This is Amelia Rayno's second season on the Gophers' basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
The transfer of Joe Coleman has been picked over plenty in the last week as the decision relates to next year’s team and whether it will be better or worse off without him.
It’s hard to say, really, whether the rising junior would have taken the next step under Richard Pitino, improving on his defense and decision-making away from the ball while maintaining the aggressive attack that made him at times successful.
But the loss of Coleman also brings a less obvious side effect, one that could have some Gophers fans’ antsy: without him, Minnesota lacks any homegrown talent on the roster.
A year ago, the Gophers had an impressive three Minnesotans in the starting lineup with Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Coleman helping to anchor the team. Andre Ingram, a Minneapolis native, contributed off the bench while Chris Halvorsen, a walk-on, played occasional minutes.
With Mbakwe, Williams, Ingram and Halvorsen graduating, Coleman was the only Minnesotan remaining on the roster. So without anyone, now, that hails from the home to 10,000 lakes, will the pressure be turned up on Pitino to grab some more locals quickly?
Snagging players from a team’s backyard isn’t always of paramount concern to a coaching staff, of course. And Pitino’s main goal right now seems to be simply gathering players that will fit his system and make the coming rebuilding year a little less painful. At this point, it doesn’t look like there will be a Minnesotan on the roster for next season.
But come 2014 and beyond, the field is ripe for the picking. Will Minnesota fans – who no doubt like to see their own being highly regarded on the local sports scene – be feeling a bit impatient by then?
The most talked about locals for next year are, of course, the “Big Three” of Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis. Beyond that impressive trio, however, there are plenty of others in state that have impressed, from J.P. Macura next year to Jarvis Johnson, Alex Illikainen and Sacar Anim in 2015 to Amir Coffey and Brock Bertram in 2016.
Does getting some of those players just for the sake of getting some locals mean everything? No, it doesn’t. But with the state churning out some pretty solid players in the last few years (and possibly four Minnesotans in this year’s draft with Mbakwe, Williams, Mike Muscala and Nate Wolters), it’s understandable that Gophers’ fans would want in on some of that.
Sometimes things happen the way they did this year – and none of this is to say that Pitino should have done something differently to get Coleman to stay. But it’s interesting side of the matter -- if Coleman stays, some of that pressure might be quelled a bit. Without him, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans are itching for home state representation.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz in Minneapolis this spring.
First Tubby Smith was fired, a move that was criticized by some, but largely supported across a fan base that had very loudly become dissatisfied with the former coach’s six years of mediocrity in the Big Ten (and had stuffed my inbox with thoughts of that nature). Then, after an anxiety-inducing coaching search, along came Richard Pitino, who has made himself quickly popular with the masses with his smooth talk and promises of bringing an exciting style to the often slow-paced Gophers. Three recruits have already signed. By all accounts, it’s been more of an exciting spring than usual for Gophers basketball, which is usually pret-tay slow this time of year.
So it’s not surprising, then, that it seems as though optimism abounds. With a new coach, a new system and a handful of new players (and untapped players from a year ago), why couldn’t Minnesota make a big leap right away?
Well, just hold onto your “Big Ten champion” screen prints and blank T-shirts. Despite all the positive developments, there are other major hints that next year might not be all glory and Ws. Though the Big Ten as a whole is losing a lot of stars, for the most part, the top still looks incredibly strong, as I wrote recently. Other teams -- such as Illinois, which has the 17th ranked freshman class in the nation and Purdue, whose freshman class lands at No. 23, nationwide – will improve around the Gophers. Meanwhile, Minnesota itself is dealing with a very thin frontcourt and a sudden scoring deficit after the losses of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams.
I don’t want to be the Negative Nancy here (I also heard Rayno-on-my-parade and Rayno Ruiner last season, if you’d like to give either of those a spin), but it’s important not to forget that though the Gophers might have a better foundation to build on for the future, the now could still be a little shaky. Pitino can be a good coach and still have a losing record in the Big Ten next year.
So is it a rebuilding year? That seems to be the popular thought. The Gophers are not on the cusp of any of the super early Top 25 rankings coming out, and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi didn’t even put them in with the seven Big Ten teams that made his ridiculously early preseason NCAA tournament bracket. Big Ten Network’s Brent Yarina actually put the Gophers DEAD LAST in his power rankings for next year, if you can believe it (Yes, even Rayno Ruiner thinks that’s a little harsh). Both national experts I recently spoke with – CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello and NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster – concur that the Gophers will land safely in the bottom half of the league.
