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
aMAILia BAG is an occasional installment on this blog where you send me questions (to @AmeliaRayno on Twitter or email@example.com) and I answer them here. Questions below are in bold, while my responses are in regular type.
Seems like the new coaching staff more aggressively pursues the players they want. Not that Tubby didn’t, but it just seems that way. Because of the coaching change and the style of play, do you think we will have a better shot at Tyus than the previous staff would have?
That is an interesting question (and one you’re probably not going to like the answer to).
I do agree that the Gophers’ new staff has aggressively gone after recruits already in a way that was lacking with former coach Tubby Smith’s staff. However, even if this staff has been substantially more personable and intense and dedicated, Jones has been getting that for years from the likes of Duke (which has other things the Gophers don’t, namely, a long, storied tradition – don’t send me hate tweets for this, please). Tyus Jones will not be won overnight, and that is essentially what the new staff is trying to do. They have to try – of course – but the reality of them succeeding remains very slim. Jones -- who is smart beyond his years and has gotten years of worthy guidance from his mother, Debbie, who kind of acts as stand-in agent -- will keep the Gophers on his list because he respects his home state institution. However, he’s careful not to say that his opinion of the program has changed in any way with the coaching switch (which seems impossible, since the coach is such a huge part of a decision) in order to not stir up headlines on either side. He also indicated to me last weekend that he isn’t planning on using one of his official visits on Minnesota, since he’s been around campus so much already. Compare that answer, however, to that of Reid Travis, who is in the same position but wants to official with the Gophers because “there are ins and outs you really can’t experience with an unofficial” and it becomes meaningful.
Adding fire to this theory is the fact that old buddy Jahlil Okafor – about whom Jones says he’s “99 percent” sure he’ll play with at the next level – has officially edited out Minnesota from his final list of eight. Look at the schools the pair have in common on their narrowed lists, and you’ll probably see the school where both of them will end up.
Are the Gophers eliminated? No, they won’t be eliminated until Jones eliminates them. But the odds of him ending up in Maroon and Gold are, shall we say, not favorable.
Thanks for all of your hard work. I really enjoy all that you do throughout all of the various mediums to keep Gopher fans up-to-date on all of the on and off court happenings.
My question: I know that a practice facility is crucial for recruiting. That said, I don't really know what is in a practice facility. I assume it has courts, offices, workout facilities and places to watch film. What all goes into the practice facility? Does it have a cafeteria? Dorm rooms for the athletes? Computer labs for the mandatory study hours?
Sorry if you've mentioned this previously....
Thanks, Steve, and good question! Every practice facility is different and there are many amenities that can be added to make it super glitzy if the financial support is there. They don’t typically include dorms, although Kentucky did recently unveil a player dorm right across the street from theirs (don’t expect that with the Gophers). Minnesota wants to make theirs noteworthy, I think, while probably being far from extravagant. Some of the things that athletic director Norwood Teague has already said he wants to include are separate courts for the men’s and women’s teams, a players’ lounge (which usually contains couches, recliners, TVs and possibly video games, snacks, etc.), a weight room, a film room, a sports medicine center and possibly offices as well.
They could go crazy and add a smoothie bar. Who wouldn’t love to hang out in a place with a smoothie bar?
Of the Big 4 in BIG 10 last season -- Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State -- all lost key players, who looks best?
Well, I think speaking strictly from a sense of who slid out of graduation/the draft with the best deal, that’s definitely Michigan State. They only had one senior – Derrick Nix – graduate, and out of all their stars – Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson – everyone else stayed. Good deal! That alone gives them a very strong argument for the Big Ten title favorite. Michigan should also be very good, despite losing both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Michigan has the 12th ranked incoming class of recruits and had a lot of very promising pieces in place already, with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht. Indiana is the only one of those that is REALLY hurt (I mean, losing Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Remy Abell and Maurice Creek?? Ouch) but even so, their sixth-ranked recruiting class could keep them in the top 25 nationally, or near it.
