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
Jarvis Johnson is a 2015 point guard at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. The Brooklyn Park native’s greatest strength is his speed and ability to change directions quickly. The 6-1, 185-pound Johnson is currently working on improving his jumper.
For Jarvis Johnson, this latest sliver of his Minnesota recruitment has zipped by.
He first spoke with new coach Richard Pitino and Co. in the middle of last week, attending a Gophers team meeting with a few of his AAU teammates. The Minnesota staff watched him play in a Los Angeles EYBL tournament, where he performed impressively. A few days later, on Monday, Pitino offered the DeLaSalle sophomore a scholarship.
It’s a notable change of pace from Tubby Smith and the previous coaching staff, which hadn’t offered Johnson at all, and barely communicated with him, the guard said.
“Not very often,” Johnson said. “I mean, I already know the new coaching staff this year better than I knew the coaching staff last year. They’ve been pretty cool.”
Johnson, who currently has offers from nine programs, started getting a lot of interest as a freshman. So it was a little frustrating to him that he hadn’t caught the eye of his home town school.
“It affected me,” Johnson said. “I mean, [Smith] came to a lot of games, but I guess he never really thought I was that good.”
Johnson has already formed a bond with new assistant Ben Johnson, who was recruiting him last season at Nebraska. And Pitino has made a good first impression with the Brooklyn Park native, who called the coach “laid back” and “a cool guy.”
He’s still not ready to say that Minnesota has jumped to the top of the list – as a sophomore, he has plenty to mull, after all – but he’s very pleased to have the school he grew up around as an option.
“It means a lot,” the 6-1, 185 Johnson said. “A lot of kids like to stay at home and play in front of their fans and their family and friends and not a lot of people get to do that.”
Other notes on Johnson:
Dre Mathieu is a 5-11, 160-pound JUCO guard currently attending Central Arizona Community College. The Tennessee native averaged 17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists last season and was named a NJCAA first team All-American. Last week, Mathieu narrowed his list of potential schools to four, including Minnesota. The following is from an interview conducted mostly over email due to a very poor cell phone connection which Mathieu says is typical in Coolidge, Ariz. (When the call started to break up, Mathieu apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of nowhere”).
Gophers target Dre Mathieu is finally starting to feel some redemption.
“Undersized” is no longer the first thing on the 5-11 junior college guard’s scouting report, and several major programs have ignored that detail altogether, going after Mathieu aggressively.
“No doubt all my life I have felt like people underestimated me because of my height,” Mathieu said. “It feels good to get some attention. I have worked really hard to get where I am now and I’m just happy that the hard work is paying off and has got me some nice options.”
Richard Pitino’s Gophers are among those options, and after last week, on Mathieu’s final four list, despite Minnesota first reaching out to him just two weeks ago, right after the new head coach started.
Comparatively, Minnesota is very new to the game coming months after other programs first started going after Mathieu. But in the abbreviated time Pitino and Co. has been around, they’ve made quite an impression on the Tennessee native, who would be available to play right away.
“If it’s not coach [Kimani] Young calling me, it’s [Pitino],” Mathieu said. “They switch days. Every day I get a call from either one of them. Or at least a text to make sure I’m doing alright. Some days, both of them will call me. They sure are letting me know that they want me. They’re showing me a lot of interest. … No one is doing it quite as hard as they are. Everybody wants to feel wanted and I feel wanted by them. That does impress me that they are so consistently keeping in touch.”
Minnesota will be competing for Mathieu’s attention with Memphis, Ole Miss and Pepperdine – the other three scools on the list -- over the next couple of weeks. Mathieu has visited Pepperdine already, calling the campus “wonderful” and noting that head coach Marty Wilson has been recruiting him the longest. He travels to Ole Miss today for an official visit, followed by Minnesota on May 3. After that, Mathieu wants to visit Memphis right away, but he does not have a specified date yet.
When he returns, he plans to make his decision, one that would have seemed almost foreign to him a few years ago.
“Coming out of high school I felt overlooked by everyone,” Mathieu said in reference to his height. “That really motivated me a little more because nobody gave me the attention I felt I deserved.”
Because of that, Mathieu felt he had something to prove. He worked harder, he says, than he might have if he was, for example, 6-4.
“It made me have to work twice as hard as the bigger players,” he said. “Sometimes I felt I was better than some bigger guys but since they were bigger they would get a look from a school before me so that pushed me to work even harder than ever.”