Alls I’m saying is that too high of expectations lead to a much more dramatic “thump” than do realistic ones.
Could the Gophers surprise? Certainly. They still have a solid backcourt, rooted by the promising Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. And who knows what Pitino will be able to get out of other current players with a new approach. Minnesota still has the chance to sign a big man or two, and improve the depth of the forward corps.
I do think that the firing/search/hiring/signings put the Gophers in a better position for eventual growth. But things – in the Big Ten, certainly – don’t happen overnight. If the Gophers do turn some heads, one should sufficiently understand (and appreciate) that reality for the surprise that it would be.
It looks like Alex Foster has stayed loyal to former Gophers coach Tubby Smith.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Foster gave a verbal commitment to Smith a second time on Wednesday morning, this time at Texas Tech, where the head coach landed after being fired from Minnesota in March.
The 6-8 Foster decommitted after reportedly being told by the new Gophers staff that they wanted to move in a different direction. Foster was one of two recruits Smith had originally landed at Minnesota for the 2013-14 class. The other, Alvin Ellis, is now at Michigan State. Without Foster, the Gophers are lacking any incoming forwards in the current recruiting class.
New Gophers coach Richard Pitino has gotten three commitments in just more than a month's time.
Hours after news of Joe Coleman asking for his release late Tuesday evening, one of Pitino's former players at Florida International decided to jump on board.
Around 9:00 on Wednesday morning, guard Malik Smith tweeted the news, which he had been alluding to for days.
Smith will be eligible to play next season, a team source confirmed.
The guard played for Pitino last year at FIU, averaging 14.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 33.1 minutes a game. The 6-2, 170-pound junior, who has one year of eligibility left, is from Boston originally.
Smith represents Pitino's third commitment -- all guards -- since the new Minnesota coach took over. Pitino has had de-commitments from the two recruits already on board from Tubby Smith's class -- Alvin Ellis (now at Michigan State) and Alex Foster (who reportedly was told the team was going in a different direction). If Coleman indeed transfers -- official word could come today -- the Gophers will still have two scholarships remaining.
Smith would likely be available immediately by way of the NCAA waiver that allows student-athletes to transfer if their current institution is banned from postseason play. It looks as if FIU, due to dismal academic scores (recorded mostly under the tenure of former coach Isiah Thomas) will lose those privileges.
Here is the full exception, taken straight from the NCAA bylaws:
On the recommendation of the Committee on Athletics Certification for a student-athlete who transfers to
a member institution to continue the student-athlete’s opportunity for full participation in a sport because
the student-athlete’s original institution, per Bylaw 22.3.3, is placed in a membership category that would
preclude the institution’s team in that sport from participating in postseason competition during all of the
remaining seasons of the student-athlete’s eligibility.
(Adopted: 1/16/93 effective 1/1/94)
The Gophers basketball squad will be one player lighter than expected next season.
A team source confirmed on Tuesday night that guard Joe Coleman has asked for his release from Minnesota following a coaching change that saw Richard Pitino replace Tubby Smith, the man who recruited the junior-to-be.
The Gophers confirmed the news officially on Wednesday in a news release.
“Joe Coleman has made the decision to leave the Golden Gopher basketball program. We wish him the very best in the future,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said in a statement. “We appreciate the contributions he has given the program the last two years.”
The Minneapolis native, who averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 26.3 minutes a game last season as a sophomore, is the first to transfer under Pitino's watch. For a team that is relatively thin coming into the 2013-14 season, this is not necessarily good news, although Pitino has been stocking up on backcourt players since taking over in April.
Tthe Gophers' guard corps includes Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, reserve Maverick Ahanmisi and incoming recruits Daquein McNeil, Dre Mathieu and Malik Smith -- the last of whom committed on Wednesday. With Coleman gone, the Gophers no longer have any Minnesotans on the roster (Chris Halvorsen is graduating and isn't expected back, either), after boasting four last season.
Pitino and the staff had said previously that they didn't expect any transfers, but such occurrances are not uncommon following a coaching change.
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