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
As Richard Coffey and his son, Amir, started the drive from Missouri, the calls started to roll in.
Eight and a half hours later, as the Coffeys were pulling into their Minneapolis home, Richard had barely pulled the phone away from his ear.
As expected, the next phase of the recruitment of Amir -- a four-star 2016 guard living practically in the Gophers' backyard -- had started off with a bang.
June 15th, a Sunday, was the first day college coaches could call players from that class. And many of the nation's elite's were already setting their sights on the burgeoning Minneapolis prep star, who was returning from the Nike Elite 100 camp in St. Louis.
"We probably heard from 25 to 30 coaches on Sunday," said Richard, who is no stranger to the fuss, having played at the University of Minnesota from 1986 to 1990 before a brief stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Coaches from Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana, Iowa State, Purdue and Miami were among the callers, as well as, of course, Minnesota's Richard Pitino, who has made a clear early effort in showing interest.
The allure is obvious. The younger Coffey -- having gotten the exposure of playing with elite former recruits Tyus Jones (Duke) and Reid Travis (Stanford) as well as 2015 guard Jarvis Johnson on Howard Pulley AAU -- has steadily impressed with his excellent passing ability, court vision and poise while also becoming a better scorer.
Since the start of his freshman year two seasons ago, Amir has sprouted six inches, from 6-1 to 6-7 while still possessing the ball-handling skills of a true guard.
Already, the rising junior at Hopkins High School has offers from Creighton, Indiana, Miami, Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa State.
"He's really in a good place right now," the elder Coffey said. "There are several schools that are extremely interested. I think by the end of July, once he finishes out the AAU season, I think a lot of people are going to offer him. So he should get a lot more scholarships."
Who ultimately gets the official visits and he consideration, depends a lot on what is said to the dad, who is most handling the Amir's recruitment at this point.
"Amir has a unique skill set. He is officially 6-7 and he's really a combo guard," said Richard Coffey, who at 6-6 played small forward and occasionally center at Minnesota. "The decision to where Amir goes to college is going to be drastically different than what the decision was for where I went to school. For Amir it's going to be what schools are looking to play a big guard. I want Amir to play some point, I think Amir can play some point."
To prove to schools he's serious, and to attempt to filter out the coaches who simply tell him what he wants to hear, the elder Coffey is requesting game tape from as many contests from each school. He wants to see whether the program consistently plays big guards at the point guard and shooting guard positions -- he believes that if they don't, they won't change for Amir. He wants to see the coach's style -- he believes his son would best flourish in a freer, faster-paced offense. He wants to see how much a team moves the ball -- he believes his son's passing ability should be fully utilized.
Those criteria are non-negotiable.
"If schools are considering him as a three, they're probably not going to make it too far in the process with us," Coffey said. "Because he's not a 3. The best part of Amir's game, to me, is something that can't really be taught: his ability to see the court."
Minnesota, of course, played an extremely small lineup in Pitino's first year with the Gophers. DeAndre Mathieu, listed at 5-foot-9, was the starting floor general and is expected to root the same role next year. Andre Hollins, at 6-foot-2, is the starting shooting guard. There isn't much backcourt size behind those two on the roster, either. Incoming freshman Nate Mason stands at 6-foot-1. Daquein McNeil is the giant of the group at 6-foot-3. Last year, Malik Ahanmisi and Malik Smith both played the 2 spot at 6-foot-2. Next year's incoming JUCO guard Carlos Morris boasts a height of 6-foot-4, but three inches shorter than Amir -- who may still be growing -- he's expected to take over former Gopher Austin Hollins' spot at small forward.
Still, Coffey says those facts don't eliminate Minnesota, at least not yet. He knows Pitino is new to the program and didn't have many options last year. His recruiting process for the early signing period last year -- next year's incoming players -- was limited to about seven months.
Father and son have a strong relationship with assistant Ben Johnson, who is a DeLaSalle alumnus, and they talk with him constantly, Coffey said.
"What [Pitino] said, it kind of makes sense," Coffey said. "They realize they have to get bigger to play in the Big Ten. They agree with what I'm what I'm saying.
"Amir still has two seasons left to see how things change and what happens over there. We're going to make sure we take our time with Amir from a decision-making process and make sure he goes to the right program that fits his skill set."