This past week, I read that some Big Ten insiders have their doubts as to whether Rich’s fast-paced style of play will translate well in the conference. What do you think?
Bobby Wayne in Hopkins
I got to this question a little bit a couple of days ago and addressed it some here. In general, I don’t think there’s anything about the Big Ten that necessarily prohibits the style, but executing it effectively and consistently could be tougher.
Is Ellenson more of a 2 or 3 in Pitino's system? Or do positions matter less overall if you can run, defend, & shoot? #gophers
I think he could realistically play either. With his athleticism, he could really excel on the wing. I think he’s versatile enough, and a good enough shooter, to slide in at either spot. In general, I think Pitino is looking for quick athletes that can shoot, so in that way he could fit in nicely.
Do you think that Theo Pinston going to the Tar Heels crosses them off Vaughns list? They now have a top SG & SF for 2014.
He’s publicly said no, that doesn’t matter, but while that might not be a deal-breaker immediately, it will probably factor into his final decision. Poor Tar Heels, amirite?
Any recent news on Buckles? And what are the odds he would get the waiver to play right away should he come here #gophers
No news currently on Rakeem Buckles (with FIU last year). While I still think this will happen, there isn’t necessarily a big rush for it because as a graduate, he is not bound by the signing period (which ended May 15). It’s not a guarantee. If he does come to Minnesota, I think he will also get the NCAA waiver to play right away, because I don’t think he would make the decision to transfer again if he didn’t. Remember, this guy was at Louisville the year before – the only reason he isn’t GUARANTEED immediate eligibility – and sat out last year. I highly doubt he wants to sit out again, especially since he’s graduated, for one more year of school.
I’m honestly not sure what the hold up is, but it could be as simple as waiting for the APR numbers to come out and for a possible waiver to be official. I think that both he and Malik Smith will get that waiver, but while Smith had to make a calculated guess based on their chances, Buckles has the luxury of waiting until it’s official to make his move.
Flip Saunders recently critiqued Rodney Williams as not ready for the NBA. Is that due to coaching, team or player? #aMAILiaBAG
I don’t think you can say it was any one factor in a situation like that, and at this point, it’s impossible to really know how and if things could have been different. One of the things I was hoping to ask Rodney on Wednesday is whether he thinks about what could have been if he had the opportunity to play in Pitino’s system – one that is seemingly made for his skills (whenever the Gophers did manage to play up-tempo, Williams always looked pretty good). Unfortunately, we had about six minutes with him and the scrum was about 15 deep, so that particular question was never asked of him. One aspect of Williams’ shortcomings – his shooting – is hard to blame on anyone else because it’s simply a matter of him living in the gym and getting up shots. One could also argue if he had someone to better inspire him, the results could have been different. Williams has himself been very aware of getting so caught up in his mistakes that he can’t focus for the rest of the game. Could the right mentor have eased that tendency? Who knows. Rodney is a good kid, and I wish him the best moving forward. The past can’t be re-written, but it would have been fun to see him in Pitino’s run-and-gun game.
If the gophers plan to be a running team next year which big ten teams will try and run with them and which will likely work to slow it down ? Or does it just depend upon how good they are at running it in any given game? I live in Madison (it's tough) so I have one idea already!
I wouldn’t be surprised if most teams – at least at first – try to slow them down to see if they’ve got anything else. Oh yeah, Pitino? Now that you’ve recruited a team of athletes, how do you like this defense? Teams like Michigan and Indiana might run with them and just decide to do it better.
What is the team's (and Coach Pitino's) favorite snack foods? Getting ready for a big team sleepover #aMAILiabag
Here are a few suggestions, Goldy:
Andre Hollins: Cotton candy – Is there a happier snack in the world? Tell me.
Malik Smith: Twizzlers – So many threads (backgrounds, positions) all rolled into one pretty darn good player.
Dre Mathieu: Yoohoo – It’s how people call each other where he’s coming from (middle of nowhere, Arizona). Also: Rolos -- they're small and surprisingly good.
