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
Greetings from Chicago, where Big Ten media day was held on Thursday. You can read my notebook from the event here, as well as my story about new coach Richard Pitino entering the Big Ten, with thoughts from other coaches in the conference. And, of course, my rankings with comments from the paper.
Thanks for all your questions. To submit a question for a future aMAILiaBAG, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or respond to me on Twitter @AmeliaRayno using the hashtag #aMAILiaBAG.
Questions below in bold; my answers in plain type.
With all the incoming transfers for 2013 and the three 2014 recruits, I've lost track of where the Gophers are at with scholarships, both for 2014 and the out years. How many scholarships do we have left for 2014? How balanced are the class sizes beyond that? (e.g. is there a year that we only project 1-2 scholarships available because we have a small graduating class.) Thanks!
I got some version of this question about 25 times, Eric. Here’s the deal: the Gophers have four scholarships total available for 2014. Two from Austin Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi, who are each in their final year of eligibility. One from Malik Smith, who is new to the Gophers but will also be out of eligibility after this year. One left unused from this class (it would have been used for Rakeem Buckles had the NCAA approved his waiver). So far the Gophers have used three, so there is one remaining for the 2014 class.
Beyond that, the 2015 class would have five (Oto Osenieks, Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Elliott Eliason, Mo Walker) the 2016 class, two (Wally Ellenson, Joey King) and the 2017 class, two (Daquein McNeil, Charles Buggs).
Of course, those numbers could change if anyone decided to transfer, if anyone was redshirted, if anyone was hurt and received a medical redshirt, if the Gophers signed another JUCO or transfer, or if anyone left early for the NBA draft.
Does a JUCO signing account towards a different class?
Scholarships are available as people leave, essentially. So Mathieu will only take up a scholarship for two years. Teams get 13 in any given year, so of course if any player is on scholarship it counts toward that season.
Do the Gophers shut down all recruiting hopes outside of the Big 3 with only 1 scholarship remaining? Or do we just take the next commit and move on?
No, that would not be smart at all. And the options you laid out aren’t the only two choices. Remember in the spring of 2012, when Trevor Mbakwe was approved for a sixth year of eligibility? The Gophers technically did not have space for him. They had anticipated on Mbakwe leaving along with center Ralph Sampson III and recruited as such, bringing in Ellenson and Charles Buggs for the following year. What ended up happening? Chip Armelin transferred. Voila, space created.
Rest assured that if any of the Big Three decided to come to Minnesota, the Gophers would find the room for them. Situations like that are not ideal, by any means, but they do happen.
At the same time, given the unlikeliness of getting any of those players, it makes no sense to halt recruiting efforts and cross fingers. The Gophers are working on getting the best players they can get right now. If the situation changes, they will adjust.
Hi Amelia.Thinking about this season, who in your opinion has the most potential to surprise us with great production or a breakout season? Who has the potential to disappoint us (maybe due to too-high expectations, a la Rodney Williams?)
Thinking to the future, wow, good week with Nate and Squirrel signing on. Based on what you know about the big 3, does a Nate + Squirrel situation improve Minnesota's chances or not?
Finally, I'm here in Northern California... where should I go to get a Bigfoot fix?
Love that I’m answering questions from Virginia and from Northern Cali today. Gopher Nation?
As for players with the capability to surprise, I’m going to name Deandre Mathieu and Mo Walker.
Mathieu has already surprised me – in the team scrimmage a few weeks ago – and he seems built for this system. He has the chance to start as well. Walker, on the other hand, has been around since 2010, but has never been much of an impact player. Even after he lost all the weight, I remained skeptical that he would be able to run constantly in Pitino’s new system. But the big man seems dedicated, and Pitino said the other day he hopes Walker could go 40 minutes if he needed him to. He pointed out that even when he’s tired, he’s giving more effort, finishing better than before. He still needs to continue to improve, but I wouldn’t pencil in Elliott Eliason as the sole starting center just yet.
