This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's 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
After one week of silence, Minnesota's spring recruitment has started to heat up.
Illinois State transfer Zach Lofton was the second of two recruits to commit to the Gophers on Wednesday. He announced his decision in a tweet.
"I WILL BE SIGNING TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA TO CONTINUE MY COLLEGE CAREER TMRW ! #GOGOPHERS #NATION" he tweeted (in all caps).
Lofton fills out the Gophers' 2014 class with six recruits. Earlier in the day, Minnesota received a commitment from 6-11 center Bakary Konate, a Mali native currently playing at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. Power forward Gaston Diedhiou (Canary Islands, Spain) also committed to Minnesota, on April 11, but has yet to sign. The trio has until May 21 to pen their National Letters of Intent. The signing period began on April 16.
The Gophers signed forward Josh Martin and guards Carlos Morris (JUCO) and Nate Mason in the spring.
Lofton spent one season San Jacinto College before playing with the Redbirds last season. The 6-4 guard averaged 11.3 points and three rebounds in 23 minutes per game at Illinois State, but was suspended for the last three games of the season for undisclosed reasons.
The guard will likely have to sit one season per NCAA transfer rules. Earlier this week, his former Columbia Heights high school coach Willie Braziel said Lofton is unlikely to qualify for any waiver scenarios under the NCAA guidelines.
Richard Pitino's 2014 recruiting class continues to grow.
A source confirmed to the Star Tribune that center Bakary Konate committed to Minnesota on Wednesday, giving the Gophers five incoming recruits for next season. Scout's Evan Daniels first reported the news.
Minnesota signed power forward Josh Martin and guards (JUCO) Carlos Morris and Nate Mason last fall and received a commitment from forward Gaston Diedhiou, who has not yet penned his National Letter of Intent, on April 11. Spring commits have until May 21 to sign.
The 6-11 Konate, who currently plays at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, adds some much-needed size to the Gophers' roster, which loses senior centers Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker after next season. The Mali native had said he was choosing between the Gophers, Tulane, Texas A&M and Creighton.
The first notable coaching rumor involving Richard Pitino since his landing in Minnesota has come and gone.
Donnie Tyndall, formerly of Southern Miss, was announced as the new basketball coach at the University of Tennessee on Tuesday, effectively silencing any whispers tying Pitino to the job.
The Volunteers' coaching search began a week ago, on Tuesday, after former coach Cuonzo Martin accepted a job at California.
The next day, USA Today included Pitino's name on a list of possible candidates that Tennessee AD Dave Hart could be considering. Later on Wednesday afternoon, ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported that Pitino was on the Volunteers' short list.
From the start, Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague insisted Pitino, who was quiet throughout the process, was not interested in leaving.
In his first season at Minnesota, Pitino, who is heading into his third year as a head coach after one season at Florida International, directed the Gophers to a 25-13 overall record (8-10 in the Big Ten) and an NIT championship.
The University of Minnesota has yet to pen a basketball recruit in the spring signing period, but coach Richard Pitino and his staff are staying active.
The Gophers hosted Illinois State transfer Zach Lofton on campus over the weekend and could be considering adding the 6-4 guard to their current 2014 class.
It certainly seems the interest is there on Lofton's part. On Saturday, the St. Paul native tweeted "Visit to University of Minnesota was ill."
(Which means he thought it was great for those of you not up on current Hip Speak.)
Former Columbia Heights High School coach Willie Braziel called Lofton, who has two years of eligibility remaining, "ecstatic" to hear from Minnesota.
"That's where Zach wanted to go long before he ever went to Illinois State," Braziel said. "I don't think I can put it any clearer than that -- Zach's original wish was to be a Gopher."
It remains to be seen how interested Minnesota is. Braziel said to his knowledge there has been no official offer yet.
Minnesota has three scholarships remaining for a 2014 class that currently includes forward Josh Martin and guards Carlos Morris and Nate Mason. Overseas forward Gaston Diedhiou has committed, but not yet signed.
Most likely, Lofton would need to sit out a year. Braziel said he doesn't think there are any potential waivers being discussed. The Gophers would need to decide if they think it's worth it to sign a marginal high-major player for 2015 right now.
There are potential off-the-court concerns as well. Lofton was suspended for the final three games of the season at Illinois State for undisclosed reasons. Braziel said Minnesota assistant Ben Johnson reached out to him to ask about Lofton's character.
"When you leave a program you're not leaving usually because things went well," Braziel said. "So [the Gophers staff was] concerned about what may or may not have happened and what makes an athlete transfer. They wanted to make sure-- were there problems with me coaching him? Were there problems with family members? I didn't have any of those problems.
"Academically, I don't think they'll find any problems with Zach [either]."
Braziel said he doesn't think Lofton is talking seriously with any other schools right now. He mentioned Lofton could consider going the Division II route if the right program came along if he decided he didn't want to sit out a year.
The coach also said he thinks Lofton -- who played one season at San Jacinto Junior College (Texas) before playing last season at Illinois State -- is capable of impacting a program at the top collegiate level.
"I can honestly say I've never had a quicker guard," he said. "Basketball IQ? As high as you're gonna get, at any level."
Minnesota's chances with its top target looked a little more secure on Friday night, when Bakary Konate told the Star Tribune he had cancelled his official visit to Tulane.
"I told coach 'I am sorry,'" he said, referring to Tulane coach Ed Conroy. "I had to make my decision to stay here."
Now, the 2014 big man -- who has been the apple of Gophers coach Richard Pitino's eye for some time -- hopes to make his decision within the next couple of weeks.
The 6-11 Mali native has said publicly that his top schools include Minnesota, Texas A&M, Tulane and Creighton. Friday, Konate said he already knew what his eventual choice would be but he wanted to wait to announce it.
Minnesota is the only of the four schools that he has visited. The center, who is currently playing at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, did not rule out trying to visit another school in the next week or two.
The Gophers badly need more size to step in behind Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker, who will each be in their last year of eligibility next season. Konate, who Pitino discovered while recruiting Sunrise's Lourawls 'Tum Tum' Nairn (who has since committed to Michigan State), appears to be a good fit for Minnesota's new system. While the 230-pound center likely will be expected to gain weight and strength, he runs well for his size and can shoot from distance. With Eliason and Walker around, the Gophers would have the luxury of bringing Konate along slowly and developing his post game.
|Sports (2)||Basketball (9)|
|College basketball (1001)||Gophers coaches (299)|
|Gophers players (896)||Tubby Smith (37)|
|Williams Arena (10)||Gophers game day (43)|
|Gophers postgame (6)||NCAA (3)|
|The Big Dance (8)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (4)||Gophers roster moves (5)|
|Minnesota colleges (1)|