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Rayno: A few wings on Minnesota's radar for '16

Coming on the heels of the 2015 class and all its hype and moving parts, Minnesota’s 2016 recruiting landscape is far less interesting. The Gophers – after signing Davonte Fitzgerald this week – will have just two scholarships to give, and one of them has already been reserved for Rochester small forward Michael Hurt, who committed to his home-state university in January.

He joins a Gophers future that is suddenly heavy on wings with 2015 signees Jordan Murphy and Ahmad Gilbert joining Hurt in lineups down the road.

Would Minnesota go after yet another wing for 2016? There are a few the Gophers have been looking at this summer including Xavier Sneed and Willie Jackson – who were both in Minneapolis for the EYBL session this weekend – as well as Hopkins’ Amir Coffey, who is sitting out this summer with a torn ACL.

Sneed is a four-star recruit out of Missouri – he grew up a Tigers fan, he said, but is trying to ignore that for the sake of his decision – and has compiled a notable list of offers, mostly involving Midwest schools with Wichita State jumping on board most recently. His athleticism and activeness of both sides of the ball has attracted Minnesota’s coaching staff, which wasn’t present at this weekend’s event due to an NCAA mandated “dead” recruiting period.

“My motor, the fact that I run the court a lot,” Sneed said. “They said they love that and they need that. That I’m not afraid to go against anybody. I love to go against the other team’s best defenders. I’m not afraid of anything.”

Sneed (6-5) and Jackson (6-6) both have decent size, but the Gophers appear to have cooled on the latter, who isn’t quite as skilled.

Jackson, a Cleveland native, didn’t even start playing basketball until he was 14 – when he broke his collarbone playing baseball and subsequently gave up his dream of playing in the MLB. As much as anything, he is a competitor – he also plays soccer and runs track at Garfield Heights High School.

“I just play so I can get the offer and then go to school,” said the King James player, who is as excited to major in criminal justice as he is to get a basketball scholarship. “It’s all about getting in school.”

Coach Richard Pitino and his staff, understandably, have cast a wide net to fill that single scholarship to insure they get the right fit and don’t come up empty.

Still, unless Coffey –who is currently ranked 46th nationally according to Rivals – decides to give the Gophers the nod, Minnesota would probably be better suited to look outside of the wing corps moving forward, especially considering the needs in the frontcourt.

Pitino talks about the road ahead on Gophers 'road trip'

Richard Pitino was among the University of Minnesota coaches who spoke at Johnny O'Neil's Green Lake Social, the first stop on the third annual Gopher Road Trip on Wednesday. 

After joking that he didn't want to talk about last season -- he said the four words that came to mind were "Thank god it's over" -- the basketball coach did indeed focus mainly on what's to come, running through some scheduling pieces and broadly discussing the incoming class. 

A few tidbits from what he talked about on the podium and beforehand: 

On the returners: "The six returning guys have certainly have learned a lot from last year. When you're in that many close games -- nine games lost by nine points or [fewer] -- you certainly learn a lot. I learned a lot about myself as a coach, things that I've got to get better at. But I think those six guys as well as us as a coaching staff are foaming at the mouth to get started again. We're really, really excited about it."

On implementing his style: "Our freshman are going to play a lot.... which is going to give a lot of gray hairs. But it will be great experience for those guys for the future. I'm excited about getting rolling because they all fit the way that we want to play. If you look at my first year, we set the record for three-point field goals made and attempted, and my second year we set the record for steals in school history. So you can kind of see the way that we want to play -- it's far from completed, but we're working towards that."

On scheduling a noteworthy non-conference game: "Our December was not tough enough. We're looking into a couple of different options, whether or not that's starting another home-and-home or maybe playing a neutral site game, we've been looking into a few of those options. So we're almost finished with that, we're got a couple of games to go and we'll announce that soon."

On former student-athlete Zach Lofton potentially joining the team in some capacity/ walking on: "I haven't even thought about walking on, I don't know if he could even do that. But we had talked about -- it was something that he wanted to do because I don't think his options were great elsewhere and so I didn't really want to leave him out to dry with that. It's something that we'll revisit -- I think it's a long, long shot to be honest. But that's something where we see final grades and see how everything pans out, we'll revisit it, but that will be a couple weeks from now."

On the hole that Jonathan Nwankwo's release leaves the backcourt: "We're going to play Gas [sophomore Gaston Diedhiou] a lot at the backup five, so I think we've got two good guys there. That will then provide some flexibility with [freshman] Jordan Murphy because he is very flexible, he can play the four some, Buggs can play the four some, so I don't think that necessarily impacted the frontcourt."

On whether Murphy could challenge for the starting power forward spot:
[Senior] Joey King is just a veteran, he knows how to play. I think Joey will really help him. He's got more versatility than Joey does in that he can play the three. I like the fact that he can play multiple positions, that gives him opportunities to get on the court. But we got bigger with him and we got bigger with Ahmad, and that's what we set out to do.

On whether he's seen Diedhiou and center heir apparent, sophomore Bakary Konate improve since we last saw them:
They have but it's so early. They need to improve June, July, August, September, they've got four or five months. Those guys we knew would be raw coming in and we'd have to develop them. The good thing is they're extremely eager to learn, their bodies look great, they've put on weight and they've got very good potential. There is nobody else. There are no other options, so they'll be the two.

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