The flip side I will let others speculate. Pointing out a player on the team that I think is going to flop the most is not a good move for me. I will say that all of them appear to be working hard.
Now, for bigfoot spots? There is of course Bluff Creek, the spot where the Patterson-Gimlin film was recorded in the 1960’s. I would really love to go there some day.
Here is a list the BFRO has compiled of other sightings in California, some locations with quite a few. And finally, have you been to the Bigfoot Museum in Willow Creek? Would be a must-do. Plenty of Bigfooting to do around there as well.
If Reid commits, how do you see that impacted the recruitment of 2015 PFs Ellenson, Illikainen and Thomas? Since the Gophs would then have 2 PFs committed from 2014. Any shift in focus to other positions for 2015?
Just to remind those that aren’t aware, Reid Travis (one of the local ‘Big Three of Travis, Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn) is planning to make his official decision on Nov. 8. Gonzaga, however, is no longer on the table, so the teams Travis is choosing from are Stanford, Duke and the Gophers.
If he were to commit to the Gophers, which is still considered a long shot, it wouldn’t affect much about how the Gophers went after the other guys. The second power forward commit is Josh Martin, but he could easily play small forward. They could use at least one of the other guys, especially if there aren’t any centers they like better out there. If the Gophers did get one commit from one of those 2015 guys with Travis already in pocket, they could reassess the situation, but the chances of them getting all three of those guys are unlikely.
Out of our 3 recruits (Martin, Morris, Mason), who should we be most excited about landing? How do those 3 compare talent-wise to UM recruits of the past couple years (Buggs, Ellenson, etc)? Thanks!
I’m interested to see what all of them will do, but maybe especially Squirrel, or Carlos Morris. His length and athleticism seem to fit in perfectly with what the Gophers are trying to do, and the experience at JUCO under his belt only helps. Hard to judge Buggs or Ellenson yet because we haven’t seen much of either of them, but I like both of their upsides.
Do the Gophers really have the depth and talent to play "40 Minutes of Hell" style like Louisville? #Gophers #aMAILiaBAG
The quick answer? No. At least not yet. The Gophers are guard-heavy but turnover-laden, and the frontcourt is very thin. What does that mean? That their ballhandling must improve and everyone, particularly in the frontcourt, must be REALLY REALLY WELL CONDITIONED. It seems as though they are putting in the work.
#aMAILiaBAG with Morris commit that makes 3 for 2014. With Raheem not getting scholy does that mean team can have 5 now not 4?
No, the Gophers would have had four scholarships for next year with or without Buckles. If he had come, he would have only had one year of eligibility left, thus freeing up his scholarship in 2014. As it is, they just saved it.
Does Amir Coffey like the gophers?
Yes, I think he does. The Gophers showed him a lot of respect off the bat by making him the first 2016 recruit that they offered. He’s a big Gopher fan – his dad, Richard Coffey played at Minnesota -- and he’s been around campus plenty, including for the recent scrimmage. There is still so much time for things to change with his recruitment, though.
#aMAILiaBAG Who are the main targets for 2015? #GopherBasketball
Right now, the big focuses are Alex Illikainen (Grand Rapids PF), Eli Thomas (Texas PF), Jarvis Johnson (Minneapolis guard), Henry Ellenson (Wisconsin PF). There are others on the list, but those are some of the highlights.
Question for the #aMAILiaBAG - Why did "Squirrel" go to JuCO when he was a Rivals top 150 recruit in 12'? #Gophers #Bigfoot
I actually addressed this in my blog from Wednesday – Carlos Morris went to JUCO mainly to deal with his grades, but he likes the improvement he saw in his game as well.
Just read that the Gophers got yet ANOTHER guard! Is Pitino the CBB version of David Kahn or what?
Well, it’s a system built around guards, not that surprising. Rest assured that the Gophers will be going after plenty of big men in 2015 (see above).
How does the Morris commitment affect the Rashad sweepstakes?
Doesn’t. The Gophers would gladly take both. In Pitino’s system, depth is a necessity.