Austin Hollins: Ice pop – Isn’t it obvious? He cools down opposing offenses quick and then he just might ice the game.
Charles Buggs: Snickerdoodle – Maybe we can name his pre-game dance The Snickerdoodle. Other possibilities: ThePirate’s Booty, The Junior Mint.
Maverick Ahanmisi: Cracker jacks – Sometimes you get a nice surprise.
Daquein McNeil: Herseys -- The most loyal of candy bars.
Wally Ellenson: Cheetos – As in Cheetah. As in he’s fast and he jumps high. Get it?
Elliott Eliason: Slim Jim – This is so stereotypical of me.
Kendall Shell: Laffy taffy – He’s stocking up on jokes.
Mo Walker: Jack Links beef jerky – Don’t take offense, Mo. I LOVE sasquatch. (And the idea of one on the Gophers is very promising.)
Oto Osenieks: Pork Rinds – He’ll clean up the scraps, thank you very much.
No, I didn’t designate Butterfinger to anyone. You’re welcome.
BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:
What's the best piece of physical evidence you've discovered while #bigfoot hunting? #aMAILiabag
I found a leg once. A big, smelly, hairy leg paw with a foot that could put Mo Walker’s to shame. Found a skull that will make it to some museum somewhere soon. And … a baby bigfoot. Yeah, an adolescent. Gave him his first scotch.
OK, those are all lies. I wish I had something juicier to tell you about, but the fact is, I myself haven’t found any hard squatch evidence. But then, I have a day job. Sadly, these nuggets of bigfoot gold aren’t just laying around the forest – do you know how hard it is to even find a deer bone if you’re not trained in that regard?? – and I haven’t put the kind of time in to expect any results. My bigfoot searches are mainly just a) me hoping I’ll get incredibly, impossibly lucky and b) an excuse for me to get kind excited/terrified/spellbound/anxious in the woods.
Who doesn’t want that right? Hands? I’m not abnormal, right?
(Also, if I ever do find a BIGFOOT LEG in the woods, my sports reporting days might be over.)
Rashad Vaughn is heading into his senior season with a lot of questionmarks and not a whole lot of answers – yet. The 6-5, 200-pound shooting guard, one of the “Big Three" in-state recruits for 2014, still has some time to make decisions both on where he’ll attend college, and also where he’ll be finishing up his high school career. He’s unlikely to lose much of the attention that surrounds the Playground Elite player now, no matter what he winds up doing, but Gophers fans are hoping that the road leads right back to his home state. I caught up with Vaughn at the local EYBL tournament over the weekend, where he averaged 20 points, 6.8 rebounds and three assists in five games.
When did you first hear from new Gophers coach Richard Pitino? I guess the day he got the job, he called me that night … He knows he’s got to start recruiting us now cause he’s new, so it made me feel good that he called on the first day.
You’ve been recruited by Minnesota all this time, and Tubby Smith, and now there’s a total change of coaching staff. Is that weird for you? Yeah, kind of. But I talk to them a lot, I’ve got a good relationship with them and coach Kimani and when it was (during) open period he was at mostly every game, so I think they’re doing good recruiting.
How is the new staff's recruiting style different than Smith’s? He [Pitino] is young, so he knows how to relate. Tubby, I talked to him every now and then and I’d see him every now and then, but them, I see them a lot and I talk to them every other day.
I know you were close with Vince Taylor. Was it weird for him to leave the picture? I don’t really talk to him no more, but he called me every now and then.
Is Minnesota one of the schools that’s contacting you the most right now? Yeah, they’re one of them.
What’s the next step for you? Do you have any officials set up right now? No, none right now that I know of set up.
You’re planning on doing some though, later this summer or fall? Yeah, I probably take an official. I don’t know where, but I’m going to try to get out there and take an official.
Do you want to take all five? Yeah.
