion, and mitigates the loss of Young. Arguably this upgraded the staff, prior to the Johnson departure.
And when you are already going to be thin at guard, losing the guy who would be competing for the starting spot at shooting guard is a blow. I have confidence in Dupree McBrayer, but beyond him you are going to be relying on a true freshman for more minutes than previously thought.
This leaves Richard Pitino, in mid-April, to find himself a second new addition to his coaching staff while also working to patch holes in his roster with three available scholarships.
Currently he has 4 very good players returning who will be major contributors, 1 excellent & versatile big man returning from injury, 3 highly touted incoming recruits and 3 scholarships available to help. All hope is not lost for next season, but the current set of circumstances have not helped as they get ready for next year.
Stay tuned for more.