When Richard Pitino and his Gophers men’s basketball staff long ago put together an in-state target list for the class of 2018, they had a handful of names.
Three names near the top of that list are now becoming Gophers.
On Wednesday, the Gophers officially signed Cretin-Derham Hall center Daniel Oturu and Orono forward Jarvis Thomas Omersa on the first day of the early signing period. DeLaSalle guard Gabe Kalscheur will sign his letter of intent Friday afternoon at his high school.
“It means a lot,” Oturu said after his signing day ceremony. “It just shows that we have home-state pride. Before [Gophers sophomore guard] Amir Coffey, I felt like there were a lot of gap years. Not a lot of in-state recruits stayed. For us three to stay here and show that you can stay and be successful, it’s a great goal that we have.”
Pitino’s 2018 recruiting class is the first to be ranked in the top 25 nationally since Tubby Smith had back-to-back highly-rated classes in 2009 and 2010. The 247Sports ranking Wednesday had Minnesota No. 22 in the country.
To have a nationally ranked class is one big step. The other is to keep the best in-state prospects from leaving. After failing to sign even one Minnesota player in a loaded in-state 2017 class a year ago, Pitino made a splash by landing three players who all had high-major offers to play elsewhere.
Apple Valley point guard Tre Jones, the state’s top senior, signed with Duke. Oturu, Omersa and Kalscheur understood why he decided to go in a different direction. They did all they could to convince him to help them bring a Big Ten title and Final Four back to the U. Now they will look to accomplish that feat without him.
“I hope that other in-state guys stay,” Omersa said. “We got a lot of really good in-state players. It was a sad thing when we lost Tre, but it’s fine. He’s doing what he thought is best for him. You can’t get them all. But it’s definitely becoming part of the movement. When you’re playing for your home, it’s a lot more than just playing for the school.”
The Gophers have three Minnesotans as part of the same recruiting class for the first time since Royce White, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe signed in 2009.
The timing isn’t just a coincidence. Coffey’s presence as one of the Gophers’ top players made a difference. The former Hopkins star was Minnesota Mr. Basketball in 2016. He went on to earn All-Big Ten freshman honors and helped the program set a school record with a 16-win turnaround in reaching the NCAA tournament.
Coffey, a top-40 recruit in the 2016 class, and former Rochester John Marshall standout Michael Hurt were the first two players to play for Pitino out of Minnesota high schools last season. Now there will be a few more homegrown stars suiting up in maroon and gold for years to come.
“Bringing in local talent is pretty important for this program,” Coffey said. “We have a lot of talent here in Minnesota. The old trends have been to leave, but these last couple recruiting classes we’ve got guys from home. So I’m excited for them to sign. It’s a good sign for Minnesota basketball.”