With the 2014-15 season in the rearview and many folks anxious for it to fade from view, the future is already on the horizon.
Unlike some years, what the next season holds is still somewhat up in the air. Despite coming off a campaign that most would consider a disappointment, talk flurries about which outside programs might or might not be interested in coach Richard Pitino. As If reported in today's Star Tribune, Alabama seems to have the greatest interest thus far. But if the 32-year-old coach does decide to stay -- he's given every indication that he wants to -- there will be plenty of work still to do.
The signing period, just around the corner, begins on April 15 (student athletes are able to sign until May 20), and after last season's defections (Zach Lofton was kicked off the team, Daquein McNeil was arrested with some serious charges and Josh Martin decided to transfer), the staff now has three more scholarships it can fill immediately to bolster the 2015 class. Minnesota has already penned Kevin Dorsey, Jarvis Johnson, Dupree McBrayer and Jonathan Nwankwo to National Letters of Intent, so the Gophers ultimately could have a seven-player recruiting class after all is said and done.
At the same time, the intensity kicks up for the following 2016 class, the players of which will be heading into their senior seasons this fall. More on that soon.
Size and athleticism -- first and foremost -- will be driving Minnesota's search for the immediate future for 2015. With promising rising sophomore Nate Mason rooting the backcourt, and incomers Dorsey, McBrayer and Johnson joining will-be senior Carlos Morris, the Gophers' guard corps has good depth, and is hypothetically secured for a while. Meanwhile, with centers Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker expiring their eligibilities after this past season and all other forwards outside of rising senior Joey King (rising sophomores Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate, along with redshirt junior Charles Buggs and freshman Nwankwo) remaining raw and comparatively inexperienced, Minnesota is in need of more options.
The Gophers want more length and size in the backcourt as well -- eventually. For next year, expect them to again be pretty undersized in that area with Dorsey, Johnson and Mason all 6-1 or smaller.
Considering their other needs, the Gophers likely will not sign another true guard with the remaining three scholarships unless they have the option to secure someone very special. And they may not use all three right now at all. If Minnesota uses all its scholarships for this year, it will only have two available for 2016, and one of them is dedicated to 6-6 Rochester wing, Michael Hurt, who committed to Minnesota in January. But there is plenty of bounty there, so the staff might decide to stockpile at least one from this hodgepodge. Look for at least one freshman -- a Malik Ellison decision seems imminent, a source says -- potentially one JUCO and possibly a traditional transfer if potential arises.
Let's take a look at some players the Gophers have offered 2015 scholarships to (2016 breakdown to come shortly).
Malik Ellison: The 6-5 wing remains the most likely prospect to join Minnesota in the coming days. The Pennsylvania native, who has the versatility to play a couple different spots, is a bit off the high-major radar in part due to a broken tibia last AAU season. Although he needs to pack on more weight, the Gophers seem to like his rehabilitation -- he took an official visit at Minnesota in January.
Tyler Kohl: The Gophers have been on this 6-5 wing for a long time, and their interest could outlast that of Drexel, La Salle, Rhode Island and St. Joseph's -- among the other schools who are pursuing him. Kohl has a strong, physical presence with a good shot.
Craig Randall: The slim southpaw doesn't have great size, but he's got enough impressive range to keep Minnesota interested. The Phoenix native is being recruited by a bunch of small schools, including St. Joe's, Louisville Tech, La Salle and Robert Morris.
Tyson Jolly: Putting aside a history of health issues, the 6-4, 200-pound wing has used his impressive athleticism, high motor and body control in getting around defenders to attract offers from the likes of Cal, SMU, Tulsa and UTEP as well as the interest of Minnesota.
Jamall Gregory: Sporting good length to go along with the kind of athleticism and defensive presence Minnesota is seeking, the 6-4 wing has elicited offers from Rutgers and UNLV as well, among others.
Chris Boucher: The 6-10 Quebec native has the frontcourt size that Minnesota so desperately needs more of, and after averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.7 blocks at Northwest College this past season, he looks ready.
Cullen Russo: Another big body, the 6-9 Minnesota native has averaged 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds at New Mexico Junior College this season and has started to draw high-major interest.
Mychal Mulder: Minnesota recently jumped in hard on the 6-4 shooting guard who can shoot and rack up points in transition. But Creighton, Georgia State, Wichita State and Missouri have also all expressed interest in the Vincennes College prospect.