I know you’ve done unofficials at North Carolina and Iowa State. There are rumors that you nearly committed to UNC when you were down there. Is that true? Na. I went and talked to my parents about it but we all decided to just wait until the time was right, so we didn’t do it.
Hey, I get it. I’m from North Carolina. Tarheel fan, even though my Gophers readers hate me for it. It was a good atmosphere, I’ve got a good relationship with all the coaches.
Do you have an idea of when you want to make a decision? Sometime in my senior year.
Do you have a list of favorites right now? Nope, no favorites.
Are you going to make one? I mean, you’ve got to narrow it down at some point, right? Yeah. Sometime. I got no timeline of when I’m going to do that, but I’m looking to do that.
The word is that you’re considering transferring for senior year, perhaps to Huntington Prep. Anything to that? Yeah, I thought about it, but I’m not sure about it right now.
And what would go into that decision? Just to play good competition every day and get prepared for that next level.
This ESPN watercooler meeting is a few days old, but after a reader brought it to my attention (thanks, Bob Fry), I thought I’d post it up here for our debate.
In the above article, former Star Tribune beat writer Myron Medcalf relates an anecdote from a conversation he had with an anonymous Big Ten coach. In that exchange, Medcalf asked the coach about how new Gophers’ coach Richard Pitino’s press-and-run style will fit into the Big Ten.
From the ESPN article:
That coach paused for a moment, and essentially suggested that the particular brand of basketball just doesn't work (consistently) in the grind-it-out, physical conference unless you're equipped with elite talent throughout your roster.
Minnesota lost Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Joe Coleman (transfer). The Gophers have Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins, as you've mentioned, but they're not elite.
Pitino has some solid pieces. But the combination of a new staff, a new style that might not work in a new league and the team's voids could lead to a messy season for the Gophers. Not that the expectations are sky high or anything. But I have a lot of question marks about the program.
Some things never change, I guess.
Is this true? There are certainly teams in the Big Ten that are successful in that brand – programs like Indiana and Michigan, but those teams have the kind of elite talent that coach is talking about.
The Gophers won’t have anything close to players of that caliber next season. So is that coach right? Without that level of personnel will Minnesota crash and burn?
There are plenty of teams that will actively work to slow the pace down (first and foremost of course being the fellows over in Madison) and there are enough low-scoring, defensive-oriented games that the league has certainly gotten the reputation as one that grinds it out all the time.
I actually posed a similar question – about the facility of the up-tempo game against the Big Ten’s defenses -- to Pitino at his initial press conference after he was hired with the Gophers. After all, former coach Tubby Smith had been talking about playing that way for years, and it never really showed up on the court after the non-conference schedule.
Here’s what Pitino said in response to that question at the press conference:
“I look at it the other way. I look at it as how excited I am to go against those [defenses.] The one thing I think the style does is it tries to take you out of your comfort zone. I think it’s a bit of a misconception that the Big Ten is slow-down basketball. I watched Indiana play. That was extremely fast-paced, as well as other programs.”
Because Big Ten teams do have to play against snail-paced squads like Wisconsin and Nebraska, as well as defensive juggernauts like Michigan State and Ohio State, the overall conference tempo is dragged down some as a general rule. Yet not every team plays extremely slow. Even teams like Iowa (which had the highest adjusted tempo in the league last year, ranked at 104 nationally according to Ken Pomeroy) and Purdue had success pressing and running at times … and without the elite talent Medcalf's anonymous coach cited.
I’m sure that Pitino – whose Florida International team landed at No. 48 in the country in adjusted tempo last year – could envision a roster that is immediately more talented than the current one. To be sure, while the Gophers do have some good players, next year could be a bit of a struggle regardless of the style of play.
But with his clear vision (it is apparent already that he has an obvious player “type”) and strong recruiting efforts, his idea will be to strengthen that roster. Over time, if he can recruit the type of athletes he believes will thrive, and develop those athletes properly, I think his run-and-gun style could absolutely be successful at Minnesota.
