This is Amelia Rayno's second season on the Gophers' 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
J.P. Macura is a 6-4 junior guard at Lakeville North High School with a reputation for a high basketball IQ and the ability to score in a number of different ways. He currently has 13 scholarship offers from colleges, as well as interest from the Gophers.
J.P. Macura’s phone rings quite a bit these days – the constant side effect of being a pretty good ball player.
But still, when he got a call on Tuesday evening – the voice on the other end being that of new Gophers coach Richard Pitino – Macura could only react with surprise.
“Mainly I just wasn’t expecting to hear from Pitino this early because he just got the job,” Macura said. “I wasn’t completely surprised, but I would expect not to have heard from him so soon. I would think maybe like months from now, but I’m glad that he got out to me already, and that just shows that he’s interested.”
By all accounts, Pitino, has been working the phones early in his tenure – his first day in the office was April 10 – and while the Gophers haven’t yet offered Macura, they’ve expressed significant interest already.
Macura was first contacted by Mike Balado (who has since resigned from his brief position with the Gophers) and assistant Kimani Young about a week ago. Ben Johnson – who had started recruiting Macura when he was under Tim Miles at Nebraska last season -- has texted with him regularly, the junior said. When Pitino called, he indicated that he’d like to get the Lakeville North guard up to Minnesota for a visit and to talk with him further. Macura said he expects to do so sometime in May.
“I’m just blessed and happy that I’ve even gotten the opportunity to talk to him and I’m looking forward to building a relationship with him and the coaching staff and getting to know them a lot better, Macura said.”
Macura – who currently has offers from 13 schools, he said – doesn’t have any official visits planned yet (the only ones he’s taken so far have been unofficials), but he already has a timeline in mind of how quickly he’d like to make The Big Decision. During his AAU season, he plans to formulate a short list of schools he’d like to officially visit. By the fall, he thinks he’ll have a winner.
“By that time, I’ll have a feeling where the right school is for me, and I’ll be able to decide,” he said. “I’ll know where the perfect school is by that time, I’m pretty sure.”
If he finds that special something on his first official visit, he won’t take anymore, he said, noting that the “feel” was going to play a huge role in his decision.
“Just the type of relationship with the players and coaches. I’m looking for a family type of relationship with the coaches and the players. I want the college to feel like home.”
Daquein McNeil officially signed with the Gophers, the University of Minnesota announced on Tuesday.
McNeil committed to Minnesota last week. The 6-3 guard had previously committed to new Gophers coach Richard Pitino, when he was at Florida International.
"Daquein McNeil is an exciting player that affects the game on both ends of the court," Pitino said in a release. "He is an active guard that has a knack of getting into the lane, but also plays hard on the defensive end. He will be a great fit in our full court style of play."
The Baltimore native averaged 19 points a game this season at Vermont Academy.
More from McNeil here.
The new Gophers basketball staff is, at least in bulk, complete.
CBS sports’ Jeff Goodman and The Newark Star Ledger’s Brendan Prunty each reported on Tuesday that Seton Hall’s Dan McHale will be the newest assistant on Gophers coach Richard Pitino’s staff at Minnesota.
A source later confirmed to the Star Tribune that McHale is set to be hired.
University of Minnesota officials said previously that Pitino was seeking the lead assistant for his young staff. McHale, who has also worked at Iona and Louisville (as a video coordinator) previously, graduated in 2001, but has six years of experience as an assistant coach -- working at Iona for three and then Seton Hall for three.
With McHale in tow, the Gophers’ staff will be comparatively young with many they will face in the Big Ten. Pitino is just 30, and his oldest assistant is Kimani Young, at 39. Steve Goodson – who graduated in 2005 – also recently joined Pitino’s staff, after working at special assistant to Tubby Smith last season and Ben Johnson -- who graduated in 2004 -- left Nebraska for the Gophers after just a single season.
Now that the major roles on Minnesota's staff are filled, the Gophers can put their full weight into recruiting, which has already begun in full force. After getting a commitment from Daquein McNeil, the Gophers have three scholarships available for 2013-14.
New Gophers coach Richard Pitino officially received a committment from his first recruit for the 2013-14 season last week in Daquein McNeil. The Vermont Academy senior point guard had offers from Louisville, VCU, Oklahoma and Richmond among others, but had committed to Florida International before Pitino took his current job at Minnesota. The 6-3, 175-pound McNeil, who is from Baltimore but started going to Vermont Academy as a sophomore, has a reputation for seeing the court well and being able to create off the dribble.
Questions in bold below with McNeil's answers in regular type.
Tell me about what attracted you to coach Pitino in the first place. Why did you want to play for him?