Right now, the pair isn't in any hurry to rush that process, even if coaches around the country are depleting Richard Coffey's cell phone battery in an attempt to better their chances.
Coffey said they don't plan to take any unofficial visits this summer due to his son's schedule. Beyond AAU commitments, Amir will be attending trials for the USA Basketball under-17 national team in July. By the time August rolls around, Coffey said, he wants his son to be able to just enjoy being a kid. It's the last summer he'll really be able to do so, he knows.
"And I've got a lot of game film to look at, actually," Coffey said. "It's going to be a slow process. But it'll be fun though."
To submit a question for a future mailbag, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @AmeliaRayno.
I'm fresh off a trip to the East Coast and my old stomping grounds, summer is in full swing and basketball season seems like a distant promise. Still, there's plenty to yak about. Recruiting will soon be picking up again with evaluation periods coming in July, bringing new Minnesota prospects to Dinkytown for visits, and six incoming players for the upcoming season creates new rotation options. So let's discuss.
On to your questions:
@bportnoe: @AmeliaRayno Does [Allonzo] Trier going to Findlay help, hurt or neither #Gophers?
Well, I suppose there's a chance it goes either way.
Findlay Prep is going to put a high-profile recruit like Trier in an even greater spotlight. If he excels under those bright lights, the nation's elite schools will likely pursue him all the more. Considering the four-star 2015 shooting guard is currently ranked No. 38 in the nation and being wooed by programs like Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina and UCLA, that's a scary prospect for a team like Minnesota. Right now, Trier is saying all the right things and giving every indication that he's at least listening to what Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has to say. But realistically, the Gophers are already in a difficult position. If he improves, that spot gets tougher. If he struggles some against the country's best high school competition, well, maybe it becomes just a little bit easier.
Make no mistake, Trier would be an incredibly big get for the Gophers. They probably need several dominoes to fall.
@sgarvey03: @AmeliaRayno what are your thoughts on Jarvis Johnson falling out of ESPN top 100? Still top target?
Often those rankings can be based on one particular outing -- the one in which the ESPN representative saw the player. Anyone who has watched Johnson's game consistently shouldn't be worried. The Gophers will continue to go hard after the four-star point guard -- who is still ranked No. 85 nationally according to Rivals.
@CreaAlex: @AmeliaRayno Who will be the biggest surprise on next year's team? #aMAILiabag
I'm going to say freshman Nate Mason. Minnesota will need contribution from a lot of the new guys, including Carlos 'Squirrel' Morris, who will likely start in the vacancy left by Austin Hollins. But Mason has the potential to be the sixth man and provide a spark a la the early-season version of Malik Smith last year. Mason is a talented and quick guard that can score the ball on the drive or from the perimeter. He can help to back up DeAndre Mathieu at point or step in at shooting guard. There isn't room for him in the starting five right now, but he will be used plenty off the bench.
@zmotalk: @AmeliaRayno What do you think playing time for [Charles] Buggs will look like this upcoming season? #Gophers #aMAILiaBAG
I think it will grow, certainly, but modestly. Buggs still needs to show he can pack on some muscle (Minnesota's staff wants him to add at least 15-20 pounds this summer) and understand where to be on defense. He showed a little bit of scoring ability in the Gophers home game against Iowa in January, when he put up 13 points in 19 minutes. But in the very next game, at Michigan, when he got another big opportunity, Buggs looked a little lost. As Pitino has said all along, the forward has plenty of potential, but the journey is long and right now, the sample size is small.
@troothtooth: @AmeliaRayno The #Gophers also seem to be offering a lot of point guards for 2015? Depth or nervous Jarvis Johnson goes elsewhere? #aMAILiabag
That's just smart recruiting. I think Minnesota believes they have a solid chance with Johnson right now and at one point, the Gophers were probably the favorite. As the floor general's recruitment has exploded, that grip has probably gotten a little more tenuous. Either way, putting all your eggs in one fickle, 17-year-old's basket (that's not a statement about Johnson, who seems to have a good head on his shoulders, but rather young recruits in general) is not wise. No one knows what he'll ultimately decide. I am sure they are making him very aware, however, that he is still the No. 1 target.