The biggest note, however, is that a style's success should not be judged on one year. Wait until Pitino gets his own players and acclimates the holdovers to his style (this won’t happen overnight) – when he has done the best he can do in those two regards, then we’ll know whether his style can work in this league.
In the meantime, I don't think it makes much sense for Pitino to change the tenets of his coaching philosophy just because he doesn’t have his ideal roster in place. Will the team struggle in that regard at times? Yes. Absolutely. But it should be an interesting project to watch, and an intriguing building block for potential future success at Minnesota.
Big decisions are right around the corner for Reid Travis, one of the highly anticipated “Big Three” in 2014 recruiting. The 6-7, 235 small forward, who is currently ranked 40th in the nation for his class by ESPN and 41st by Rivals, expects to decide on both which sport he will pursue (he is also being recruited in football as a quarterback) and which school he will attend by the fall. That doesn’t leave a lot of time, but Travis said he expects to take all five of his official visits, and named three – Gonzaga, Stanford and Minnesota – that will be recipients. I caught up with Travis at the EYBL tournament over the weekend, where he averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in five games.
Travis said he has mentally narrowed his list of basketball schools to 15, but he declined to list them.
What are the most recent schools to jump in? UCLA offered, that’s probably the most recent.
And what about your football recruitment. Are things heating up more with that than when we last talked (in the winter)? For sure, especially now that my film is getting out from last season, there’s more schools that are starting to come in contact with me.
Do you feel like seeing where that’s going is getting you close to making a decision about which sport you want to follow? I’m just letting it get to its peak right now. I think everybody has a chance. I’m just leaving everything open. I think in August and September I’ll start to really take some visits and narrow my decision.
I know you haven’t done any official visits yet. Any planned? No, I don’t [have] anything penciled in. There’s a few schools I want to get to on officials but nothing is set.
Which ones? Gonzaga and Stanford are the ones that I have officials kind of in the talking right now. There’s other ones that I’m looking at, but those are the ones that could happen in the next month.
Has Stanford officially offered you? It’s kind of weird how they do it. They’ve got to get my ACT score. Yeah, I’ve been talking to them. (He anticipates an offer.)
Last time we talked, you said you wanted to have a good idea of both the sport and the school by the fall. Is that still what you’re thinking? Yeah, that’s the timeline I’m on. I want to have a school picked through the fall so I can kind of set everything up throughout the year, I don’t want wait out the decision, so I think once summer basketball is done, I should be able to just narrow my list all the way down to one, hopefully in the fall.
Do you plan to take all five officials? Yeah, I do, and probably some unofficials here and there so I can get in as many schools as possible.
Since Minnesota is basically in your backyard, does that discourage you from using one of your five on the U? No, there’s some stuff they can show you, but on an official visit, they can show you everything. So that’s the thing. I’ve been on an unofficial (there) I think like 10 times, so to be on an official, there are some ins and outs that you really can’t experience with an unofficial, so I kind of want to see all that. So I’ll definitely use one on the U.
I know you were close with former Gophers assistant Ron Jirsa – and in general, a coaching switch (with former coach Tubby Smith getting fired) is a big change. How did that affect you? It definitely changes the way you start to think about it because you grow a relationship with the old staff that they had, But I like the new staff now, so it really didn’t affect me too much. I like Ben Johnson, I like Pitino a lot. So it’s kind of changed a little bit, but I still have a strong relationship with them.
Does it feel like you are getting recruited by a new school? There is different personnel, a different system. Yeah, a little bit, but at the end of the day, I was always looking at the school aspect of it first with the business school and stuff like that, so it’s kind of just building new relationships, so probably like the fourth thing that I was looking for on the list, so it wasn’t too much of a change for me.
When did the new staff reach out to you? I think a day after [Pitino] was hired, my dad talked to him on the phone and I started to with Ben Johnson as soon as he got hired. So right away, they started picking up their recruiting.
