Richard Pitino can’t talk to the media about the state of Minnesota’s special class of 2014 high school recruits because of NCAA rules, but he can talk to the nationally touted Big Three of Reid Travis (DeLa- Salle), Rashad Vaughn (Robbinsdale Cooper) and Tyus Jones (Apple Valley).
Pitino did so only hours after he was hired on Wednesday. The prompt gesture showed the trio he’s serious about keeping top talent home.
“From what I’ve heard about him, I’m excited to start the recruiting process,” Travis said Friday morning. “Basketball runs deep in his family.”
Vaughn said he likes Pitino’s up-tempo coaching style and the freedom he gives his players to run. The two spoke at length Wednesday night and Vaughn said the conversation “went well.”
Jones was unavailable for comment. Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said the nation’s top-rated junior point guard is taking a break from interviews after leading his team to a Class 4A championship last month. He has narrowed his list to seven schools — including Minnesota, but also Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke. That’s what Pitino is up against.
Travis, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, said before this week he didn’t know legendary Louisville coach Rick Pitino had a son. He also said it was tough to see former coach Tubby Smith leave. Fondness of the hometown university itself, however, kept the 6-7, 230-pound power forward from doubting the Gophers as possible suitor.
None of the three plans to make a college decision until at least the fall, giving Pitino a summer of AAU basketball to get to know each. With other top local players already on the radar for 2015 and 2016, Pitino will have plenty of challenges — and opportunities.
“Recruiting is the number one, most important thing,” Pitino said Friday at his introductory news conference. Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague emphasized this point by starting the news conference listing the characteristics he wanted in a successful coach. “Relentless recruiter” was at the top.
“I’m very familiar with the quality of AAU basketball in this state, and I’m excited to get out in this community,” Pitino said.
Pitino plans to visit with the Big Three in person soon. He’ll be able to see Jones and Travis on the same court, playing for the Howard Pulley team this summer in the Nike Youth Elite Basketball League. Pitino also said he’s ready to go head-to-head in recruiting with his father and Louisville, which is high on Vaughn’s list.
“Rashad is glad a coach is in place. Now he knows what he’s working with,” said Pete Kaffey, Vaughn’s mentor and Cooper assistant coach. “He’s glad Minnesota got a coach with an up-tempo style of play. [Pitino] runs defense like his dad and offense like [Florida coach Billy] Donovan.”