When was the last time a Minnesota boys’ high school basketball star turned down multiple blue-blood scholarship offers to stay home and play for the Gophers?
Kris Humphries and Rick Rickert did it in 2003 and 2001, respectively, but Humphries originally picked Duke and Rickert first selected Arizona before arriving at Minnesota. Since then, Duke has landed nationally known in-state stars Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr., Tre Jones and Matthew Hurt.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino will find out Nov. 20 if another five-star prospect will leave the state or finally give the Gophers another hometown hero.
Pitino’s pitch to Prior Lake senior forward Dawson Garcia was “there’s something really special about being that hometown kid” that can “make the program take off,” Garcia said.
Top recruits staying with home-state programs have become more of a trend. James Wiseman, a Tennessee native who was the top recruit in the country, picked Memphis. He could go No. 1 in the June 2020 NBA draft, unless that happens for Atlanta native Anthony Edwards, who stayed home to play for Georgia.
And then there’s the team the Gophers will face Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D. — Oklahoma. Two years ago, a fairy tale unfolded for the Sooners, even if it only lasted for one season.
Trae Young was a superstar in his hometown of Norman and a household name throughout the Sooner State before he ever took college basketball by storm with his record-breaking freshman season in 2017.
So, Young thought, why not be different with his college decision? Why not become a legend at a school a few miles from his house?
“I think anytime a basketball player gets an offer from a blue blood, the first thing you obviously want to do is jump on it,” said Young, a second-year Atlanta Hawks guard. “You think it gives you the best chance to get to the NBA and achieve your dreams. But for me, I wanted to go a different route, to a place where there was never [a player like him] before I went there.”
The state of Minnesota continues to produce potential program-changing prospects like Rickert and Humphries. Gophers fans love seeing talented locals stay home and develop into pros such as former Hopkins guard Amir Coffey, who signed a two-way contract with the Clippers after going undrafted in the 2019 NBA draft, and possibly former Cretin-Derham Hall star center Daniel Oturu in the future.
But they often dismiss any realistic chance of landing a one-and-done recruit.
Minnehaha Academy guard Jalen Suggs and his 7-foot teammate, Chet Holmgren, are the top players in the 2020 and 2021 classes in Minnesota, respectively. Holmgren is even flirting with being ranked No. 1 nationally in his class.
Unlike Suggs, Garcia has given Gophers fans a glimmer of hope after officially visiting the university last month. The versatile 6-11 forward will decide between Minnesota, Marquette and Indiana after calling on the Golden Eagles for his last official visit this weekend.
Pitino and his staff worked hard to give Garcia their best sales pitch last month, including a video that portrayed him as a hometown hero.
“It definitely gave me the chills,” Garcia said. “It’s cool to see those guys [Wiseman and Edwards] staying home, because they know that the opportunity there is special. For me, I got to look at that, but also see what’s best for me. If it’s that than it’s awesome.”
Garcia is ranked by recruiting websites as high as 22nd in the 2020 class. Young was ranked 21st in the Class of 2017, but he also earned McDonald’s All-American honors at Norman North High.
Young’s father, Rayford, wanted his son to play for Kentucky because of John Calipari’s strong track record of sending freshmen to the NBA. Trae also got along well with Kansas coach Bill Self, so the Jayhawks were in contention. But Sooners coach Lon Kruger played up the hometown hero angle.
“The whole state of Oklahoma jumped on his back and followed and supported him,” Rayford Young said. “One thing about staying home, depending on where it’s at, you’re not going to have the talent of the blue-blood schools.
‘‘There’s going to be a lot of expectations if you’re an All-American and stay home. I don’t think everyone is built for it. But I think those kids with that great self-belief and confidence can do it.”
The Sooners didn’t reach a Final Four as Young hoped, but they were ranked as high as No. 4 in the country during the 2017-18 season. Young averaged 27 points and nearly nine assists per game as a freshman to win national player of the year honors.
After being picked No. 5 in the 2018 NBA draft by the Mavericks and traded that night to the Hawks, he was runner-up to Luka Doncic — the player he was swapped for — for rookie of the year honors.
Young took the untraditional route for an All-America high school player at the time, but he still is accomplishing all of his dreams.
“[Being a hometown hero] was something unique and something special,” Trae Young said.
“I think if you’re able to do that and represent your town and your family, I think the city and your state will remember that forever.”