This is the start of what fans across the country have been waiting for, for years.
The first of the 'Big Three' has apparently decided on an announcement date next week.
Travis' father, Nate, told Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog.com that his son will announce on November 8th, which is also the season opener for the Gophers, Duke and Stanford.
The 6-7 forward is choosing between Minnesota, Duke, Stanford and Gonzaga.
Travis, who is currently ranked No. 40 in the nation according to Rivals, visited Minnesota officially over the weekend -- the only of 'Big Three' locals, that includes Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn, to do so. Travis has done officials at every school remaining on his list. The favorite is still widely considered to be Duke.
Jones is also expected to make a decision this fall, although there is no official date yet. Vaughn has said he will wait until spring to decide.
Evaluating talent is not always about selecting from the highest-ranked players – especially for programs like Minnesota, which have potential but are in a building stage.
Sometimes you have to try to find a gem in the rough.
The Gophers are looking at a possible such candidate right now.
Fred Iduwe, a Nigerian native and 2014 recruit, is basically an unknown at this point. Perhaps that’s because he’s only been playing organized basketball for about three and a half years.
But already, he has intrigued the Gophers’ staff, and his new coach, Bryan Clayton, at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Wisconsin.
While Iduwe – who is listed at 7 feet, but whom Clayton says is really more like 6-11 – is very green, what has stuck out is the raw ability and upside of a lengthy frame with impressive speed.
“For a man his size, he’s very, very athletic,” Clayton said. “He runs like a deer. Long arms. Right now, he’s a rim protector and a guy that can put pressure on opposing teams because of his motor. So, what he lacks in skills, he makes up for in just pure motor – how hard he plays and how intense he is.”
Iduwe has only been in the United States for about two years, coming overseas through a Nigerian program called the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation, named after the founder, a professional basketball player from Nigeria who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2006 and has played in leagues in various countries since. The foundation selects only prospects with good grades and who would seem to thrive in the transition.
Last season, Iduwe attended and played at Central Park High School in Birmingham, Ala., where Gophers target Abdoulaye Gueye is currently enrolled.
Here's video from last season:
Rather than take his chances with the 2013 recruiting class, Iduwe decided to attend prep school at St. John’s this year. Clayton said the progress he’s since since Iduwe showed up in June is “significant,” and part of the allure, since the center has never had anyone work with him from a pure skills standpoint and has a ton of room to grow.
Just over a month after Iduwe’s arrival, Clayton picked up the phone and called Dan McHale and Ben Johnson – whom he knew from previous recruiting situations – and mentioned his new player, telling the Gophers assistants he believed he had “high-major potential.”
“He’s not a finished product by any means, but he’s definitely improving every day and that’s part of the intrigue I think,” Clayton said.
Of course, while such inexperience inspires dreams about the upside, it also poses a real risk of never panning out. The Gophers have yet to offer, but are very interested in continuing the conversation. They watched Iduwe play in Las Vegas over the summer, and first contacted him a couple weeks ago.
The only offers on the table for Iduwe currently are from UW-Green Bay and North Dakota. Tulane, Bradley, Tulsa and Wichita State have all shown some level of interest. Clayton says he plans to drive Iduwe to Minnesota “soon” so that he can unofficially see the campus there. Iduwe has also unofficially visited Green Bay.
One other thing that makes this development interesting is that Iduwe is close friendship with Gueye, who the Gophers really like. Strangely, Gueye had nothing to do with Iduwe’s recruitment by Minnesota – but now the idea of playing together at the next level is interesting to both.
“It was just ironic,” Clayton said. “[Iduwe] didn’t know Minnesota was recruiting [Gueye] at first, and then once he found that out, they have since talked about it – I think they’re both really intrigued by the possibility.”
The Gophers have been recruiting Alabama big man Abdoulaye ‘AD’ Gueye for some time. But lately, there hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz surrounding the 6-9 forward, or any news of a Minnesota official scheduled.