And what has the contact been like since? It’s been strong. I talk to them at least two, three times a week, whenever they can get ahold of me, so we’re building a strong relationship and I’m really starting to like where it’s going.
Do you see differences in recruiting styles? Not too much. I think they’re all professionals and they all handle it the right way, the way they call you here and there.
Tyus Mania continues. And the rising senior has given the masses plenty to fawn over, leading the EYBL in points (23.2), assists (6.8), steals (3) and minutes (30.8) a game through the first three sessions (California, Hampton [VA] and Dallas). He was back at it over the weekend, recording 101 points, 24 assists and eight steals in four games heading into Monday’s final matchup. I checked in with Jones to chat about the coaching changes at Minnesota, and what the next steps for him are.
As a reminder (as if you need it), Jones’ list of seven includes (in no particular order): Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, Baylor, Michigan State and the Gophers. At this point, he has only set up one official – Baylor – which he will be taking at the end of August. Jones is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPN and No. 3 by Rivals.
When did Richard Pitino and Co. first reach out to you and how has that contact gone so far? He talked to me the same night he got the job, and I’ve just been talking to him every so often, just trying to build a relationship with him. It’s just a fresh start – it’s a little later than other schools, but I’m still considering them and just building a relationship and going from there.
Obviously, you have no shortage of attention around here – but to have him call you the night he got the job, that’s got to feel pretty good that he’s making you a clear priority. It meant a lot to know that’s what they were thinking about that early. It was pretty hectic, so I told him he didn’t need to feel like he needed to call me everyday as soon as he got the job and stuff like that. So like I said, we’re just building a relationship – it felt good because it was kind of crazy with how it all happened and I know he was super busy, and his dad was in the Final Four and all that and it’s always busy when you get a new job – I appreciate it a lot.
Is it strange to have a change in coaching (after former coach Tubby Smith was fired) in one of your final remaining schools? How did you handle that? It was crazy how it all went down. I wasn’t expecting coach Smith to be gone, but I think coach Pitino is a good hire for them and he’s excited and hungry to get going, so it’s not a negative by any means.
Have you noticed differences in their (Smith and Pitino’s) recruiting styles? A little bit, just because coach Pitino is talking about their style of play, they’re more up and down and they’re going to get out and run and press and they’re going to be up in your face on defense, so it’s just a little bit different of a style of play, so they’re talking about different stuff with coach Pitino than with coach Smith.
Has that been one of his major selling points to you? Their style of play? Yeah, it has. Telling me I’d fit in because I’m looking to get up and down and just really play basketball, so it’s been a main point that they’ve been stressing.
I know you have a visit to Baylor schedule – is that it for you right now? Yep, that’s the only official I have planned.
What’s the next step for you? Do you want to take all five officials? I think so, I’m going to try to just take the process slow, so we’ll see where it goes. I’m looking to take all five, more than likely.
Do you plan on taking them all by fall? I’m taking Baylor at the end of August and that will be my first one so, I’m planning on doing them all in the fall.
As far as your final list of schools – do you think you are going to narrow it again? At this point I’m not going to be narrowing again. If I feel like I need to then I will but at this point, I probably won’t narrow it.
Since you’ve been around Minnesota so much, does it discourage you from doing an official there? I’ve already spent a lot of time on the campus, so I don’t know if I’ll take an official just because I’m on campus a lot already as it is and I’ve seen everything and it’s right down the street, so I don’t know if I’ll take an official there, so we’ll have to see.
You will have six schools remaining on your list after that – will it be tough to narrow out the one that doesn’t get the visit? It definitely will. It definitely will for the six left. All seven of them are great programs, and the six left, I’ve got good relationships with all the schools on the list, so it will be tough not being able to go to two of them.
Other schools been recruiting you for a really long time – and now with the coaching change at Minnesota, it’s kind of like a brand new situation. How has that changed how you view the program? I view them about the same, I’m just open-minded about the whole thing and I’m interested to see the new staff and how they do things around there. It didn’t go up or down, I still view them the same, I’m just open about it.
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