Theo John has a pretty good idea of how badly Minnesota Gophers fans want him to stay home and play at the U after he graduates from Champlin Park High School next spring.
He hears it at school. He hears it on Twitter. One day last summer, he walked out to his car from his house and found it covered with maroon and gold décor – including streamers and stuffed Goldys – and surrounded by sidewalk-chalk pleas to stay in Minnesota for the next phase of his life.
“I asked coach ‘Do you have anything to do with this?’” He said ‘No, that’s just some loyal fans,’” John said with a chuckle. “My parents were dying. They thought it was hilarious.”
But streamers or not, John is set on living out the process, one he has put a lot of thought into as his recruitment has burgeoned.
“I’m looking for a great coach, one I know is going to be there when I’m going to be there,” John said. "A coach that is going to push me, players that are going to push me, a great environment with that, people that are going to push me academically as well. My parents are really pushing me with that, telling me that I need to go to a great academic school, get my education. There are a lot of things – facilities, that’s not the biggest part but it’s a factor. I look at the passion of the people that surround the program – the trainers, the managers, see how much they really care about the program, their fanbase. I look at a lot of stuff.”
He should have plenty of options.
The 2017 6-9 forward is ranked 119th in his national recruiting class by Rivals and 84th by ESPN and has garnered offers from the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Marquette, Nebraska, Oklahoma and, of course, Minnesota. Recently, Florida, Arizona State and Maryland have shown interest as well, and with John’s Howard Pulley AAU team a perfect 7-0 on the EYBL circuit, there could be others jumping on board soon.
“The team is playing really well together, we’ve got our chemistry down,” John said. “We’re playing good team defense and that’s really leading to our victories … You can see how much AAU can impact your recruitment. It’s definitely picked up after the last three sessions. Coaches are seeing that we’re undefeated and want to see what we’re all about.”
Meanwhile the Gophers have been hot on John, who they offered a scholarship to last March. The Champlin senior said he attended a handful of Minnesota basketball games last season and he is on campus often, whether it’s visiting friends or hanging around the team. He talks to assistant Ben Johnson every other day, he said, and has been invited to watch some of the team’s individual training session this summer. He also likes what he sees in the renderings of the in-progress basketball facility.
“That’s looking very nice from the pictures they’ve shown me, so it has the attraction of new stuff to it,” John said. “It’s nice just knowing that they’re home and they’re caring about me.”
He added: “It would be cool to be close to home but at the same time, I want to go somewhere that is best for me and if that’s across the world then I’m going to be going there.”
But John is in no hurry to commit anywhere after pushing back his decision date from “late April” to an indefinite. He’s only been on one official visit so far – at Oklahoma, earlier this month – and doesn’t have any others set up yet. Whether he’ll take all five that the NCAA allows is still very much up in the air. For now, John is concerned with working on his own game, in particular honing his long-range shot and bettering his ball handling to grow his value as a stretch-power forward, where, he says, most teams are recruiting him to play.
Any perceived local pressure on John and his decision is shrugged off by the player himself, much as he got a laugh about his decked out car.
“At the end of the day, people can’t hate me for wanting to do the best thing for myself,” he said. “It’s there, it’s present, but it doesn’t bug me and it won’t be one of my deciding factors, what other people want me to do.
“I’m just going to do what’s best for me and if that’s staying here, great, they’re going to love me and I’m going to have a lot more decorated cars.”