It’s not because of a lack of interest on either side, Gueye’s high school coach, Donovan Broadnax said. Minnesota assistant Dan McHale still calls Gueye about twice a week.
Rather, it’s that the big man hasn’t taken his SAT yet, and will not schedule any officials until after that.
Gueye, a Senegal native, is expected to take the SAT on Nov. 2.
Broadnax, who coaches at Central Park High School in Birmingham, said the main players right now are University of Alabama-Birmingham, Auburn (both of which he has visited unofficially), Minnesota and Memphis. Gueye plans to visit all of them, and could consider a visit to Mississippi State if the Bulldogs offer.
Mississippi State has been involved in recruiting Gueye for some time, but have yet to extend a scholarship offer.
Of course, with the visits starting so late, Gueye will certainly be a late-signing period recruit, but with Minnesota having just one 2014 recruit, there should be plenty of spots.
Broadnax said that a former Central Park player, center Fred Iduwe – who is now attending prep school at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Wisconsin – has drawn some recent Minnesota interest as well, and could visit at the same time as Gueye. The Nigerian native is basically an unknown – he decided to attend prep school this season rather than be part of the 2013 class – but the center is a legitimate 7-footer, and could, along with AD, bring some of the size that Minnesota so greatly needs.
Send questions for future aMAILiaBAGs to email@example.com or to @AmeliaRayno on Twitter.
Everyone getting excited about Gopher basketball yet? Don't forget, tonight is your first chance to see the team live at Raise the Barn -- First Look open scrimmage. It's free! Plenty to talk about, so let's dig right in with this one.
Any update on King?
At long last, yes! Obviously you sent this question before last night, but just to recap, the NCAA approved Drake transfer's waiver to play immediately. Huge boost for the Gophers.
Chances with Elijah Thomas?
It’s hard to say considering the 2015 big man just released a, um, “list of 24” on Twitter … I think he’s making it pretty clear that he is wide open right now. That said, I think Minnesota has as good a chance as any school at the moment. The Gophers got in at a good time and have built the relationship.
What's the latest on Nate Mason and Squirrel?
Both of these guys have gone all deep cover on us in the last week. Mason, a combo guard from Maryland, could do another visit or two before making his decision; Squirrel – aka Carlos Morris, the Florida JUCO shooting guard – has been busy with a couple of jamborees this month. He has talked about doing a visit to UAB before making his decision, but I’m not sure whether that is scheduled. Both I expect will make a decision before the early signing period.
Where does Delshon Strickland rank in Gophers recruiting list?
The Gophers talk with him, and he has been on campus, but he isn’t a top priority right now.
People say MN big 3 signing with gophers a long shot - but each have spent considerable time on MN campus...why?
Why are they still considered a long shot? Well, in general, when kids – such as Tyus Jones, Reid Travis and Rashad Vaughn -- have been recruited for years and a coach tries to jump in six months before decision time, that coach’s school is considered an underdog. So that’s No. 1. Really strong relationships have been built elsewhere. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a recruit in that situation, just that it is a disadvantage. And remember – these kids are not just any local recruits – they are ELITE talent. It’s not easy. The Gophers staff knows it’s not easy. You have to put a lot of time in. Getting them to spend time on campus is fantastic, but with these guys a quick car ride away (or in Travis’ case more like a few steps away), being there isn’t necessarily indicative. They like basketball, they like attention to an extent and hey – there is a major-conference school in their backyards.
Do you think Austin's shooting slump was an aberration and if not, will Malik replace his minutes?
Replace his minutes? What? Are you kidding? No one is replacing Austin Hollins’ minutes on that team – as he is arguably the most talented player on the court. Yes, the shooting slump he endured late in the season last year was an aberration. Even the best players go through slumps sometimes. He started to come out of it, come postseason, if you’ll remember. Really, it was weird more than anything -- no one works harder than that guy. It’s a pretty good bet that he won’t start the season that way. And in any case, his shooting is hardly his only contribution to the team. Hollins is always affecting the game, whether it’s with his shooting, with his stifling defense, getting his hands everywhere, or his leadership.
