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.
Despite a more aesthetically pleasing offense in Richard Pitino’s first season, the Minnesota Gophers’ offense was merely average during the 2013-2014 season, and slightly worse than Tubby Smith’s final season. Last season, the best shooters didn’t shoot enough.
Early in Malik Smith’s oh so short Golden Gopher career, a curious debate briefly waged on Twitter. The question at the center of the debate was its own answer. “Why is Malik Smith here besides shooting?” The answer was that Malik Smith was on the team almost entirely because of his shooting, and really, that should have been good enough.
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.
I had planned to write about the reasons why the Golden Gophers N.I.T. championship mattered. I do think it matters and I’ll still write about why, but context matters too. The game of college basketball isn’t nearly as important as the lives of the people who are touched by the game we love. The twitterati, along with fans of teams that were able to participate in the NCAA tournament, snarkily declared the N.I.T. championship meaningless. In the grand scheme of things, it was meaningless. The world of college basketball, today alone, provided two examples of how a kids game played by kids and young adults doesn’t mean a whole lot in the tapestry of life. Lacey Holsworth died way too young of a disease too horrible. Meanwhile, UMass guard Derrick Gordon is finally himself, and finally happy. Death, and (a fuller, happier) life mean a lot more than any basketball game, any basketball season.
In the proper context of a kids’ game, here is why the N.I.T. mattered.
Richard Pitino will coach in his first non-conference tournament championship game of his career on Thursday night. The coach on the other bench is no stranger to championship basketball. Richard Pitino was five years old when Brown won the national title in 1988, 22 when Brown won his first NBA title with the Pistons. At age 31, Pitino hopes to give the 73 year old Brown his first N.I.T. championship loss.