This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

aMAILiaBAG: Recruiting, ACC-Big Ten challenge, Minneapolis' best pizza, Todd Standing's bigfoot

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: May 5, 2014 - 11:32 AM

Happy Cinco de Mayo, folks. May you trade your coffee and your loafers for Corona and party shoes later.

We've officially reached the summer lull. The weather is hinting at warming to an acceptable temperature. Last season is turning quickly into a memory; next season still seems far away. Minnesota's 2014 class is wrapped up but not yet on campus. For Gophers fans, the NBA draft buzz doesn't much matter. 

But does that mean there's nothing to talk about? Nah. Though we're currently in a quiet period, 2015 recruiting is only heating up and there are plenty of prospects on Minnesota's board. As the AAU season picks up, likely new targets will be discovered; others will fall off. Soon, we should be getting more information about  next year's schedule and six new faces will come to town to change the look of the team. And can we start looking ahead? Sure we can. What would sports writing be if not senselessly premature predictions and analysis?

Most importantly, we know that bigfoot news has no offseason, and I will always accept an opportunity to long-windedly rant about my love for food and brown liquor. On that note, to your questions: 

@sweetsugar1976: @AmeliaRayno you believe [coach Richard] Pitino will keep remaining Tubby [Smith] recruits for the foreseeable future or is he trying to weed them out for his guys?

Well, Sweet Sugar, you realize there are just four Smith recruits left, right? Those players are center Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker, guard Andre Hollins (all seniors) and the sophomore forward Charles Buggs. Clearly, the first three have well-defined and important roles on the team. Pitino has long lauded Buggs' lofty potential -- whether the lanky athlete reaches it is another story, but I don't think the coach a) feels the urgency to free up another scholarship when the team just signed six recruits for next season or b) "weed out" Smith's recruits for the sake of it. Hypothetically, all of those guys fit into Pitino's system just fine. 

@BernieKaron: @AmeliaRayno Who got better press and video exposure at the NIT?  Rick or Richard [Pitino]?

Richard. He won the dang thing. None of the exposure that Rick got hurt, certainly -- he got to play the part of supportive and passionate dad and family man -- but Pops Pitino is already doing just fine in that regard. 

For Richard, it was the first big statement of his green coaching career, one that ended with a trophy being raised toward Madison Square Garden's suspended ceiling, and a not-so-subtle reminder of his blood line with his dad just behind the bench. The NIT is the NIT but the championship is still noted. It was, in a way, the nation's first real introduction.

@olsonsean612: @AmeliaRayno How does the ACC vs B1G selection work? MN was 7th in B1G and Wake [Forest] was 11th in ACC.

ESPN tries to select interesting and balanced matchups while also alternating home and away games for each team. It's nearly possible to make each matchup perfect and sometime it seems far from it (Virginia vs. Maryland I don't really understand). This year, Minnesota got a pretty rough draw with Wake Forest -- tied for 11th in the league last year, as you mention, and not much hope for significant improvement this season. The Gophers' strength of schedule wasn't one of the issues that kept them out of the NCAA tournament this season (they were top 10, nationally), but if Minnesota doesn't build enough respectable talent around the Louisville matchup and some potential brass in the NIT preseason tip-off, that missed opportunity could be haunting. At least I get to hang out in my home state.

@andrewdyrdal: @AmeliaRayno how would you grade Pitino's second recruiting class?

I'll give it a B- for the fact that it addressed a lot of size and depth needs. Nationally, I imagine it will be ranked lower based on the lack of splashy recruits -- anything above a three-star athlete. But Pitino showed a clear vision in the type of player he wants and stuck to that ideal. The real test of how well he did will come in the fall. I imagine several of the players will need to overachieve for it to be widely viewed as a success. Remember, though, that although this is technically Pitino's second class, he was still working from behind the 8 ball a little bit. Most recruits sign their National Letters of Intent in the fall, when the Gophers' coach had only been at the helm for about eight months, trying to compete for players who had been wooed for years. You can remove that asterisk with the 2015 class.

@C_K_42: @AmeliaRayno Best Pizza in the Cities?
#aMAILiaBAG

To answer this, I'll have to harken back to my pre-Celiac diagnosis days when I could chow on all the billowy and wood-charred crusts I liked. I discovered a host of delicious pies around here then. Mozza Mia, tucked in the heart of 50th and France, just as charming as it is delicious. The crust was like a blistered pillow, the toppings traditional but bold. I liked the lamb sausage and also Trentino, adorned with pancetta, asparagus and a cheery sunny side up egg, which takes me back to Otto Enoteca in New York, on the edge of East Village, with its open wood-fired ovens in sight line of the bar. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Perhaps this is what it feels like to be a recovering alcoholic. 

Back in the Twin Cities, there's also Pizzaria Lola, a joint that has perfected the "little things" and that blew me away with perfectly simple pizzas when I could eat such things. In Uptown, Red Savoy' savory-with-a-hint-of-sweet red sauce, liberally applied, stood out. 

