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

Minnesota gets first 2015 commitment in Kevin Dorsey

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: July 12, 2014 - 11:11 AM

The 2014-15 season still seems far away, but for Minnesota, the year after is already off to a strong start.

Four-star point guard Kevin Dorsey became the program's first 2015 recruit after committing to the Gophers on Saturday.

Dorsey confirmed the news -- which was first reported by Scout reporter Evan Daniels -- via text.

The Gophers saw Dorsey in Washington D.C. this weekend -- the first of three evaluation periods in July -- where he played in a camp held by Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson. 

The commitment from the talented Virginia guard marks a big early victory for Richard Pitino in his first "normal" recruiting class. The second-year head coach had to pull in a handful of newcomers for last season after being hired in April. The staff then had only about seven months to recruit 2014 prospects before the first signing period last year.

The 2015 class, however, is the staff's first chance to show what they can do when given a normal recruiting cycle.

The quick, 5-11 Dorsey, who is ranked No. 84 in the nation according to Rivals, seems to be a perfect fit for Pitino's free-moving, pick-and-roll offense and pressure defense. With current floor general DeAndre Mathieu expiring his final year of eligibility this season, the Gophers have been seeking a long-term heir.

Dorsey visited Minnesota's campus in late June. Recently, he had told reporters that his top three included fellow Big Ten teams Nebraska and Maryland, schools he had visited as well.

ESPN: Format for NIT Season Tip-off could be changing

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: July 11, 2014 - 3:21 PM

The non-conference tournament Minnesota is slated to participate in next season could be in flux.

ESPN's Andy Katz reported on Friday that the NIT Season Tip-off, scheduled for November of this year, has aligned only eight teams instead of the expected 16.

If the tournament field does shrink by half, it would mean significant changes in the formatting, Katz reports. The four host teams -- Minnesota, St. John's, Gonzaga and Georgia -- would get only one home game instead of two, and the winner of each matchup would then play three games at Madison Square Garen rather than two.

According to Katz, Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox and Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few are both waiting to see what will happen with the event, while St. John's coach Steve Lavin has reiterated that he is "all in."

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino did not immediately return a phone call for comment on the matter.

If the changes do occur, the Gophers would be stripped of one home game in return for another neutral-site matchup. The bigger concern would be if other host teams such as Gonzaga and Georgia back out, leaving Minnesota with either a significantly weakened tournament or in a last-minute scheduling crunch.

Sports Illustrated: Richard Pitino could be in line for Louisville job when dad retires

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: July 10, 2014 - 3:05 PM

Does Richard Pitino want to stay in Minnesota a long time?

On the most superficial level, all signs point to yes. The Gophers coach, barreling toward his second season with the university, has said all the right things and seems to genuinely like his new job and life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

That contentment will likely be tested whenever his dad, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, decides to step down.

Wednesday, Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton explored the potential candidates to eventually replace the 61-year-old Cardinals coach, and put the younger Pitino firmly at the top of the list.

Hamilton pointed out that Rick Pitino will surely be counseled in the matter of his heir. It's hard to believe pop wouldn't nod toward his son, who directed Florida International to its first winning season in more than a decade before bringing Minnesota an NIT championship last year.

Hamilton also named Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Chris Mack (Xavier) and Shaka Smart (VCU) as potential top choices.

A call from Louisville is tough to ignore. Accepting the torch at a place his father has had so much success is also a lot of pressure. 

Is Kid Pitino itching to leave Minnesota? I honestly don't think so. Should the younger Pitino find himself in the situation where he needs to make that choice, he could decide he'd rather remain with the Gophers and build his own legacy, rather than taking over his father's. Or he could find that Louisville is the best place to move forward. 

Ultimately, of course, this kind of guessing game is useless. Rick Pitino said yesterday he believes he can continue to coach "for a long time," so the replacement search could be well down the road. Who knows -- young Richard could already be at another coaching destination then. Or the circumstances at Minnesota could be quite different.

As long as Richard Pitino stays at Minnesota and keeps the Gophers moving on an upward trend, however, the speculation will probably continue. 

Minnesota target Nate Grimes has quickly ascended after getting involved with basketball in high school

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: July 10, 2014 - 11:54 AM


Nate Grimes has compiled 25 scholarship offers -- Minnesota included -- and a national rating teetering toward the top-100, according to Rivals.

But in the eyes of his AAU coach and mentor, Lamar Bigby, the Las Vegas forward isn't even close to touching his potential.

Bigby has some perspective on the subject. After all, he's watched as many gatekeepers throughout Grimes' basketball past shook their heads no at the prospect. And he looked on last year as the suitors piled up, the 6-foot-7 Grimes flexing his raw basketball ability in just his first full season playing varsity basketball.

"He's a four-year guy that can continue to get better," Bigby said. "You can build your program around a guy like that."

