When Richard Pitino and Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle talked about the basketball coach’s future last month, both sides moved quickly toward crafting a new contract at season’s end.
Some coaching staffs have their recruiting classes finished in the fall, but the Gophers were looking at a busy spring. They could fill four or five more open scholarship slots in this spring signing period, which starts Wednesday.
Pitino enters this recruiting fray backed by a new deal signed earlier this month that extends him through the 2023-24 season.
“It’s something we talked about during the season, but we both agreed let’s just finish this thing out,” Pitino said. “As a head coach, rarely do you feel completely comfortable. Maybe John Calipari [does] now that he has a lifetime contract at Kentucky. But other than that, you’re scratching and clawing every season.
“It’s nice to get to five years. It does help in recruiting to show that commitment, to show those guys this is where you want to be and continue to build it.”
Recruiting battles, such as the one the Gophers lost Tuesday to Wichita State for four-star point guard Grant Sherfield, can come down to a player wanting to stay closer to home. Sometimes, though, schools can use uncertainty about a coach’s future to recruit against another program.
Pitino’s third contract extension in six seasons eased any concerns with incoming four-star guard Tre’ Williams about the coach’s immediate future.
“You don’t want to come into a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Williams, the lone player to sign with the Gophers in November. “I know Pitino is going to take my game to the next level, so that was just great to hear [about the coach’s extension].”
The Gophers are expected to sign 6-10 Texas center Sam Freeman this week, and they would have up to four additional scholarships left for the 2019 class if junior guard Amir Coffey remains in the NBA draft. Coffey declared early and hired an agent, but he still left open the possibility of returning to the Gophers. Pitino fully supported Coffey’s decision, calling it a “no-brainer,” but the Gophers will be in limbo until he makes his final decision.
“It just seems like every player is declaring and there are a lot of transfers,” Pitino said. “So every scholarship you have available right now is beneficial to make sure you’re still recruiting and constantly evaluating your own roster.”