He walked on at Morehead State (Kentucky), hoping to earn a scholarship. But a year later, he had fallen just short of the minutes necessary in his agreement to receive one. Disenchanted and financially frustrated, he decided to move on.
“I felt like I deserved a scholarship at Morehead -- I started the last 7 games including the conference tournament,” he said. “It was a no-brainer [to leave.] I knew I could earn a scholarship somewhere and it was pretty much set I wasn’t going to get a scholarship at Morehead. I also couldn’t have my mom paying for me to go to school another year.”
Mathieu landed at Central Arizona Community College and quickly impressed. He was named conference player of the year and a NJCAA first team All-American, earning interest from a slew of four-year programs across the country.
Whether he will ultimately choose Minnesota remains to be determined, but for now, the Gophers have quickly solidified their place near the top.
Former Gophers recruit Alvin Ellis has now signed with a Big Ten rival.
Michigan State announced on Wednesday that Ellis -- who re-opened his recruitment after former Gophers coach Tubby Smith was fired after the season -- will be a Spartan.
"Alvin will be a great addition to our backcourt," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a news release. "We like his offensive skill set, especially his shooting touch."
The Chicago shooting guard was one of two Minnesota recruits for 2013-14 who will no longer be coming to the Gophers. Alex Foster de-committed as well and tweeted on Wednesday that he was at Texas Tech -- where Smith was hired -- for an official visit.
Ellis joins Gavin Schilling, a forward who Smith's staff was originally after, at Michigan State.
J.P. Macura is a 6-4 junior guard at Lakeville North High School with a reputation for a high basketball IQ and the ability to score in a number of different ways. He currently has 13 scholarship offers from colleges, as well as interest from the Gophers.
J.P. Macura’s phone rings quite a bit these days – the constant side effect of being a pretty good ball player.
But still, when he got a call on Tuesday evening – the voice on the other end being that of new Gophers coach Richard Pitino – Macura could only react with surprise.
“Mainly I just wasn’t expecting to hear from Pitino this early because he just got the job,” Macura said. “I wasn’t completely surprised, but I would expect not to have heard from him so soon. I would think maybe like months from now, but I’m glad that he got out to me already, and that just shows that he’s interested.”
By all accounts, Pitino, has been working the phones early in his tenure – his first day in the office was April 10 – and while the Gophers haven’t yet offered Macura, they’ve expressed significant interest already.
Macura was first contacted by Mike Balado (who has since resigned from his brief position with the Gophers) and assistant Kimani Young about a week ago. Ben Johnson – who had started recruiting Macura when he was under Tim Miles at Nebraska last season -- has texted with him regularly, the junior said. When Pitino called, he indicated that he’d like to get the Lakeville North guard up to Minnesota for a visit and to talk with him further. Macura said he expects to do so sometime in May.
“I’m just blessed and happy that I’ve even gotten the opportunity to talk to him and I’m looking forward to building a relationship with him and the coaching staff and getting to know them a lot better, Macura said.”
Macura – who currently has offers from 13 schools, he said – doesn’t have any official visits planned yet (the only ones he’s taken so far have been unofficials), but he already has a timeline in mind of how quickly he’d like to make The Big Decision. During his AAU season, he plans to formulate a short list of schools he’d like to officially visit. By the fall, he thinks he’ll have a winner.
“By that time, I’ll have a feeling where the right school is for me, and I’ll be able to decide,” he said. “I’ll know where the perfect school is by that time, I’m pretty sure.”
If he finds that special something on his first official visit, he won’t take anymore, he said, noting that the “feel” was going to play a huge role in his decision.
“Just the type of relationship with the players and coaches. I’m looking for a family type of relationship with the coaches and the players. I want the college to feel like home.”
Daquein McNeil officially signed with the Gophers, the University of Minnesota announced on Tuesday.
McNeil committed to Minnesota last week. The 6-3 guard had previously committed to new Gophers coach Richard Pitino, when he was at Florida International.
"Daquein McNeil is an exciting player that affects the game on both ends of the court," Pitino said in a release. "He is an active guard that has a knack of getting into the lane, but also plays hard on the defensive end. He will be a great fit in our full court style of play."
The Baltimore native averaged 19 points a game this season at Vermont Academy.
More from McNeil here.
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