Your mid-summer Golden Gophers basketball update

Never in my blogging career has an offseason been so full of things happening. Recent summers for the Gophers have consisted mainly of transfers from guys we only sort of care about, schedule updates and the occasional arrest. This offseason, however, is completely different. With a new coach in tow, a crazy recruiting class on the horizon, guys transferring in and out, and a new facilities plan recently unveiled, the dog days are certainly full of relevant basketball news.


Instead of covering the happenings one by one, I’ve decided instead to give us a digest of sorts to keep track of all of the news, happenings, rumor updates and basketball-related nonsense that has been floating around. Because, let’s face it, we don’t all have the capacity to keep up with everything. So, with that, off we go.

Joe Coleman is off to St. Mary’s

I covered it briefly in our roster breakdown last month, but since then our blue-eyed transfer, Joe Coleman, has decided to take his talents to the West Coast where he’ll enroll at St. Mary’s University. He’ll have to sit out a year, per NCAA regulations, but will be good to go after that. It’s still unclear why he left the Gophers and if it was a mutual decision, but in Coleman’s words, he wanted to go to a place where he could develop as a guard and have plenty of playing time. Reading between the lines, my guess is that Pitino didn’t envision him getting the same minutes he did with Tubby around and wanted to give him a chance to play somewhere else. Again, JUST A GUESS.

I thought he’d at least be a decent fit in Richard’s system since he is plenty capable at scoring in transition, but he likely would have fallen down the depth chart given Pitino’s focus on quality shooting. Coleman hadn’t quite yet developed into a consistent shooter by the time Pitino came to town. Coleman was also a Tubby guy, and Richard hasn’t been shy about getting his own guys in here right away. Sad to see Joe go, but I’m glad he’s headed to a place where we’ll likely never have to face him again, a la Colorado State and Colton Iverson.

Mo Walker down 40 pounds

The oft-injured, oft-ridiculed Walker, who was last seen panting heavily on the sideline after only a few minutes of play has apparently dropped more than 40 lbs. from his previous in-game weight of 310. With a stated goal of entering the next season at 255, it’s clear that Walker is serious about being a contributor in a thin Gophers frontcourt. And all indications are that he’s trying really hard to be taken seriously now that he’s a veteran and we have a new coach in town. Should he reach his goal of 255 lbs. he will have shed 85 since rolling into campus as a 340-lb. freshman. That’s a ridiculous drop in weight.

For people that have seen him in person in the Howard Pulley league he apparently looks like a completely different person. If the news around his new attitude and drive are true, then it’s nothing but good news for the Gophers. Walker has great touch around the hoop and was called the best passer on the team by Pitino, but conditioning and weight issues in the past have prevented him from realizing much of the potential he had when he first arrived. With a dearth of talent in the frontcourt, having a competent veteran like Walker available every night would be a huge asset.

New facilities plan

Perhaps the biggest story out of the University so far this summer was the announcement of a new, $190-million master facilities plan for the athletic department. In a basketball context, this includes construction of a practice facility – a building desperately needed by the program to get on par with the rest of teams in the conference. The plan has been well-covered locally (including a fancy write-up by our buddies at The Daily Gopher), but at the very least it’s good to see some movement on the construction of a basketball practice facility. Until this point it’s been a whole lot of lip service without a lot of action. With Norwood in town, however, things appear to at least be moving in the right direction.

Richard Pitino has his own blog!

Sure, it’s a blog that appears at the Gophers web site, so we can’t expect it to be incredibly deep-diving, but our new coach at least officially has his own platform for providing insights to the fan base. If his first post was any indication, however, it should be at least fairly useful in getting a pulse on the team. In fact, the first post was much more illuminating than I expected it to be and actually offered some pretty insider-oriented factoids and updates that basketball nerds should appreciate.