If I could still go pizza hunting, I'd go to Pig Ate My Pizza in Robbinsdale for off-the-beaten path variety, and it's possible I would camp out in Burch's basement, where it seems they're churning out some pretty great pies.

On another note, the three-way tie for the best gluten-free pizza I've had falls to L'asso Pizza, in New York's Soho, Harvest in Columbus (I tried to send it back because I didn't believe it could possibly be gluten-free) and, somewhat randomly, Finch's brasserie in Bloomington, Indiana.

@scatonato: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG Chances on [2014 power forward Alex] Illikainen [in Grand Rapids] and [2015 guard] Jarvis [Johnson] for Pitino? I know Alex has said he likes the staff.

Well, all recruits are going to tell you they like the staffs of every school they talk with. That's just how it goes. But I will say that Illikainen and Johnson both seem genuine in their interest. I think Pitino and the assistants have certainly put in the work in and are in a good place at this time. That said, the task is only going to be tougher from here. Illikainen's recruitment is only going to grow. And Johnson is already fielding calls from the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa State and Kansas. Those schools are hard to ignore. They just are. More on those two recruits this week, though.

@jmowen3: @AmeliaRayno where is your next trip, work or for fun?

I'm going to my home town, Raleigh, this Thursday for a week of sun, barbecue and bourbon. Very good times, indeed.

@FakeDonLucia: .@AmeliaRayno What is your favorite hairstyle of mine through the years? #aMAILiaBAG #FearTheHair #HandsomeDon 

I'm going to have to go with the mullet, Don. #LiveInInfamy

@jmag21: @AmeliaRayno How many backboards will @JoshMartin_206 break in the B1G season this year? a. 2 b. 5 c. 8 d. SOOO many!

If it's more than two, it's probably a concern.

@ccfMRF: @AmeliaRayno Did you buy your Replacement tickets or do you simply hate MN?

I have not, simply because I might be out of town. But t'would be a great show to take in.

@RandBallsStu: @AmeliaRayno did you go to the Ohio Bigfoot Conference last weekend?  #aMAILiaBAG #cryptozoology

A little late with the heads up, aren't you, Stu? I rely on you for things.

@jessejames3ball: @AmeliaRayno Did you catch the bigfoot special that @reallesstroud did? If so, what did you think?

I've seen plenty of Todd Standing footage in the past (and read all the surrounding controversy), but I finally sat down and watched this full special on Sunday (you know, for work purposes). 

First of all, to get this out of the way, nothing really happens in this expedition. Les Stroud and Standing basically stumble around in the woods, rehashing Standing's life work. Secondly, the special is so obviously a production for production's sake, with all the sensational narrating and such, which makes it hard to take it seriously.

Example: Stroud as he and Standing are hiking to another supposedly squatchy crest in the thickly forested wilderness of Alberta, Canada. He looks to the camera and sighs. "Maybe the reality is, I won't find my answers." Dramatic beat as he looks out to some other peak. "Maybe the answers will come to me."

Ouch, ugh, painful. 

Stroud repeatedly says he is maintaining the skeptic's viewpoint but he always follows up that qualifier by seemingly buying into whatever comes out of Standing's mouth. And let's be clear, I have a hard time swallowing a lot of what Standing has to say, has always had to say. There is no doubt he has produced some of the most intriguing bigfoot footage ever. It's so good. SO GOOD that it's exhilerating (it's not just me, right?) to think about it being real and simultaneously hard to fathom that someone would dedicate their entire life to creating such an elaborate hoax that would be so mind-numbingly time consuming and expensive (perhaps that's why he charges folks to see his full footage and goes on shows like Survivorman). It would be a serious obsession. A blatant attempt to fool everyone at any costs. It seems insane.

But people be crazy.

Nothing is surprising.

Folks in the bigfoot community have chipped away at a lot of this so-called footage on a pretty superficial level. Check out this fairly convincing comparison, for instance, of Standing's adolescent bigfoot and Standing himself. That's, uh, pretty close guys. 

My other concern is that Standing wants to carefully expose his evidence -- behind a paywall on the internet and on a overly dramatized TV show -- rather than run with it to Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas and every scientist and anthropologist and kinesiology analyst and freakin' Hollywood makeup artist that would look at the dang footage and TRY to debunk it. Put it out there for scrutiny. Let's analyze the muscles structures of the face and compare it with major features of other great apes. Hey, if it's about the money, I'm sure he'd make a lot more of it if he became the first individual to hold indisputable proof of a sustained, humanlike creature lurking in the remote corners of our country, rather than a suspected insane hoaxer with way too much time on his hands.

Which brings me to my hunch, here: he's an insane hoaxer with way too much time on his hands.

Maybe Standing has seen some crazy things. Maybe he's had some really legitimate encounters. And maybe he's so desperate to prove his own experiences that he's dedicated his life to making other people believe him. This just ain't it.

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