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

aMAILiaBAG: Expectations for next year, Minnesota as a destination and Capella tower gems

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: April 17, 2015 - 9:48 AM

In every program, the spring and summer marks college basketball's second season, one that's ultimately proven a lot more optimistic for Minnesota fans who've watched their hopes dashed more often than not in November through March lately.

Spring sprouts seductively, I begin to remember things I like about Minneapolis again, and along with all the natural world's rebirth and all that jazz comes the Gophers' new beginning in the minds of the ever-forgetful (as a coping mechanism) fan.

Last season is gone, far away already, and next season will be better -- at least according to the sports fan's gospel. There are recruiting opportunities, revamped training and new players arriving on campus any way. 

Next season is far away too, so I won't stomp on your insatiable buoyancy -- er wait, yes I will. The summer ahead is intriguing, even after the loss of assistant Dan McHale to a head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky (congrats Dan, well deserved), and 2015-16 features the kind of roster turnover that folks are understandably hungry for following 2014-15's collapse. Will the team be better? That's a different story. 

Read on as I answer your questions about the road ahead for Minnesota as long as you don't mind watching me bulldoze your meadow of daisies.

What should be our expectations for next season? Better or worse than this year?

-@Gopherated

Great question. I think the obvious answer is worse based on the fact that Minnesota (18-15; 6-12 last year) loses four seniors who all seemed critical to the team before last year began, and will now be very, very young and inexperienced. That said, the Gophers underperformed to such extent last year that it's hard to overstate the veterans' importance -- those seniors, after all, played big roles in the team's nine losses by six or fewer points, when the greatest benefit of experience is supposed to be the upper hand in such situations. The reality is we don't know just how good the team will be next year, because the Gophers will be relying on such unknown properties. Normally that's not a good thing, but who knows? If the team can grow quickly and harness a better chemistry than last year's bunch, the Gophers could even improve by a game or two in the league schedule. But that result is really hard to expect with so many questionmarks rooting the lineup, and the expectation that key players will need to develop.

Do the Gophers have any new bigs that will commit for the 15-16 season?

-@karock15

Richard Pitino and Co. certainly hope so. With senior centers Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason both expiring their eligibilities, the Gophers have some major holes in the middle and in the frontcourt in general, where Joey King is really the only reliable forward (and that's saying something). The  later in the spring we get, the likelihood of finding quality bigs grow dimmer -- most are snatched up during the fall anyway -- but it's not impossible. The Gophers have their eyes on JUCOs Chris Boucher (6-10; 20, at Northwest College) and Cullen Russo (6-9; 210, at Southern Tech) and there are rumblings about a certain other big man that could be transferring soon. Remember, recruits have until May 20 to sign, so Minnesota does have some time.

The Gophers job has seemingly always been a connecting flight, what realistic steps can be taken to make it a destination gig?

-@AndyCarlsonShow

The formula is pretty simple, but time-taking and arduous and unpredictable. Minnesota needs to build the kind of basketball environment that would belie outside offers. Fans seem to think a coach would be silly to take a job at, say the University of Alabama if he has a "cushy job in the Big Ten" -- I've seen that actual phrase used several times, but it's a confused statement. What makes the Gophers' Big Ten job "cushy?" While Minnesota's basketball program makes money, its gross income is dwarfed by that of many league schools. Pitino gets cut one of the smaller paychecks in the conference (if you folks don't think Alabama would have given him a bloated raise, you don't know much about Alabama). The Gophers have no practice facility for basketball -- the only league team in that situation -- and even though the blueprints are drawn up, they're realistically years away. All of this while a coach is expected to "build" a program (let's be honest, Minnesota has been "building" for the last 15 years) in the heart of one of the perennially toughest conferences in basketball. It is very hard to build when your team is getting its face kicked in on a nightly basis. It's also not easy to recruit when there are no facilities to speak of, no winning tradition in high schoolers' memories and snow everywhere (if I had been shown around the Star Tribune in the gutless bowels of March I might have said no thank you). 