Rodney and Trevor are doing their best to make the NBA

The NBA draft came and went without Rodney Williams or Trevor Mbakwe hearing their names called, which was disappointing (hey, at least Seth Curry didn’t get drafted either!). However, both players ended up getting attention from the Philadelphia 76ers with Williams actually getting signed to a free agent deal and Mbakwe receiving an invite to the team’s summer league.

So far, Williams has been dazzling on the court and leads the team in blocks. He’s also averaging 6.0 ppg. Mbakwe struggled initially and is now playing with the Toronto Raptors on their summer league team.

What’s up with recruiting?

College basketball recruiting is one of those things that is fun to follow, but frustrating to report on. And until a guy actually commits somewhere, it’s almost impossible to know what’s happening behind the scenes and where they’re leaning. We like concrete story lines here at From The Barn, so we largely try to avoid rumors and speculation. That said, there are SOME tidbits that have arisen in the past few months on the recruiting front.

  • For one, super-recruit Rashad Vaughn said he is foregoing his final season at Robbinsdale Cooper to instead enroll at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. With the understanding that he’ll play against stiffer competition day to day, it’s clear that Vaughn is trying to better himself before he commits to a college. How does that bode for the Gophers? It’s unclear. Pitino has focused his recruiting attention mainly on the East Coast since his arrival (an area where his assistants have some sway), so we don’t quite know what his relationship with Vaughn is yet. It’s anyone’s guess at this point how seriously Vaughn is considering the Gophers, and at this point all we know for sure is that they’re still on his final list. That’s something, right?
  • The Gophers offered rising prospect and Lakeville native J.P. Macura a scholarship – an offer that he was apparently extremely excited to receive. We’ve all heard of the “Big Three” to be sure, however, Macura is being discussed more as the summer wears on, so he is someone to keep track of.
  • We’ve heard plenty about Tyus Jones, Reid Travis and Vaughn the last couple years, but did you know there are great, attainable players outside of the Twin Cities? Me either. But with Richard in town the Gophers might just be able to lure some guys who weren’t born in raised in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Two names gaining traction are Isaiah Whitehead and Ja’Quan Newton, who will visit the U in late summer. Why are they notable visitors? Well, for one, Whitehead is a five-star recruit, while Newton is a four-star. Those types of players aren’t a dime a dozen. Second, they’ve indicated that they’re interested in playing together, and could fit in nicely right away in 2014 for Minnesota. A long shot? Maybe, but interest is interest, and crazier things have happened.
  • Perhaps the most relevant “recruiting” news was a tidbit from the new Florida International coach, who indicated that power forward Rakeem Buckles is interested in following Pitino to Minnesota. This is big news since Buckles is a guy who, if healthy, could provide a huge boost to the frontcourt right away. He was initially recruited by Rick Pitino to play at Louisville before running into injury trouble and enrolling at FIU under Richard. He presents an intriguing addition for Minnesota.¬†Per Amelia:

Buckles played three seasons for Louisville before transferring to Florida International after tearing his left ACL in January of 2012. Buckles had sustained an ACL tear in his right knee just a year earlier.

Despite the injury troubles, the power forward has shown sparks of potential. In his last full season in 2010-11, Buckles averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in 18.8 minutes a game at Louisville. The 6-7, 215-pound Buckles has been away from the game for a long time now, a la Mo Walker, but the 22-year-old could still have something left in the tank.

One thing to consider is his eligibility. A complicated situation, Buckles would need to be granted a waiver by the NCAA to be eligible to play. Will the NCAA do it? It’s hard to say, but definitely something to consider. He’s also an intriguing addition because he would only be here for a single year, meaning he wouldn’t eat a scholarship for the 2014 class, where the Gophers need to make it rain.

Phew. Obviously, there is plenty happening and plenty more to come, so continue to stay tuned. The new season is just around the corner and Richard is definitely making things happen!

—————————–

For more musings, insights and AMAZING takes on the Gophers follow @zipsofakron on Twitter.