Before Dan McHale joined Richard Pitino’s coaching staff, he was an assistant at Seton Hall. The Pirates were in a similar position to the Golden Gophers. They were a high-major program, but usually not the first choice for high-major recruits. Necessity being the mother of invention, the Pirates sought recruits in nontraditional places, especially the Canarias Basketball Academy (CBA). The Gophers are following that same strategy.
Bakary Konate, a 6’11” center from Mali via Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas and the CBA committed to the Gophers today. He is the second African big man with CBA ties to commit to the Gophers in two weeks. Earlier this month, Gaston Diedhu, a 6’9″ power forward committed.
The CBA, in its relatively short existence (founded in 2008, the CBA has become something of a hot bed of European and Africa hoops. They have had two alumni drafted into the NBA, and several alumni are a Division 1 rosters. You can find an extensive list here. Besides Konate and Diedhu, three other CBA players will start their college careers with at high-major programs.
While the Diedhu commitment came seemingly out of nowhere, Konate has been on Richard Pitino’s wish list for months, choosing Minnesota over Louisville (those this offer probably disappeared after Louisville signed other players), Mississippi, Oregon, and Creighton. He is supposed to be a rim protector with a decent outside shot, two skills that will be good building blocks in Richard Pitino’s system.
The big question with both players is whether they will be able to play at the Big Ten level, and if they can, how long it will take for them to get there. Besides the occasional grainy YouTube video, not much is known about either Diedhu or Konate other than their height and weight. Certainly, both players are the right size to make an impact in the Big Ten, and if they don’t currently have the skills to be impact players, Richard Pitino and the coaching staff are confident in their ability to develop their skills. We saw what the coaching staff was able to do with Mo Walker in one summer.
If the new recruits improve at the rate Walker did, Minnesota’s front court will be one of the best in the Big Ten in the next few years. More importantly, establishing a pipeline to the talent-rich CBA could provide the Gophers with access to under-recruited talent for years to come.