After taking a break from his workout routine Monday, Both Gach picked up his phone to make an announcement Gophers fans were hoping for. The pride of Austin, Minn., was “excited to be back home.”
A transfer from Utah, Gach committed to his home state Gophers over Auburn, Creighton, Iowa State and Maryland. A 6-foot-7 junior guard and potential starter, he is the final piece to what could be a much-improved basketball team for Richard Pitino next season.
“I had a lot of greats options,” Gach told the Star Tribune on Monday night. “Being back home, getting closer to family during these bad times and having the opportunity to play for the home state is a blessing.”
A month after declaring for the NBA draft in April, Gach decided he would transfer if he returned to school. The Gophers are the closest to home. So, that gives Gach a better chance to receive an NCAA waiver to avoid sitting out the 2020-21 season.
“[But] it means a lot to me to come home and play so family and friends can get to see me in person and not just on TV,” Gach said.
In the spring, Gach joined the Gophers’ Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr on the early entry list for the NBA draft. They have until Aug. 3, or 10 days after the NBA draft combine (whichever comes first), to officially withdraw. Oturu is staying in the draft. The Gophers are anticipating Carr and Gach will come back.
Minnesota basketball fans last saw twins Both and Duoth Gach (pronounced Booth and Dooth Gotch) leading Austin to a runner-up finish in the Class 3A state championship against DeLaSalle at Target Center in 2017. The following season, Both transferred to Arizona Compass Prep, where he signed with Utah as a four-star recruit in 2018. Duoth, who graduated from Austin, went to North Dakota State College of Science, a junior college.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a kid go from baseline to baseline faster than what Both could do with the basketball,” Austin coach Kris Fadness said. “He could get a defensive rebound and be at the rim in three dribbles on the other end. Just a dynamic athlete and explosive in the open court.”
After averaging 7.7 points as a Utes freshman in 2018-19, Gach boosted his numbers as a sophomore starter to 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He looked like Utah’s best player at times, including with 19 points in a victory over the Gophers and 24 points against Oregon. He also scored his team’s first 10 points in an upset over Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 18.
However, a lingering knee injury, forced Gach to miss four games and suffer through a long shooting slump. His nine-game stretch scoring below double figures plagued Utah in January and February. But a much healthier Gach broke out with a career-best 28 points in an overtime victory over Colorado in March.
Gach is excited to be part of the new-look Gophers in 2020-21. He is among six newcomers joining only a handful of players who saw consistent playing time during a disappointing 15-16 season.
Pitino’s 2020 recruiting class started with four-star recruits Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell during the early period. The Gophers struck gold in the late signing period with David Mutaf from Turkey and transfers Gach, Liam Robbins (Drake) and Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan). The latter three could be starters, but Robbins and Gach need waivers to play immediately.
Once COVID-19 restrictions loosened, Gach started working out in Arizona with his prep school coach Pete Kaffey. Newly hired Gophers assistant Jeff Mailhot and Kaffey have known each other since coaching at Cooper High. Mailhot also recruited Gach previously on New Mexico State’s staff.
Having an assistant with ties to Minnesota on Pitino’s staff helped. But Gach getting closer to his family was a big deal, especially during the pandemic. Gach is one of seven children. His parents, who are from South Sudan, are divorced. His father lives in Iowa, but his mother is in Minnesota with some of his siblings.
In his recruitment, Gach, like other in-state targets, heard from Pitino about the benefit of playing with family nearby. But the Gophers also compared Gach’s game to former Hopkins standout Amir Coffey, who is now with the Los Angeles Clippers. That helped to seal it.
Gach left the state with dreams of playing in the NBA. And now he returns with those same aspirations.
“Obviously, getting to the NBA is the goal,” said Gach’s older brother Gach Gach. “[Finding] a place that can help him develop into the player he wants to be.”