It all started when I went to my visit at FIU. He knows my coach here at Vermont Academy pretty well, so they already had a good bond. And my coach here at Vermont Academy always told me, as I was choosing my school, that it was always about the coach or the assistant coach who recruited you the hardest. Because that means they really want you to be there.
I would always see coach Pitino during the summer (around the AAU circuits). This is when he was still at Louisville, and Louisville had offered me. … I would just say that he is a very consistent guy, and he really liked me.
You said that you hadn’t talked when him specifically, yet. Do you remember the first time he reached out to you?
Yes … August 28 (2012).
Wow, you rememember the exact date.
Yes, because coach Kimani called me first and I was shocked and then he got coach Pitino to call.
Did you say you were shocked?
Yes, because coach Kimani, he was a coach on the circuit that I played for and I would have never thought he’d be coaching in college.
Ah, OK. So did you keep in constant contact with those guys from there?
Yeah. He [Pitino] would just text me and tell me good luck in games. He would ask me how my season was going, things like that.
When did you hear that he might be going to Minnesota?
Me and my friends were watching ESPN one day and I heard it. It was kind of a rumor at first.
What was your thought at that moment?
I was kind of shocked but I kind of kept it to myself. I was kind of shocked, but knowing him and knowing the guy that he was, I knew he would call.
And when did he call?
It was the day after he came to Minnesota and he did the big conference in the gym.
So was that a big thing for you -- that he obviously reached out to you so quickly, that he showed that even though he moved schools, he was still very interested in you?
I was just grateful. Because I know when things like that happen with coaches and they get new jobs and they leave their old school. They really don’t take players. So I was just grateful. I couldn’t complain about it.
You mentioned again that you were offered by Louisville. I know you were also offered by Rutgers, VCU and Oklahoma. Any others?
[University of Alabama- Birmingham] and Richmond.
So some pretty big schools in there. Especially when you look at Louisiville, Oklahoma, VCU being a very exciting program. Coach Pitino must have made a pretty big impression on you for you to say, ‘No, I’m going to go play for Florida International’).
Was it a hard decision?
Actually, no. After coming from the visit at FIU – I pretty much want to work hard and that’s it. And when I went to visit at FIU, for them to be a new program and seven or eight players being new, they were working so hard together --and it was for him. So that’s what really got me.
Did your friends tell you that you were crazy for choosing FIU over Louisville?
No, I mean, most of my relatives were [saying that] – but for the main part, my friends, they were just excited. They were like, it’s a good choice. They know he’s a young coach and everything, he’s not new to the game, but he’s a young coach and they were saying ‘That’s going to make it fun for you.’
Would you say it was mostly his personality then, and the things you saw there that attract you to him?
How much of a factor was his playing style? It seems like the style he brings, every recruit in America wants to play that way.
Yes, we also play kind of the same way at my high school. So I there were a lot of things, but when you look at that it’s like I’ve been going to my high school for three years (McNeil spent his freshman year at Carver Vo-tech in Baltimore) and I’ve been playing OK. So it’s pretty fast and no one wants to play the slow, half-court game, so I guess that was also a big part.
Has Pitino talked to you any about where you will fit in immediately with this current roster?
No, he hasn’t.
Have you played at point for most of your high school career?
Yes. I’ve played a lot of different guard positions, but at my high school, I’ve mostly played point.
And do you feel like that’s kind of where you belong, at point? Or do you feel comfortable in a lot of positions?
I kind of feel like I belong there with how my attack can create shots for others.
Have you talked with Pitino about whether he wants to keep you at point or play you in another guard position?
No, we haven’t even talked about positions at all, we’ve just talked about how – we all know the Big Ten is a big step up and we’ve talked about how I need to come in ready to work and be prepared.
What do you think is the biggest strength that you bring to the table?
I’m a pretty good slasher, I would say, going to the rim.
You haven’t had a chance to visit Minnesota yet, have you?
No, I will soon – in May.
Do you know when yet? No, maam.
It’s going to be for a weekend though?
Any idea about your major yet?
At FIU, I was going to major in public health and social work, but I’m not sure right now.
Cameron Forte, a junior college recruit the Gophers had their eye on, has committed to the University of Georgia.
Forte tweeted the news on Sunday afternoon:
Just committed to the University of Georgia on a full ride scholarship to play basketball !— Cameron Forte (@Smoothiewhatup) April 21, 2013
Forte, a 6-6 forward, who had also drawn interest from Long Beach State, Colorado State, Pittsburgh and Ole Miss, among others is currently attending Howard College (Texas) and has three years of eligibility left.
A University of Minnesota source confirmed that the Gophers had reached out to Forte. Richard Pitino had first offered the athletic Arizona native at Florida International.
The Gophers still have three scholarships available for 2013-14 after getting a single commitment from Daquein McNeil last week.
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