One must forgive the media and message board posters for being, in the words of Richard Pitino, “obsessed about starting line-ups.” A lot of ink and pixels can be used when described by arguing who should start and come off the bench. There is also the matter of fancy graphics packages on television and pre-game introductions (of which “I AM… OTO OSENIEKS” was the greatest ever) which place undue attention on the matter of who will be on the court when the jump-ball occurs. However, basketball games are 40 minutes long, and often the last four minutes, and not the opening four minutes determine the outcome of a game. In a better, albeit very disjointed world, the lights would dim after the under four minute time-out, and we’d have a proper introduction for the players who matter most: the closers.
Bakary Konate is an international man of mystery. On Tuesday, we finally found out how to pronounce his last name (like a coconut, without the first “co”) but we still don’t know what position he will play, how much he will play, and just how good he can be. We do know that he has been and will continue to be compared to Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both are from west Africa, play center, were three-star recruits, played at a prep-school before heading off to college, and both have been coached by Richard Pitino. Dieng himself has compared himself to Konate, suggesting that the freshman Gophers’ center is better than the then freshman Louisville Cardinals’ center. We also know that Konate is a bit buried on the depth chart behind two experienced centers, and that three-star recruits don’t often usurp the starting spot of experienced players. So is Konate better at this stage in his career than an NBA player was, or is he a moderately-touted recruit who will struggle to find playing time? The answer is probably both.
The success of junior college players at the Division I level is notoriously random. Devron Bostick, touted by some of as the best junior college player in the country before joining the Golden Gophers a few years ago, barely cracked Tubby Smith’s rotation. Andre Ingram, who was recruited as an emergency fill-in, unexpectedly was a valuable back-up during his two seasons with the Gophers. Deandre Mathieu was an undersized low-major cast-off. Now, he might be the Gophers best player. If junior college players are lottery tickets, Richard Pitino hit the jack-pot on his first try.
The Golden Gophers will go as far as Andre Hollins can carry them this season, and Hollins will go as far as his ankles let him. The combo-guard has a good chance to become the Gophers’ all-time leading scorer, despite being healthy for only one complete season, his sophomore year. That season he scored 41 points in a game, was named third team All-Big Ten, and helped his team make the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament for the first time in over a decade. Historical scoring out-bursts shouldn’t be needed this season, but if Hollins can be one of the six best guards in the conference, another tournament run would be expected.
It is getting perilously close to the start of the Golden Gophers basketball season. Practice starts tomorrow. The first game isn’t much more than a month away. It might snow a bit this weekend. Things are getting real, as kids once said. Here is a wishlist for the upcoming season, with items both reasonable and unrealistic.
I really don’t like recruiting. I’d rather pretend that basketball players grow on trees, or are delivered by storks, who may or may not be sponsored by shoe companies. Trying to divine the thoughts of ever fickle teenagers, or translating YouTube videos into future on court performance doesn’t exactly lend itself to the analysis we try to provide here. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about recruits for a while, and can focus on the much more interesting topic of roster management and succession planning.
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.
Last night we learned that Gaston Diedhiou was not admitted to the University of Minnesota for the fall semester, and therefore, won’t be joining the team this fall. Orginally from Mali, and currently living in Spain, the Gopher power forward recruit did not demonstrate sufficient English proficiency to be admitted to the university. The plan, as it stands, is for him to complete an English language classes during the fall semester as a non-student and enroll during the second semester. He would then presumably join the team. It isn’t ideal to lose a player a week before classes start, but in terms of basketball, this isn’t a big deal. Diedhiou , if he wasn’t red-shirted, would have been a fourth-string center or a third-string power forward.
The Golden Gophers tip off their 2014-2015 basketball season is just over three months. Summer will fade into fall as anticipation, and some guarded optimism, builds. But why wait until November, or until March, when you can know what happened now.
This morning Kevin Dorsey, a 6’0″ point guard out of Maryland, confirmed that he had verbally committed to join the Golden Gophers for the 2015-2016 basketball season. That season is nearly a year and a half away, giving the team two point guards of the present, and two of the future.