If University of Minnesota basketball coach Richard Pitino and his staff decide to put together their entire 2017 class within the state’s borders, they’ll have plenty of options. Even after forward Nate Reuvers committed to Wisconsin last month – with some interesting comments aimed at his home-state school – the Gophers’ backyard is still loaded with forwards Theo John, Jericho Sims and Goanar Mar, point guard McKinley Wright and shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., rounding out a talented bunch of athletes.
Assuming Minnesota’s roster remains at its current capacity, the Gophers will have just two scholarships available – the one vacated by Charles Buggs, who will transfer this summer, and another upon graduate transfer Akeem Springs’ departure after next season – and decisions will have to be made. In the meantime, the Gophers are going hard at a host of Minnesota recruits. Count Wright on the short list. In addition to Minnesota, the floor general has offers from Dayton, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Sam Houston State, Texas Tech, Xavier and Memphis. He hasn’t set up any official visits just yet but last week, he told the Star Tribune that Minnesota, Iowa State, Xavier and Dayton were recruiting him the hardest.
He’s also got a few helpers on the Gophers side. Wright said that incoming freshman Amir Coffey has made a few pitches for him to join the home-state team. And fellow commit Michael Hurt will sometimes show up to D1 Minnesota practices – the AAU squad that Wright and Hurt’s younger brother Matthew play for – and chide Wright about how good he would look in maroon and gold, he said with a laugh.
Wright is still collecting offers and does not on the verge of a decision now – he says sometime between September and October, perhaps – but for now he is having fun.
A little more of our conversation:
How much has your recruitment changed this spring?
Wright: It’s starting to pick up a lot. More and more schools are starting to call and coming to watch. It’s getting a little more hectic but I’m enjoying the process.
What have been your early impressions of Minnesota?
Wright: I talk to [the staff] daily. They obviously stress that they need a point guard to come run the show. But we talk about other stuff like life and school and the NBA playoffs. We’re just building a relationship outside of basketball as well.
I was talking to [Pitino and assistant coach Ben Johnson] even before they offered me. But since they offered me, I’ve been talking to them a lot. That’s a big thing in my recruitment and will be in my decision: having a good relationship with my coaches. And I really think they’re working on that, we’re working on that all together … Having an offer from the home-state school is a blessing. I’m excited. My family was excited for me and I was excited as well. So it means a lot for me.
I feel like they’re making me a priority. I get tons of attention from them. I talk to them a lot.
You said you talk with several coaches nearly every day. Does your recruitment ever get overwhelming?
It is, but it’s a blessing to be able to be in this position. So I’m grateful, I’m thankful.
Other than relationships, what is going to be important for you in determining your decision?
Wright: [I want to go] somewhere where I trust the coach and the coach trusts me as well as my teammates. Somewhere where I’m needed to help the team go in the right direction. And a good education.
The Gophers struggled a lot last season, in Pitino’s third year. Will that outcome play any role in your decision?
Wright: Obviously they didn’t have a good season this past season. But I didn’t look at it like that. I looked at it like they had a super young team getting used to this level of play. So I really didn’t stress about them having a bad season because they were still so young. But I think this year they’ll be good.
I think they’ll be good over the next few years. A lot of people don’t think they’ll do well but in my opinion, I think they will.
Minnesota has dealt with several off-court concerns in the past few months as well. Have you talked with the coaches about any of the off-court stuff?
Yeah, I’ve talked to them about it a few times, about the situation that happened with Reggie [Lynch] and [Kevin Dorsey] and the other social media stuff that was going on. They just let me know …they’re trying to prevent things like that.
Is it tough to read and hear about things like that?
It is. It seems like people are trying to bring Minnesota down, make it seem like it’s a bad school. I don’t think it’s a bad school at all. I think it’s a pretty good school with good players, and a young team that’s coming up.
What are you working on with your own game right now?
Wright: I want to take my game to the next level. I want to become a better outside shooter and become a better floor leader, a floor general overall.