We have any time table on when Mason or Morris may look to commit?
Probably pretty soon here – maybe in the next 2-3 weeks.
#aMAILiaBAG Interesting how a new coach raises hope and lowers expectations, re: how would Tubby be viewed with a recruiting F?
Terribly. But I don’t think Pitino is really getting praised for it, either. The difference, though, is that if former coach Tubby Smith was still around, he would have had the entire previous summer and fall to solidify commits. Pitino just had the spring … by then, most recruits have already committed, which is why he went the way of a JUCO, two transfers and a guy that had committed to him at his previous school. I don’t really think it’s the hype, so much as the circumstances that give Pitino a pass. He’ll get judged plenty for what he brings in later on down the road, but with the 2013 class it’s simply not a fair judge to make.
What is Wally's role on this team? And will the desire to bulk him up to assist rebounding interfere with his track ambitions?
I think Wally Ellenson could have a much bigger role this season, considering his athleticism and quickness is perfect for Pitino’s system. Before we knew that King was eligible right away, the thinking was that he could be a consistent starter, even at the 4-spot. I’m not sure there’s really as much of an effort to “bulk him up” as there is to just get him to channel his athleticism toward rebounding, particularly on the offensive end. It wouldn’t hurt to put on a few pounds if he is expected to bang around with the Big Ten frontcourts, but then again, this team will never be that. They are going to have to try to play to their strengths – which should be quickness and shooting.
Thinking about heading to open scrimmage Friday... Think it's worth it?
I say yes. It’s true that you can’t tell too much from these things (Team vs. itself? I’ll take the Gophers in this one), but it is your first chance to really see the team in action, and personally, I think the game format will be a lot more interesting than this Midnight Madness madness. It’s the start of a new college hoops season – get excited!!!
What do you think of Pitino's method of disc his players' strengths and weaknesses publicly? Is he only B1G coach w a blog?
I think it’s awesome, and that’s not just the reporter side of me. In his blogs, he is careful to point out both positive and negative observations, which I think brings a good balance and motivation for the players. He believes in them, he is encouraging – but he’s also making it clear that they have a long ways to go. For the fans, it provides something real, something other than CoachSpeak (don’t you get tired of that?). I don’t know of any other Big Ten coaches with blogs, but I think it’s a great idea. Don’t be surprised if the blogs taper off quite a bit when the season starts, however.
Reid Travis seems to be giving the U quite a bit of consideration. He's visited campus many times unofficially, and will be doing an official in the near future. With that, I'd like to think his interest is legit and that UM has as much of a shot as anyone at this point. Yet, many people say it is really a very long-shot that he goes to UM. Is it just that Duke is such a higher profile school that people assume that's where he's leaning, or are there other indications out there that suggest he doesn't have Minnesota at the top of his list? Thanks!
A lot of the “favorite” talk in regards to recruits comes from people talking. People that talk to the kid, talk to those who are involved with the recruitment, talk to the parents, talk to his high school coaches, etc. No, it’s not scientific, and it’s mostly not public, since a lot of this stuff is off-the-record, but it’s certainly more than “Hey, this place has a nice facility” (that’s a lot of places, right?). Sometimes the perceptions of a favorite turn out to be correct; sometimes they don’t. Take it for what it is.
BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:
When does the new season of Finding Bigfoot start? Didn't Les Stroud go on a big adventure looking too?
Finding Bigfoot is back Nov. 10 – which I am very pumped about. Gonna be a great season.
And yes, there is a two-part Survivorman Bigfoot special – called Survivorman Stalking Sasquatch – airing sometimes next year. It could be interesting, although the experience they seem to be touting the most apparently happened when the camera was off.
More bigfoot in the news: a UK scientist is claiming he can prove that Yeti are related to an ancient polar bear. Personally, I don't understand this at all. Seems to me that the wrong DNA was tested. Everything we know about Yeti establishes pretty well that they are not in the bear family. <insert jokes here>
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