Minnesota (and its donors) needs to throw down the money -- for its coaches and its facilities and its amenities, and then someone needs to start winning so the formula can progress. In the Big Ten, though, that can be a tough, long turnaround.

For a recruit, what’s the biggest draw that the U has that Pitino can sell to come here?

-@kschins

Beyond the ability to play in the Big Ten, probably still his last name at this point, to be perfectly honest. But that attraction will fade quickly if the Gophers have a couple more down years.

Any Gopher interest in (forward) Kyle Washington now that he's transferring from NC State? Won't help much next season, but could after.

-@KirkMcKinley

Washington, the Champlin native, back to his home state? It's possible, and Minnesota could certainly use his size, but you'd better believe he'll have a lot more suitors than the Gophers hanging on his every word.

Any chance (former Duke freshman and Minnesota native) Tyus Jones will reconsider and transfer to the U of M rather than take a chance in the NBA?

-@MilleBrando

Stay in college, forgo a very large paycheck upon being selected in the NBA draft, transition from a national championship team to rebuilding mode and, hey, sit out a year because why not? Sounds very realistic, Brando, great call.

How does recent loss of McHale affect recruiting? Currently and recruits he was involved with.

-@j_auginash

It's a big blow for Minnesota initially because he had a hand in so many important recruits, including Malik Ellison (son of Pervis), whose commitment seemed all but in the bag before McHale left. Over the last two years, McHale has been a big part of the Gophers' recruiting efforts -- and on another note, he was the king of scouting reports, anyone who has ever been close enough to the court to see him on gamedays knows that -- and this is a critical recruiting time, so it won't be easy. But Nate Pomeday, his heir, has a recruiting reputation as well. Minnesota will move on, as programs always do, and hope its still in the running for the recruits that McHale worked so hard on this winter.

Are you happy about Dunkin Donuts coming to Minneapolis? #AMAILiaBag

-@fasolamatt

No because I can't eat 'em (Celiac problems) -- what would make me really happy is if someone around here could figure out how to make a gluten-free donut. As for Dunkin coffee that everyone in New England is so infatuated with? I'll pass.

Did you see that The Sportive was named Best Local Sports Podcast in a local alt-weekly.

-@RandBallsStu

Wowee, look at that, big time, and to think I once graced those airways.

New Star Wars trailer, your thoughts?

-@daanderson20

I'm literally weeping over the sight of Chewie.

What is your favorite spot in the Capella Tower?

-@xjGophers

Still figuring it out! For those of you who aren't aware, the Star Tribune moved to our new home a few weeks ago. It's very swanky and exciting and contains windows which provide sunlight and stuff. Our new Peace coffee shop is completely charming and addicting, our Steele fitness gym is top-notch and we're in the skyway now, so it feels like a whole new world even though we're just a few blocks away from our old home. I love the new Simpls market for the fresh salads, panna cotta cups and kombucha on tap. Also, I might be plowing through massive omelets at Keys Cafe at the Foshay Tower for breakfast every morning this summer.

Nate Pomeday promoted to assistant coach

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: April 16, 2015 - 3:11 PM

Nate Pomeday has been promoted to assistant basketball coach with the University of Minnesota, taking over the spot vacated when Dan McHale left for a head coaching position at Eastern Kentucky, a source confirmed to the Star Tribune on Thursday.

Evan Daniels of Scouthoops.com was the first to report the news.

Pomeday, who was hired as the director of basketball operations before last season, joins a three-man assistant staff at Minnesota that includes Ben Johnson and Kimani Young. The Northwestern graduate’s jump in status makes sense – prior to Minnesota, Pomeday spent six years as an assistant at Oregon State. With the Beavers, he was involved in all aspects of the program, including recruiting, scouting and game-planning but focused on working with the guard corps.

An overview of 2016 recruiting

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: April 8, 2015 - 7:56 AM

Last week, I posted a recruiting overview for the 2015 class, as it concerns Minnesota -- and noted that size and athleticism are driving those efforts.

In the 2016 class, more size will be needed across the board, but some of the specifics likely depend on what the Gophers can muster up for the fall.

