The NIT Champion Golden Gophers
basketball team is trying to replace graduated guards Maverick Ahanmisi, Malik Smith and most significantly NIT Most Valuable Player Austin Hollins.
They are on their way after signing Minnesota’s own Jarvis Johnson, a point guard from DeLaSalle in Minneapolis. At a shade over 6-feet tall and 175 pounds, Johnson will have to play big to keep up in the Big Ten’s rough and rowdy conference.
After head coach Richard Pitino’s hiring last year, he was working quickly to catch up to the top programs in the country in recruiting Minnesota’s best basketball players in years. With the trifecta of DeLaSalle’s Reid Travis (Stanford), Cooper’s Rashad Vaughn (UNLV), and Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones (Duke) being recruited by the top programs in the country, Pitino had a very small chance of enticing any of them on such short notice.
This year it is different, the team can now sell to recruits what Johnson bought into – the chance to have family watching every game. They can feel more at ease knowing that another star recruit wanted to stick around for the Gophers.
With a commitment from a player in the top 100, Kevin Dorsey, and the ability to keep the players like Johnson at home can never hurt the chances of a team that was just on the bubble of making the NCAA tournament.
It is an exciting time for Gopher fans who haven't seen a player this good stick around since Rodney Williams Jr. in 2009. (In 2011, Mr. Basketball Joe Coleman committed to the university but transferred after Tubby Smith's firing.) Fans can also take solace that there aren't any high-profile transfers under Pitino this offseason while under Smith it seemed like the team lost someone exciting every year.
The Gophers’ recruiting class was ranked 21 in the nation before Johnson’s commitment, according to hoops recruiting websites Rivals.com and Scout.com – that rank is now likely to go up with three three-star (on a five-star scale) recruits and one four-star on a roster that is fully filled out.
Although star guards Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu will be gone when they arrive, it gives these new players a spot to grow into a role behind some more established players.
When centers Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason leave after the season as well, incoming 6-foot-9 Jonathan Nwankwo will pair with two other players at that stature, junior Joey King and redshirt sophomore Charles Buggs. Freshman Bakary Konate from Mali via Sunrise Christian Academy will be the lone player at 6-foot-11. Guard Dupree McBrayer rounds out the 2015 class.
Things could be looking up for the Gophers.
The team’s first game is November 6 in an exhibition against UMD at Williams Arena.
Photos courtesy of: TwinCities.com
-- Jenni Konrad