Every new Gopher coach begins their tenure with a focus on landing the top local recruits.
This is going to be a point of emphasis from a PR perspective for every coach hired at Minnesota, but it is especially true for basketball. A number of very high-profile basketball players have left the state to play for other programs and had great success. Is it realistic that the Gophers are going to land every high-profile athlete? No, but the percentage needs to be improved.
But there is 1 interesting trend when it comes to Gopher coaches and landing a big name from the local scene. Both Tubby and Pitino had early misses that were followed by major recruiting wins.
2008 Recruiting Class - Tubby Smith is hired in spring of 2007 and he is unable to make up recruiting ground lost in his first year to land a couple of local 4-star recruits who went to Wisconsin.
2009 Recruiting Class - Smith lands Royce White and Rodney Williams. Both were 4-star recruits that were ranked right around the top 50 kids in the country. With the momentum of a good season and still new enough coaching staff, White and Williams were ready to take the Gophers to the next level.
Richard Pitino had a similar path.
2014 Recruiting Class - Pitino was hired in spring of 2013 and immediately began working overtime to build a relationship with Tyus Jones, Reid Travis, and Rashad Vaughn. In fact it was mostly Ben Johnson who was tasked with building these recruiting relationships. Jones, a top 10 player nationally, Travis, who ranked in the top 40 were targeted by virtually everyone and Vaughn was in the same ballpark. Pitino didn’t have enough time to land either and even with time, it may not have mattered.
2016 Recruiting Class - Now with Amir Coffey as a top 50 player, Pitino was finally able to land a big-time local recruit. Coffey had a great Gopher career, this was a successful signing. The momentum came to a quick halt in 2017 when Pitino was unable to land McKinley Wright, Theo John, Jerhico Sims or Race Thompson; primarily because he chose Isaiah Washington to be his PG of the future.
To his credit, Pitino did land a really nice local class of Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalschur, and Jarvis Omersa in 2018.
If I wanted to go back futher, I could point to Dan Monson landing Rick Rickert in what would have been his 2nd recruiting class. And then he followed it up with Chris Humphries after that. Those are a little different because both of those guys ended up trying to go elsewhere and ended up falling back to Minnesota.
Now we come to Ben Johnson. He has his first class inked, on campus and ready to go for their first season. But the interesting part from a recruiting standpoint is, can he land a big name or two in his first class where he has had a full year to develop relationships and add the right guys to his program.
But the question right now is, can he land the local kid who is ranked in the top 50 and targeted by many other major programs?
The 2022 class really had Tre Holloman as the primary 4-star target. The Cretin kid didn’t feel the pull of Ben Johnson was strong enough and he went to Michigan State.
The 2023 class also has 1 big-name target. Taison Chatman is the combo-guard who rates with 4 stars. Is this the class where Johnson lands a big recruit who has the attention of other big-name schools?
Landing Chatman in his second class would be outstanding for Coach Johnson. It would set him up for more local success in 2024 and beyond.
Early promises of success and being a part of something special, while being the local kid who stayed to help rebuild the program is a strong message. But eventually your record matters for all recruiting. Landing Chatman would be great, but it will also have to lead to wins.