@okondj08: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG compared to last year, how much do you think Pitino has gained ground on top talent 4-5 star recruits?
He's taken another step. Last year was his first year in the Big Ten and his first year on TV as a head coach. That extra exposure helps, as does an NIT championship.
Still, at this point, four and five-star recruits that aren't from Minnesota can't be called anything other than a long shot. It takes time and winning.
@eauclairered: @AmeliaRayno Have you heard anything or seen anything (in your view) about Pitino's longterm stay at Minnesota? Will he leave us? #aMAILiaBAG
This perpetual question baffles me.
Here is what I believe:
I believe Pitino is happy in the Twin Cities. I believe Pitino will remain focused on the Gophers and their success as long as he is in Minnesota. I believe Pitino has a chance to take the Gophers to the next level, competitive-wise, and if he does, I believe he will have suitors. If those suitors come from very prestigious universities with programs soaked in tradition and success, I believe he will listen. And if some day, some suitor comes along and the job is clearly much better than his current job and the time feels right for him, I believe he will take it and I do not believe he will feel badly for doing so because, after all, it's his career and his family he has to think about. I believe most reasonable human beings would do the same thing if they were put in those shoes. I believe if someone offered me a 50 percent raise at a national publication that would instantly propel my career, I would go. I believe I would be dumb not to. I believe the concept of loyalty, when it comes to college coaches staying in one place, is generally a selfish assignment of blame concocted by fans who would be no more loyal to those persons, if, say, they put up a handful of losing seasons. I believe this is the way of the world. That is what I believe.
@chrisweids: @AmeliaRayno top 5 patio spots in the twin cities. #aMAILiaBAG
Great question, one I got about four times:
1. Butcher and the Boar: There is a beer garden and there are house-made sausages and there is a fine whiskey selection. I need not say anymore.
2. Solara rooftop: The glassware is plastic, but it almost looks like the real thing. And it comes with the best rooftop view of the city and the option to order bacon-wrapped dates.
3. The Joint: Completely underrated patio in the West Bank with the potential for some of the weirdest/ best conversations of the summer, guaranteed.
4. Coup de tat: I'm liking this new spot in Uptown* and first time around, my Negroni was on point.
5. Loring Park Kitchen & Bar: The food is fine, but the park view and the bottomless mimosas at brunch are really something special.
Union: Beautiful rooftop but they put cognac in their Manhattans (just don't do it) and have an incredibly loud DJ up there at totally inappropriate times (like, uh, Sunday brunch).
Tin Fish: The seating on the lake is fantastic. If only it didn't take 45 minutes to get a tiny drink.
Louie's Wine Dive
Bryant Lake Bowl
**This list is only for Minneapolis because I'm a Minneapolis girl and it's my list.
*** I have not yet been to Hola Arepa but I anticipate it making the next list.
Certainly, things have changed.
When Ahmad Wagner's parents -- both Division I athletes -- were being recruited, the procedure varied substantially from today's typical process.
In some ways, the rules were looser when his father was being recruited to play football at Jackson State and his mother, to run track there. In other ways they seemed less intrusive. Text messaging and cell phones didn't exist in those days, turning contemporary contact into perpetual conversations.
"They always tell me that things have changed a whole bunch and that things are different," said Wagner, a 6-7 forward Minnesota is seriously pursuing.
Still, all of the guidance has been helpful, he said. In addition to his parents, Wagner's coach at Wayne High School in Ohio is Travis Trice Sr., who balled at Purdue. Trice's son, Travis Trice Jr. is heading into his senior year at Michigan State and occasionally stops by practices when he's home.
Like his parents, the two Trices lend their advice on what aspects to look for on the academic side and what recruiting tactics to be wary of. When it comes to Big Ten schools -- Wagner has offers from Minnesota and Iowa -- the father and son can each talk a little about the facilities and campuses before the 2015 recruit even sets up a visit.
Last month, the younger Trice came to an open gym at the high school. Wagner got the chance to guard him in a scrimmage, a valuable learning experience, he said.
"I'm close with both of them," Wagner said. "It's nice having their help."
Besides the two Big Ten schools -- both of which Wagner hopes to visit this summer -- the versatile forward has collected offers from Bucknell, Kent State, Texas Tech, Wright State and Toledo, the last of which is third on the list for potential visits this summer. Minnesota is currently working with Wagner to set up an official visit.
