Clem Haskins still has a pulse on the talent of high school basketball in Minnesota.
It’s been 20 years since he made the Final Four with the Gophers and nearly as long since he resigned as head coach after the academic scandal, but he still follows his old program.
When Richard Pitino replaced Tubby Smith at Minnesota in 2013, Haskins called the then-30-year-old basketball coach to give him some recruiting advice because he liked him.
“I told Richard when he got the job at Minnesota,” Haskins said last week. “I said, ‘Richard, one thing you must commit to do is go get Richard Coffey’s son. Whatever you do, you’ve got to get him to come to Minnesota when he graduates.’”
Haskins, of course, was talking about Amir Coffey, who was a standout freshman for the Gophers this season. The 6-foot-8 former Hopkins guard ranked second on the team in scoring, assists and minutes played while earning All-Big Ten freshman honors.
Richard Coffey played for Haskins from 1986-1990, which included a Sweet 16 in 1989 and Elite Eight in 1990. Amir Coffey was in the ninth grade when Pitino was hired four years ago.
“But (friends in Minnesota) were telling me about him,” Haskins said, “that he was going to be a player.”
If the Gophers are going to make it back to the Final Four and compete for a national championship again one day, Haskins said it will be after keeping the best players from the state from leaving home.
“The state of Minnesota is producing the best players in America,” Haskins said. “You talk about California. No, no, no. Right there in the Twin Cities and surrounding (areas), they’re just as good as any players in the country. (Pitino) got Coffey. So hopefully now he can start getting the best players out of Minnesota. Because they can got out there and win a national championship with just local talent. They have that kind of talent now.”
Haskins said when he was coaching the Gophers from 1987-1999, the state of Minnesota had almost zero high-major Division I talent. Haskins mostly relied on recruiting out-of-state prospects to fill his roster. But he did land a few impact local players like Kevin Lynch, Sam Jacobson, John Thomas and Joel Przybilla over 13 years.
Pitino, who reached his first NCAA tournament this season, now has a chance to build a contender by closing the border, according to Haskins.
In 2014, the state had three McDonald’s All-Americans with Tyus Jones (Duke), Reid Travis (Stanford) and Rashad Vaughn (UNLV). Travis was an All-Pac 12 first team forward this season. Jones and Vaughn, both guards, are second-year NBA players.
A couple years later, Coffey and Michael Hurt helped Pitino get his first pair of high school players from Minnesota. The state’s 2017 class didn't continue the trend. Theo John (Marquette), Nathan Reuvers (Wisconsin) and Jericho Sims (Texas) could be impact post players at the next level. Guards McKinley Wright (Dayton) and Brad Davison (Wisconsin) were both Mr. Basketball finalists, with Wright winning the award.
Anyone who watched the state tournament last week surely came away impressed with 2018 and 2020 point guards Tre Jones and Jalen Suggs, who led Apple Valley and Minnehaha Academy to state titles, respectively. The best big men in the tourney was arguably future Gopher Daniel Oturu. And you can’t forget about skilled forward Race Thompson (2018) and Matthew Hurt (2019), whose teams didn’t make it to state to play at the Target Center.
You can see why Haskins believes there's more than enough in-state talent now to build another Final Four caliber team with the Gophers.
“(The state) had big guys who you had to wait on and develop,” he said. “I’m talking about a skilled player. They didn’t have one. But now they’re blessed with (more) excellent players.”