Trevor Mbakwe (2010-13) had the big body and promise, but his college career was continually interrupted by knee injuries and legal issues.
Royce White and Colton Iverson both had their names called at an NBA draft, but their college careers did not end in Dinkytown. White never played a minute in maroon and gold, leaving for Iowa State after a suspension for off-court incidents. He was drafted 16th in 2012 by Houston. Last year, Iverson (2008-2011) was drafted in the second round by Indiana, something that might not have happened if he hadn’t transferred to Colorado State for a successful final season.
Iverson’s onetime frontcourt mate Ralph Sampson III (2008-2012) also arrived with great expectations, but he too seemed to regress instead of improve under Smith.
Changing the trend
Former Gopher Kevin Lynch (1987-91) noted that his coach, Clem Haskins, was critical in motivating and physically pushing him to max out his talent.
“You have to develop players,” said Lynch, who was selected in the 1991 second round and played briefly for Charlotte.
“If you’re Minnesota … you’re just not going to get [big recruits] like Humphries — that’s unusual. [Developing players] is how you have to do it if you’re going to send guys to the draft.”
With similar goals in mind, Pitino sets aside time for “individual instruction” each practice. Players will come in for about 40 minutes in the morning before working on team aspects in the afternoon.
“I tell them, ‘Individual instruction is your time to get better, it’s your time to work on being a pro. Be selfish during this workout. It’s all about you.’
“We all understand … that we’re not going to be able to recruit ready-made pros right away just yet at this stage of our program. So my goal would be every guy that we bring in has got tremendous upside. As we move forward with our recruiting classes, it’s going to be a lot of untapped potential and now it’s our job to really develop them.”
Coffey said as a father of an elite recruit, the three things he and his son are looking for in a program are how it fares in its conference, whether it reaches the NCAA tournament consistently and whether it’s feeding its players to the NBA.
In the past 10 years, the Gophers have put up lackluster grades in all three categories, but Coffey hopes that change is on the horizon.
“The pedigree of Pitino and the success of his father [Louisville coach Rick Pitino], he should definitely know what it takes,” he said.
If, as expected, Austin Hollins, the only Gophers player on the draft radar, doesn’t hear his name called on Thursday night, at least one of those three trends will continue for another year.