In the last couple of weeks, while the summer slowly drifted away, Richard Pitino secured two more commitments to the Golden Gophers, giving the team a top 25 recruiting class. Both players, guard Dupree McBrayer and center Jonathan Nwankwo, have ties to the New York City area. Kevin Dorsey, who committed earlier this summer, is from Maryland. There won’t be any new faces with Minnesota ties this season, with Bakary Konate, Nate Mason, and Josh Martin hailing from out of state, or out of the country. Pitino had one freshman in his first recruiting class, and Daquein McNeil isn’t from around here either.
Tubby Smith was fired, in part, due to poor recruiting classes and a perceived inability to secure commitments from the best of best of Minnesota’s high school basketball players. This was particularly alarming for the “one of us” crowd who feel that Gopher teams have a sacred responsibility to have has many local players as possible and for coaches to have local connections. To the “one of uses” it was imperative for Flip Saunders to replace Tubby Smith, and the best local players were sure to follow. Attracting top local talent was the cornerstone to local recruiting theory. Locals would be the back bone of the team, and an occasional outside talent could fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, this theory overlooked that there are sometimes gaps in the local talent pool, and sometimes those gaps can last for years. For every year that there are four top 100 ranked Minnesota players in the same class, there are years when Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball lands at a low or mid-major for their college career. And just because a local kid is a great basketball player, it doesn’t mean he is worth the trouble to have on the team.
Basketball talent is a scare resource. There are only so many high school seniors graduating each season, only a portion of whom are young men, and only a portion of whom play basketball, and only a portion of whom are any good at basketball, and only a portion of whom live in Minnesota. Intentionally increasing the scarcity of an already scarce resource by prioritizing location over talent is completely irrational, and can lead to irrational behavior. As Down With Goldy pointed out, the pursuit of local recruits can limit the opportunity to sign players who are just as good or better basketball players, and can completely ruin a recruiting class if the local kid doesn’t stay home. Did Tubby Smith ever have a back-up plan if he didn’t land his priority recruit?
Minnesota hockey, Texas football, and Indiana basketball can all be national powers with rosters made up entirely of in-state players. Minnesota basketball may get to that point eventually, but that is decades away. Until that day comes, or if it never comes, the Gophers need to attract the best players they can and wherever they can get them. More talented teams leads to more winning, and there is no better recruiting pitch than the opportunity to play for a winner. If Richard Pitino builds a winner, out of state players will want to play for the Gophers, and the best of the best local kids will stay home too.