Head coach Richard Pitino made sure that until then, Wagner's impression wasn't colored by his experience at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball tournament in Eagan last month -- the landscape a far cry from downtown Minneapolis.
"He told me where I'm at shouldn't give me the whole feel of Minnesota," Wagner said then. "He told me that before I came here. He told me when I come up for the visit, he can really show me around and everything. So I'm looking forward to that."
Wagner, who played receiver in football for his first two years of high school, has hung up his cleats to focus on his priority sport.
Along the way, he'll have plenty of help.
"My coaches and my parents are my biggest influences on where I'm going," he said.
For the first time in five years, the University of Minnesota athletic department is in the black.
According to an annual revenue and expenses database published by USA today on Wednesday, Minnesota turned a profit of roughly $1.9 million in 2013, the first time the university has made money since 2008 and only the third time it has done so since 2005.
"That's something that we're going to strive to do each and every year and hopefully as we continue to improve in all of our sports, we will continue to show more profit," athletic department spokesman Chris Werle said.
The year 2013 marked the first full year new athletic director Norwood Teague, who was hired in April of 2012, resided over the department.
According to the database, Minnesota ranked 15th among Division I programs with a revenues intake of $98,286,669, up from $83,619,526 in 2012. But the department also spent a lot more, shelling out $96,427,632. A significant portion of the substantial jump in revenues and expenses came from a $7 million fee involved with installing the new scoreboard in Williams Arena, Werle said. The athletic department borrowed money from the university for the fee, then later paid it back, meaning that the $7 million shows up in both the revenue and expenses columns.
Still, the improvement is notable.
In recent years, Minnesota's revenues have skirted just under its expenses. The department ended each year from 2009 to 2012 with modest deficits around $1 million, which it filled with money from the University of Minnesota Foundation fund in order to balance the budget, Werle said.
Minnesota is one of seven Big Ten teams in the top 20 revenues nationally in 2013: Wisconsin (No.2), Michigan (No. 4), Ohio State (No. 5), Iowa (No.11), Penn State (No. 12) and Michigan State (No. 17). Wisconsin led the pack with a whopping $149 million in intake. Michigan State took in the least, with just under $98 million in revenues. Ohio State turned the greatest profit, posting a mammoth $23.6 million surplus. Michigan, ranked fourth in revenue, was next with a profit of $12.5. Of those seven schools, only Penn State lost money. With both ticket sales and contributions dropping, the Nittany Lions came up nearly $6 million short of their budget.
The perpetual blue skies and shorts weather of Los Angeles have no hold on Max Hazzard.
In fact, the 2015 point guard said, a chance of pace would be nice.
"I kind of want to branch out and do something different," Hazzard said.
Minnesota certainly is that. The Gophers, anchored in the coldest major city in the U.S., started recruiting the three-star athlete just before the first Nike Elite Youth Basketball (EYBL) session began in late April. The staff hasn't offered yet, but is plenty interested.
Color the California native intrigued.
"I love Minnesota," Hazzard said during Minneapolis' EYBL session last month. "I heard the campus is great. I like it out here, and it's a bigtime basketball school, so I'm interested."
Currently, Hazzard's collection of offers is mostly made up of West Coast Schools. Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, Pacific, Loyola Marymount. Hazzard also has an offer from Brown, and is being heavily recruited by Creighton and Alabama, he said.
Minnesota has complimented his defensive skills, he said, but have talked to him about finding more consistency in his jump shot. Hazzard said the trick is improving his scoring ability while also honing his skills as a distributor. On the AAU circuit, the guard plays off the ball but in high school -- and at 6 feet tall, presumably the next level -- Hazzard plays the point.
"I shoot a lot of mid-range and threes when I get going," he said. "So just trying to find that easy medium, where I'm scoring but also getting everybody involved. That's probably the hardest thing."
So far, he hasn't watched the Gophers play at all -- "They weren't recruiting me and I just thought that I would never go there," he said -- but plans to this fall.
Head coach Richard Pitino has reached out to him a couple of times since April, Hazzard said, and he's kept in constant conversation with the Minnesota assistants.
"It's been good," he said.
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