In Richard Pitino’s first season as a college coach at Florida International in 2012, he inherited a nearly empty roster. He added eight players to get to the maximum number of 13 scholarships.
Pitino never had to fit nearly as many new pieces together again until now for the 2019-20 season.
Drexel graduate transfer Alihan Demir is the sixth newcomer added to the Gophers’ roster for next season, the most for the program since 2011-12. They could even bring in a seventh newcomer with one scholarship remaining this spring.
Demir, who officially signed Tuesday, joins incoming freshmen Tre’ Williams, Isaiah Ihnen and Sam Freeman. Those three make up the U’s 2019 recruiting class ranked No. 35 nationally and fourth in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.com.
Also making their Gophers debut next season will be guards Marcus Carr and Payton Willis, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt, respectively.
Eight years ago, Tubby Smith’s primary rotation included five of his six newcomers with the Gophers, including three starting at least 20 games.
It’s way too early to know exactly if Pitino plans to play all of his newcomers next season, especially since they are still waiting for leading scorer Amir Coffey’s decision to go pro or return to college.
Below is my updated early projection for the Gophers lineup and roster in 2019-20. Coffey would obviously be a starter, but I'm keeping him out until he makes a decision to remove his name from the NBA draft.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
G- Marcus Carr 6-2 Sophomore
Carr would’ve been the starting point guard this past season, but the NCAA denied his waiver to play right away after transferring from Pittsburgh. The Toronto native was often the best player on the floor in practices last season, which included scoring at will when he simulated Purdue’s Carsen Edwards on the scout team. Carr averaged 10 points and a team-high 4.0 assists in 2017-18 for Pitt. His top games were 22 points vs. North Carolina and 16 points and 12 assists vs. Syracuse.
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Sophomore
Broke the Gophers freshman record for three-point field goals in a season with 77 this year, which also led all Big Ten freshman. Team’s best perimeter defender and three-point shooter (41.0 percent). Kalscheur’s 24 points and eight rebounds vs. Louisville led the Gophers to their first NCAA tournament win in six years. An important role for Kalscheur next season will to be help replace the leadership lost by the graduation of senior guard Dupree McBrayer, who helped him make the transition as a young starter in the Big Ten.
G- Payton Willis 6-4 Junior
Willis is an athletic guard who can contribute as another ballhander and outside shooting threat. There were times when Willis also couldn’t be stopped offensively in practice on the scout team. He averaged 5.1 points in 18 minutes and started 16 games combined in two seasons with Vanderbilt. He shot 34.9 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, but maybe relied too much on outside shooting (38 of his 48 field goals were from long distance in 2017-18).
F- Alihan Demir 6-9 Senior
Demir will be the only senior likely competing for a starting role next season, so his veteran presence will be critical to the team’s success. A native of Turkey, he patterned his game after fellow countrymen and former NBA wing Hedo Turkoglu, who could shoot, pass and handle the ball at 6-10. The former Drexel standout averaged 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per 40 minutes in 2018-19. The main concern was Demir’s 84 turnovers, second most for any frontcourt player in the Colonial Athletic Association.
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Sophomore
Oturu will have All-Big Ten and NBA potential next season if he continues to develop his game and strength. He led all freshmen in rebounding (7.0), field goal percentage (55.1) and blocks (1.3) this season. The former Cretin-Derham Hall star should replace Murphy as the U’s top low-post scoring inside presence after adding muscle and weight to his frame in the offseason. If he develops into the elite shot blocker he was in high school – look out Big Ten.
F/C- Eric Curry 6-9 Junior
He definitely has the talent to be a major contributor next season, but Curry needs time coming off two season-ending injuries (knee and foot) to get comfortable without the pressure of being a starter right away. If his recovery goes smoothly in the offseason, the Memphis native should push Demir for the starting power forward spot. In the meantime, he’ll be a solid backup at both frontcourt positions as he was on the 2017 NCAA tournament team his freshman year.
F- Michael Hurt 6-7 Senior
Hurt probably should’ve played more this past season, but he can really be the glue guy the Gophers need as the lone fourth-year scholarship player on the roster in 2019-20. When he’s confident, Hurt can be a scoring and rebounding threat, but his best asset is his unselfish play. Minnesota's offense is at its best when Hurt helps move the ball in the halfcourt set.
F- Jarvis Omersa 6-7 Sophomore
Omersa has a ways to go offensively, but his length and athleticism are similar to Murphy. When Murphy was sidelined with back spasms in his final college game, Omersa had his best game defending and rebounding in the blowout loss to Michigan State. That should motivate him to make a big jump in Year 2 under Pitino.
F- Isaiah Ihinen 6-9 Freshman
One of the top prospects in Europe born in 2000, Ihinen was rated four stars and a top-100 recruit by 247Sports.com, which makes him No. 1 in the Gophers’ 2019 class. He signed with Minnesota over TCU after visiting them both from Germany last month. Pitino sold him on eventually playing a role similar to Coffey as a tall, athletic guard/wing playing with the ball in Minnesota’s offense. Ihnen, who plays at the International Basketball Academy of Munich (IBAM), patterns his versatile game after his favorite NBA player Kevin Durant, and also has a Durant-like 7-4 wingspan.
G-Tre Williams 6-5 Freshman
This future Gopher is on display with his Wasatch Academy (Utah) teammates in Times Square this week with a billboard promoting the Geico Nationals April 4-6 in NYC, which will be televised on ESPN. Like Kalscheur, Williams should be able to defend immediately at the college level. Pitino and coaches have also been impressed with his athleticism, work ethic and team-first attitude. Solid addition.
C- Sam Freeman 6-10 Freshman
Freeman and Oturu will definitely have some fun battles in practice this season. Both are similar in size, length and athleticism. Oturu has a year of experience playing in the Big Ten, so he can show Freeman the ropes. The Texas native grew nearly two inches and gained 20 pounds after his junior year, but he’s far from a finished product physically (projects to be a 7-footer). He could contribute as a rebounder, defender and will do the dirty work off the bench as a freshman. Biggest sleeper in the class.
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Senior
Big Ten player of the year and All-American candidate if he returns and plays as aggressively as he did to average 23.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals in his last eight games, which included games of 32, 31 and 27 points in the Michigan State loss in Des Moines. Coffey has until May 29 to decide to keep his agent and remain in the NBA draft process.
ON THE RADAR
G or F- Graduate or Division I transfer, HS senior
The Gophers have one scholarship remaining even if Coffey returns to the team. They only have one true point guard on the roster with Carr. Pitino and his staff appear to be searching for another grad transfer who can give them another ball handler and facilitator. Filling that role will be even more important if Coffey leaves for the NBA. UC Irvine’s Max Hazzard (Arizona) and Northeastern’s Donnell Gresham (Georgia) received early interest from the Gophers, but they committed elsewhere. Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi’s Kareem South was contacted weeks ago, but he hasn’t heard much from Minnesota lately. Lee High School (Ala.) forward and Texas A&M commit Kobe Brown listed the Gophers among his finalists with a decision announcement date next Tuesday. Brown, a 6-7 senior, took an official visit to Minnesota last fall.