Over the weekend, I was lucky to get the awesome opportunity to head down to North Augusta, S.C., for this year’s EYBL Finals at the NIKE Peach Jam. With so many coaches, recruits and media members in one spot, there may not be a better venue for collecting information and catching everyone at once. From Thursday night through Saturday night, here are a few of the nuggets I picked up:
The Gophers’ main targets:
- Two of the “Big Three” were there in Tyus Jones and Reid Travis. While Apple Valley’s Jones has long looked like a foregone conclusion to end up elsewhere, the sense is that Travis is seriously considering Minnesota. No doubt there are plenty of schools in play for DeLaSalle’s 6-7 power forward, but he is probably the most likely of the three to end up staying home. Former Robbinsdale Cooper guard Rashad Vaughn was in Philadelphia, playing in the Reebok Breakout Invitational, where the Minnesota staff flew to watch him a couple of times. With Vaughn transferring to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas last week, however, it certainly doesn’t help Minnesota’s chances of snagging him.
- Looking ahead to 2015, there were two at the Peach Jam that the Gophers seem very interested in. DeLaSalle’s Jarvis Johnson, of course, plays for Howard Pulley and has come up behind Travis. Johnson is developing a long-range shot and is only getting better. What’s more, he seems really interested in Minnesota, whose new staff is jumping in at a very good time in his recruitment. New Gophers coach Richard Pitino wasted no time showing Johnson they’re serious, offering him a scholarship just days after getting the job – and that can only help as the interest in the point guard builds.
- The other 2015 kid is Elijah Thomas, who plays for Team Texas Elite and goes to school at Prime
Prep Academy in Dallas. The sense is that the Gophers are highly interested in the big man and are going after him hard. Thomas, who is ranked No. 9 in his class by Rivals and No. 5 by ESPN, is one of a handful of 2015 players that the Gophers have offered. The rising junior dominated during the regular EYBL season – even while battling a fractured finger – and didn’t slow down much at Peach Jam, averaging 12 points and 7.4 rebounds in five games. The 6-9 power forward has a great defensive presence and is very efficient in the paint. He could be a very interesting part of the Gophers’ frontcourt future.
- There’s been substantial hype about Ja’Quan Newton since the Gophers started recruiting him after Pitino took the job. And down at the Peach Jam, the tough Philadelphia point guard did not disappoint. Newton looked nothing short of outstanding, aggressively going at the basket, going off for 30 points in one game and averaging 18 points, 5.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds over his final five games at the Peach Jam. But the tidbit that has controlled the news lately is that he and five-star recruit Isaiah Whitehead are in talks about teaming up at the same college, wherever that might be. Currently, Minnesota – which seems to be very high on the pair – is on the list of programs that have offered both. That list, of course, is only growing now that the possibility of Newton and Whitehead being a package deal has emerged.
Other recruits the Gophers are after:
- There are a few other point guards the Gophers have their eye on, and two of them were at Peach Jam. Alex Robinson (Arlington, Texas) might be one of the quieter interviews out there, but he is impressive as a floor general, passing with ease and knocking down shots. Robinson is ranked at No. 71 on Rivals and No. 89 on ESPN. Lourawls Nairn Jr. (Bel Aire, Kan.), is super quick and his instinctive passes can shake up defenses if they’re not ready for him. The 5-10, sturdy guard has offers from Arkansas, Creighton, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Mississippi and Oklahoma right now. Rivals has him at No. 61.
- Others: Paul White – the Chicago power forward is drawing more attention and is up to No. 57 in ESPN national rankings now, but the 6-8 White has proven to be unlucky. In a Friday game against Howard Pulley, White went up to contest a Travis shot at the basket and fell awkwardly, gruesomely breaking his arm. Josh Cunningham – Though a bit undersized, the 6-7, 180-pound power forward isn’t afraid to claim his spot under the basket and get all over the boards. Terry Larrier – the Bronx forward doesn’t have the best court demeanor, but he does have plenty of skill, length and explosiveness. He’s getting plenty of offers, and he’s made it up to 59th in the country in ESPN rankings.
**Much more on these recruits to come in the days ahead**
A few other notes:
- Two recruits that Minnesota could be easing up on: Tyler Ulis. While the Chicagoan was fantastic at the Peach Jam – dueling against Tyus Jones in one of the most fun matchups to watch on Friday – the word is that Ulis is close to committing to Michigan State. Also, Abdul Malik Abu – while the Gophers offered the power forward early, his recruitment was already pretty far along and now the field has only become more crowded – and it seems the Gophers are turning the bulk of their attention elsewhere.
- I ran into former Gophers Tubby Smith, now at Texas Tech, on Friday. He said that he and his wife Donna were settling into a “warmer and dustier” home and reiterated that coaching at Minnesota is a much tougher job than most think.
- Go here for all player stats from the Peach Jam.