Recruit McNeil follows Pitino, assistant to Gophers

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2013 - 12:12 AM

Connection with Richard Pitino and assistant prompted move.

 

The Gophers men’s basketball team will bring in at least one new player next season.

Vermont Academy coach Jesse Bopp said Wednesday that 6-3 guard Daquein McNeil has committed to Minnesota and new coach Richard Pitino. Wednesday marked the beginning of the late signing period for basketball, which runs through May 15.

Nothing official has come yet from the Gophers. Before landing McNeil, Minnesota was holding four scholarships and had no recruits for the 2013-14 season after the de-commitments of Alvin Ellis, a 6-4 guard from Chicago De La Salle, and Alex Foster, a 6-8 forward from Seton Academy in Chicago.

McNeil originally committed to Florida International but sought a release after Pitino took the Gophers job. He had offers from Oklahoma, VCU and Rutgers, among other schools, according to Scout.com. He is from Baltimore, but he left home to play for Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, Vt., before his sophomore year. He averaged 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 2012-13 playing for the Baltimore Elite AAU team in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.

Pitino and McNeil have talked daily since Pitino decided to take the Minnesota job, Bopp said. It was important for McNeil to feel the interest was still strong, and that was shown quickly, Bopp added.

“Daquein is a kid that is extremely loyal,” Bopp said. “It’s at the core of who he is. … I think that loyalty was built during the recruiting process.”

Bopp said Pitino’s personality and the “ability to connect” on the part of assistant coach Kimani Young, who followed Pitino to Minnesota from FIU, helped seal McNeil’s decision.

Bopp also said McNeil, a quick guard, was drawn to Pitino’s up-tempo style of play and system he established last season at Florida International.

“He’s a guard. He’s a playmaker. He’s a kid that can do a lot of different things,” Bopp said. “I think they could consider using him at the point, but that’s also a lot of responsibility. … Daquein’s got to build that trust.”

The Gophers now could turn their attention to adding to their frontcourt. Cameron Forte, a 6-7 junior college forward for Howard College (Big Spring, Texas), and 6-7 power forward Rakeem Buckles, an FIU player with one year of eligibility left who has said he is interested in transferring to Minnesota, could be possibilities.

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