For now, Minnesota is casting a wide net with a wide-ranging variety of recruits -- despite the fact that unless the Gophers save one or more scholarships from the remaining three available for 2015, they only have one left to give. The Gophers expect the eligibilities of Carlos Morris and Joey King to expire after the 2015 season, and the staff has already got a commitment from Rochester wing Michael Hurt in January.

A look at some of the names the Gophers are considering:

Amir Coffey: The four-star big guard's injury proneness might be affecting his recruitment to an extent, but not when it comes to Minnesota, which is just as intent as ever, a source says, at nabbing the rising senior at Hopkins. Coffey, who tore his left ACL in December (he broke the same leg in the summer of 2013), visited Minnesota for the Nebraska game earlier this year, but still has a slew of other high-majors chasing him.

Quentin Goodin: The explosive point guard from Kentucky is another four-star target for Minnesota, which sits in the company of schools such as Louisville, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana and Vanderbilt, among others, in competing for his services.

Rawle Alkins: Watching video of this 6-4, 185-pound shooting guard is at times like watching a college athlete scrimmage with high schoolers. Alkins certainly has the body and matchup potential to attract a litany of bluebloods, and Minnesota.

Shamorie Ponds: The Brooklyn lefty is a slick scorer and a shooter with great range above all else, but the unranked shooting guard needs to work on his shot selection if he wants to hold on to the elite tier after him -- including St. John's, Miami (FL), Minnesota, Oklahoma, Seton Hall and South Carolina.

Eli Wright: The Gophers have recently gotten more involved with this three-star versatile guard from Kentucky. The 6-4 Wright is ranked 127th nationally and has caught the eye of Clemson, Indiana, Purdue and Oklahoma State, among others, for offers. 

Aric Holman: A mobile, rangy big man is a gem, and this 6-9, 210-pound three-star has shown hints he can be that. Holman's good feet, soft hands and respectable shot has him gaining steam in the recruiting world -- and he's already taken official visits to Western Kentucky and VCU, per Rivals.

Mamadou Diarra: The 6-8, 225-pound Queens native is explosive and has stellar rebounding instincts, but his offensive rawness has kept him somewhat under the radar so far. Minnesota is the only high-major school to have offered the three-star so far.

Reid Nikko: The local 6-9 power forward from Maple Grove has been on campus at Minnesota several times already, and Minnesota has been keeping tabs on the unranked (per Rivals) Nikko, who has a nose for defense and blocking shots.

Xavier Sneed: Sneed, who Rivals ranks 143rd in his class, doubles up both as a small forward and a wide receiver for his Hazelwood Central (St. Louis) high school. On the court, Sneed stands out for his high motor and pesky defensive instincts, and Cincinnati, Creighton, Illinois, Kansas State, Xavier and others are all watching along with Minnesota.

Dan McHale takes head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: April 7, 2015 - 6:39 PM

Former Minnesota assistant Dan McHale has been hired as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky, he confirmed with the Star Tribune on Tuesday evening. 

ESPN's Jeff Goodman first reported the news.

McHale was hired as Gophers head coach Richard Pitino's top assistant in the spring of 2013 after working as an assistant under Kevin Willard at Seton Hall for the previous three years. The New Jersey native has roots in Kentucky, graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2001 and working first as a staff assistant and then a Director of Video Operations at the University of Louisville.

"I'm excited to take on a new challenge and represent a great university in Eastern Kentucky," McHale told the Star Tribune. "I'm just ready for the next part of my journey. I couldn't have done this without [Minnesota] coach [Richard] Pitino and everything we've done at University of Minnesota -- I'll miss Minnesota on daily basis, but this was the right decision for me and my family. Coach Pitino and his staff absolutely have his program going in the right direction."

The Colonels have been to the NCAA tournament three times since 2000, most recently losing to Kansas in their first game in 2014. Their NCAA tournament record is 0-8. Last season, they posted a 21-12 record but lost to Belmont by one in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Eastern Kentucky won two games in the low-level CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament before being ousted by Tennessee-Martin, also by one point.

McHale will head to the East Coast immediately for a press conference on Thursday.

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