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Minnesota Basketball Recruiting: Gopher recruiting classes under new coaching staffs

Part 1 of looking back at Gopher hoops recruiting, starting with a look back at early classes under prior coaching staffs

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The July basketball recruiting period is in full swing with the Gopher staff working hard on several names to be a part of Ben Johnson’s second recruiting class.

It is often unfair to judge the first class of a new coach. They are hired in the spring and are behind many other programs in building relationships with soon-to-be seniors. And to make matters worse for Ben Johnson and staff, the transfer portal essentially wiped out the roster, leaving them scrambling to land enough quality players to even field a Big Ten caliber team.

So as I was preparing to write about the prospects for Johnson’s 2nd true recruiting class, I decided to do a little research on the first 3 classes of the last 2 Gopher coaching staffs. How did Tubby Smith and Richard Pitino do while recruiting their early classes?

These early classes are a little different than the later classes. These classes, you are selling promise. You are selling the notion that the new staff is going to be different and this program is on an upward trajection. The later classes? Now you are recruiting to your track record, for better or worse.

But the early classes are interesting.

Here were the first three recruiting classes under Tubby Smith.

Taking a look and on paper, those frist two classes were really nice. Joseph and Samson were very good players, Williams and White in the next class were major additions. Mbakwe was a great transfer addition and then you had some solid depth guys in Carter, Bostick and Iverson. Those first two classes were quite nice. Just imagine if Royce White would have had his head screwed on straight, those teams in 2010-11 and 2011-12 might have been really good.

I’m not sure one could have realistically hoped for much more than that in Tubby’s first two classes. Joseph, Williams and Mbakwe were very good Big Ten players to go along with several quality contributors. Then that 3rd class...almost entirely a class of role players.

Austin Hollins was one of my favorite Tubby recruits and he was very solid. Maurice Walker showed some real promise early before getting wrecked by injuries. And Eliason was a nice depth player for 4 years. But landing even just 1 bigger name (Corey Joseph perhaps?) may have changed the entire Tubby tenure.

What about Mr. Pitino?

I think we can all agree that Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy, and Amir Coffey are all-time Gopher greats. Reggie Lynch was absolutely key to the season we were a 5-seed and lost to Middle Tennessee State.

But the rest of this list? Massive swings and misses all over the place. I love McBrayer and Curry, those guys were great contributors. But maybe the 2nd biggest reason the Richard Pitino failed at the U was that he had far too many scholarships wasted on guys like Konate, Martin, Hurt, Diedhiou and even Jarvis Johnson (though no fault of his really). Way too many scholarships to guys who really never contributed in a meaningful way.

These early classes were really full of guys who were home runs or big misses. His latter classes were mostly misses, but we’ll get to that in another post.

Ben Johnson?

Well it is impossible to judge anything. On paper, his first class looks very nice.

I really should have included last year’s batch of transfers, as the landscape has changed since Pitino first took over. And Johnson did an excellent job of evaluating talent & fit with the guys he brought in.

The question is, can he do that again? Are Garcia, Cooper and Samuels going to be good fits to go along with the incoming freshmen? Are these incoming freshmen talented enough to make a difference sooner than later?

Excellent questions, I know.

Part 2 of this little hoops recruiting series is coming up later this week with a look at how Tubby and Pitino did with local recruiting and what this may mean for Coach Johnson.