When the Utah Jazz selected Kris Humphries with the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, the Gophers were known for being one of the Big Ten teams that consistently produced draft picks.
In those days, that happened almost annually for Minnesota.
Humphries was the sixth first-round pick in eight years for the Gophers, joining Joel Przybilla, Quincy Lewis, Sam Jacobson, Bobby Jackson and John Thomas.
No one knew that after Humphries, 15 years would pass — at least — before another Gophers player was picked.
“There should’ve been a first-round pick or at least a second-round pick since me, given Minnesota’s in the Big Ten,” said Humphries, who retired from basketball in March. “You can be talented, but a lot of things have to go right for you to get drafted.”
For Minnesota’s draft drought to end Thursday, former U standouts Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy will need to hear one of their names called.
Coffey, who bypassed his senior season to go pro, is considered a mid-to-late second-round pick, at best. Murphy, a senior last season, is projected to go undrafted.
In the Big Ten, the only teams that have waited longer than the Gophers to have a player drafted are Northwestern and Nebraska (both since 1999). Before this, spanning all the way back to 1957, the Gophers had never gone more than five years without having a player drafted.
“That’s what all the guys we recruit are dreaming of doing,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Part of building a program and being consistently in the NCAA tournament and competing at the top of Big Ten you’re going to have [players drafted].”
Coffey is a versatile 6-8 guard who led a 22-win NCAA tourney team in scoring and assists as a junior last season. But his 30% three-point shooting doesn’t help his draft stock.
Murphy was a double-double machine who became the No. 2 rebounder in Big Ten history after four productive years. But his lack of size (he’s generously listed at 6-7) for a power forward and lack of shooting range hurt him.
They were not among the 70 players selected to the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month. Still, Coffey and Murphy grinded through team workouts across the country, from the Timberwolves to other Western Conference and Eastern Conference teams.
“It’s tough,” Coffey said. “It’s a lot of traveling, a lot of workouts. But you just got to look at it as an opportunity and go showcase your talent.”
NBA teams evaluated Coffey more intimately at the NBA G League Elite Camp in May, before the combine. After working out for more than a dozen teams, Coffey has received interest in a possible two-way contract, which would establish his potential first-year value for an NBA team and its G League affiliate.
The strong possibility of getting a two-way contract, whether he’s drafted or not, was a big reason Coffey decided not to return to the Gophers on the May 29 deadline.
“Best part is everyone knows him,” Coffey’s agent Javon Phillips said. “Everyone sees intangibles as a [6-8] guard. He can be a point or wing. He has the ability to control the offense. He can defend the ball positions 1-4. A lot of people see him as NBA player, but it’s not a given. He has to earn a spot.”
Coffey will be watching the draft with friends and family at a restaurant in New York, not far from the event itself at Barclays Center. If his name is called, he’ll fulfill a dream as Humphries did. And the Gophers will end a draft drought that hasn’t been a good look for the program.
Royce White and Colton Iverson got drafted in 2012 and 2013, respectively, after they transferred to other schools from Minnesota.
Since the night Utah chose Humphries, Michigan State has had 12 players drafted, Ohio State 11, Wisconsin four and Iowa three.
“We would’ve loved to have [Coffey] back for selfish reasons,” Pitino said. “But we haven’t had a player drafted since . So for our program, it would be a big moment for all of us if Amir would get drafted.”