With just over two weeks remaining in the spring signing period (it ends May 20), the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program has one more scholarship to potentially dole out.
Already, the Gophers have added wing Ahmad Gilbert and big man transfer Reggie Lynch to a four-player class that was secured this fall. Now, coach Richard Pitino and his staff can make it the largest recruiting class in years if they so choose, but expect them to be picky.
A couple of Minnesota’s prime targets are now off the table. Malik Ellison, who seemed bound for the Gophers before assistant Dan McHale’s departure for the head job at Eastern Kentucky, committed instead to St. John’s on Friday. JUCO Player of the Year Chris Boucher has narrowed his list to omit the Gophers (he’s told reporters his final three are Texas Tech, TCU and Oregon). Once-targets Craig Randall, Tyson Jolly, Jamall Gregory and JUCO Mychal Mulder have all either committed, narrowed their lists to exclude Minnesota or fallen out of the Gophers’ interest.
Now, you can add JUCO forward and Bloomington-native Cullen Russo to that list. Although Russo recently named Fresno State and Minnesota as his top two programs, multiple sources say the Gophers’ now feel he isn’t the best fit for the final spot. Russo is expected to commit in the next couple of days: expect it to be to the Bulldogs.
So what are the Gophers’ remaining options? Let’s take a look:
Jordan Murphy: Although his name hasn’t been brought up much in the last few months, the Gophers’ interest is still high in this 6-7 three-star small forward.
Kyle Washington: The Gophers would love to have the Champlin native … just like everyone else in the country. At 6-9, 230 pounds, the North Carolina State transfer would certainly help fill a size void, even after sitting a year.
Jordan Caroline: The Southern Illinois transfer told Gopher Illustrated (Rivals) that he would be in Minnesota this weekend. Cincinnati, Xavier and Nevada are in play as well.
Tyler Kohl: One of the Gophers’ longest-pursued targets in the 2015 class, the 6-5, 225-pound Kohl is still waiting out a decision – perhaps to wring as much interest as he can out of a recruitment that’s dwindled somewhat.
Novian Cherry: The San Diego native is the other JUCO that topped Minnesota’s original list, but Cherry hasn’t gotten as much attention as the other three (Russo, Boucher and Mulder) that the Gophers were initially targeting. The Gophers still have a hand in his recruitment, but it’s unclear how serious they are about the wing, especially after getting a commitment from Gilbert.
Stand pat: The Gophers have a good solid class, now, and shouldn’t feel any urgency to use that final scholarship. If one of their top-tier targets works out, great. Otherwise, Minnesota could benefit from saving it for 2016. The Gophers are projected to have just two scholarships available for that class – that number can change with any transfers, redshirts, dismissals – and one of those already has Rochester commit Michael Hurt’s name on it.
Zach Lofton: Per two sources, there is a small chance Pitino would take the Illinois State transfer back after dismissing him from the team -- citing a failure to meet their expectations and obligations -- before the start of the regular season last year. Lofton has been enrolled in classes ever since then, meaning that he would be eligible this fall, but that reality would require several things. First, that Minnesota doesn’t use the scholarship elsewhere. Second, that he fulfills some requirements set by the team. And third, that the Gophers decide the talent gained outweighs saving a scholarship for the following class, as well as the potential embarrassment that comes along with taking a previously dismissed player back into the fold.