Minnesota, intrigued by Grimes' athleticism and versatility, has made its interest clear. The Gophers offered in May and have stayed close in touch since.

Bigby, meanwhile, sees in the Gophers a near-ideal program for developing a player that is perhaps still underrated. He's listened to coach Richard Pitino talk of the time he sets aside for individual instruction. He's seen the statistical improvements from a handful of the players Pitino inherited after just one year.

"Minnesota is at the top for sure, for sure," Bigby said. "We believe in what coach Pitino is doing and what the staff does as far as the development of kids."

The promise of development is an aspect he considers very important in Grimes' choice.

Bigby met Grimes when the lanky ninth grader first showed up at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas. The varsity team wasn't interested in Grimes, who according to Bigby played "very little" basketball in middle school. Neither was JV.

Bigby was coaching the freshman team at the time and an of his assistants happened to be present for one of Grimes' failed tryouts. He reported back: there was a newcomer Bigby needed to see.

When the head coach did, he saw a skinny, 6-foot-5 project, somewhat unsure of himself or how to use his broad shoulders and long arms.

And he saw something else:

"This kid is going to be good," he thought.

That season, Bigby estimates Grimes averaged 13 points a game. After practices, the coach would train him individually. But the next year -- his sophomore season -- after tryouts, the Cheyenne coaches wanted to promote him only to JV. 

Grimes ultimately didn't play at all, struggling to stay academically eligible throughout the winter, but he made the most of his summer, where he continued to play for Bigby on his Las Vegas Knicks AAU team. The coach had founded the program two years earlier, the summer before discovering Grimes.

Despite missing a full season of high school basketball, Grimes was spectacular.

By the start of classes, he'd collected 10 scholarships.

After his junior year at Desert Pines -- where Grimes transferred after his sophomore season -- the forward picked up his grades and heaped more offers to his growing stack, with schools such as Oregon State, New Mexico, Boston College, Colorado State and Minnesota hopping on board.

The rising senior is capable of playing several different positions -- from shooting guard to power forward -- and has shown a lot of natural skill in rebounding and defense. 

Now, Grimes -- whom Bigby describes as intensely loyal and a "throwback," unfazed by his new popularity -- is close to narrowing his list. Then the pair will consider visits. The coach wouldn't name any favorites except one.

"Minnesota ain't going nowhere," he said. "We really like Minnesota ... they'll be there, they'll be right up there at the very, very top."

Gophers basketball summer series: Zach Lofton

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: July 9, 2014 - 11:01 AM

At the Minnesota basketball team camp last month, Gophers assistant Dan McHale took a gander around the high schoolers present and nudged new transfer Zach Lofton.

"How many of these high schools do you represent?" he joked. 

Lofton, who joined the Minnesota this summer, in fact could claim just one as his alma mater -- Columbia Heights High School, from which he graduated in 2011. But the jest was rooted in a fact: the junior shooting guard has moved around a lot. The St. Paul native attended Saint Bernard's for two years until the school closed, at which point he transferred to Columbia Heights. Lofton then attended Quakerdale Prep in Iowa, before enrolling at San Jacinto College-Central, a junior college. After a year, he left for Illinois State, where he played for one season before being recruited by the Gophers.

"He's been a journeyman," McHale said.

Now, though, the lifelong Gophers fan is at the place he's always wanted to call home.

"He's so appreciative to play here," McHale said. "It's always been his dream."

Minnesota seems pretty happy to have Lofton, too. Head coach Richard Pitino has raved about the guard's NBA-type body, telling crowds of fans that attended Minnesota's Gopher Road Trip stops this summer that he thought Lofton had the highest potential of anyone on the team.

Lofton has to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer rules, but the Gophers have high hopes for his expected maroon-and-gold debut in the fall of 2015. The coaches were drawn to his ability to shoot and get to the rim; his athleticism and his power.

"He is very, very talented, multi-skilled," McHale said. "In our system, he's the type of guy that could be really good and sitting out a year could be beneficial for him."

Last year's stats aren't as kind to Lofton as his current coaches' words. With the Redbirds, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged 11.3 points and three rebounds, but shot just 33.9 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from three-point range.

When McHale saw those numbers, he went through the tape and looked through every shot Lofton had taken last year. He saw the guard release in bad situations and with hands in his face, again and again.

"He took a LOT of challenged shots," McHale said.

Since then, the Gophers have worked with Lofton on his shot selection, which they believe will produce a drastic change in his percentages.

"It's not like he's got anything wrong mechanically, or really anything we need to fix," McHale said. "He's got a beautiful-looking jumper. It's just learning how to play ... he's the type of kid who could really fill it up."

The motive, McHale knows, won't be a problem.

"Every day he puts on the Minnesota practice jersey" McHale said, "It means something to him."

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