When Richard Pitino and the rest of the Gophers basketball team’s new staff recruited this year, they used a variety of methods to describe the team’s new style of play.
The coaches defined it in words, telling prospects how they wanted to run, shoot and press. They pointed to reigning national champion Louisville and the system similarities. The same thing with Florida.
But one thing Pitino couldn’t refer to is his own on-court showing. At Florida International last season — in his first year as a head coach — there weren’t many TV opportunities, and the Panthers did not make the NCAA tournament.
Still, on Wednesday, the first day of the fall signing period, the Gophers were able to sign three players for 2014 whom they believe will not only be able to contribute right away, but also will help bridge the gap to the future, when recruiting will be smoother.
As expected, forward Josh Martin (Seattle) and guards Nate Mason (Georgia) and Carlos “Squirrel” Morris (Florida) signed letters of intent with Minnesota, leaving one more scholarship available for next year.
“It was not a traditional recruitment,” Pitino said. “We only had a couple of months to really do this. … All three guys are good additions toward just building toward the future.”
Pitino said each of the three players signed will be in position to make an immediate difference. He sees lots of talent in Morris, a junior college player who originally committed to South Carolina (he de-committed when it was clear coach Darrin Horn was on the hot seat). He called Mason “a steal” after coming in late and securing the commitment. Of Martin — a power forward who is capable of handling the ball and stepping out to shoot — Pitino referenced an “unbelievable motor” that “never stops.”
Some of the focus on the Gophers’ 2014 recruiting has centered on the players they haven’t gotten. The first of the local “Big Three,” DeLaSalle forward Reid Travis — the one the Gophers were thought to have the best shot with — announced his decision to attend Stanford on Friday. Apple Valley guard Tyus Jones and former Cooper guard Rashad Vaughn have not announced, but Minnesota appears to an underdog for each. The Gophers also had several near misses with high-profile recruits.
But Pitino isn’t focusing on any of that, saying he’s looking at the big picture, and finding players now who will help give the Gophers the ultimate recruiting tool: a winning style.
The Gophers are not necessarily finished with the 2014 class — they still could sign another player in the spring period or use the scholarship to look ahead to 2015.
“I don’t think you ever want to settle — if you can get a guy late who can help your program, we’re looking for that,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to be aware at all times what’s available, continue to do our homework, never stop recruiting.”