In an ideal world, Richard Pitino would know for certain that star point guard Marcus Carr will be back to lead his Gophers basketball team next season. He would know what the transfer rule is to recruit the players he needs this spring to compete at the highest level in 2020-21.
The situation is not ideal right now for roster management, though, for college coaches across the country facing so much uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.
Carr, an All-Big Ten third team selection who declared for the NBA Draft, is testing the waters and expected to return to the Gophers. But Pitino said during a Zoom conference call Thursday about his late signings that he isn’t sure when the sophomore captain’s decision will be clear.
“I think Marcus is very realistic about the process,” Pitino said. “I think that he wants to go through it, with the intent of keeping a great option open here. I think he loves playing here and he knows what he has here. I think he sees that. I don’t think he’s in a rush to leave, but I think he wants to go through the process like anybody should be allowed to do.”
Not long after Gophers sophomore All-America center Daniel Oturu declared for the NBA Draft last month with the intent to leave, Carr followed with his announcement keeping his options open to return.
Reports have surfaced that the NBA Draft could be postponed until as late as August, which would mean underclassmen might not have an opportunity to workout for teams. The current deadline for non-seniors to remove their names from the early entry list is June 3 for college players.
“The problem is the process is not going to be the normal process,” Pitino said. “I don’t think they will have pre-draft workouts, even for Daniel. He is not going to experience that. Unfortunately for Marcus, I’m not sure what besides the undergraduate advisory committee thing that they submit, I’m not sure what other feedback he’s going to get.
Pitino said Carr, just like Oturu before his decision, has been in constant communication about the draft process, has allowed the Gophers to “recruit accordingly,” he said.
“We are going to have back-to-back guys coming out of this program play in the NBA [Also Amir Coffey with a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Clippers],” Pitino added. “We are proud of that. That helps recruiting. Just as much as winning. When you go to two out of the last three NCAA tournaments and you go back to back NBA guys, that is what you are really, really selling a lot with these kids. We want Marcus to get as much feedback as he can in these unique times, but also let him know and he knows that he is a major part of this program.”
The Gophers announced signing transfers Liam Robbins (Drake) and Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan) on Wednesday, the beginning of the late signing period. They have just one open scholarship right now after junior starting guard Payton Willis transferred to College of Charleston.
Trying to figure out how to fill Willis’ spot is difficult since Pitino does not know if the NCAA will pass a rule of one-time immediate eligibility for transfers this spring. They have been recruiting four-star Hopkins guard Kerwin Walton, who will decide on April 25. The Gophers have also been talking to graduate transfers (UNLV’s Jonah Antonio and George Mason’s Justin Kier) and sit-out transfers (Rice’s Drew Peterson).
“Obviously with Payton Willis leaving that leaves a void,” Pitino said. “Without getting into specifics somebody [we’re looking for someone] that's versatile, who can play the 2 and the 3, similar role to what Payton did. Everyone that we bring in, we want them to be versatile, we want them to be able to shoot the ball. As it pertains to a guard, we want them to be able to come off of ball screens. We don't want just one guy coming off a ball screen. We want to be able to kind of have a pro-style pick and roll offense. Need to add a little bit of length on the perimeter because as good as Marcus and Gabe [Kalscheur] and Jamal Mashburn Jr., and Tre’ [Williams], B.J. [Greenlee] and those guys will be, we need some length there. So, looking kind of all over, and also understanding the transfer portal, the way that it is, things can pop. So, you've got to be somewhat patient right now.”
Oturu’s departure left open a spot for Robbins, who has two years of eligibility remaining. The 7-foot Iowa native is a versatile scorer and elite shot blocker who hopes to play immediately. Pitino said his situation is different than the waiver filed by the U that the NCAA denied two years ago for Carr, a Pittsburgh transfer.
“Certainly, we're looking into that with Liam without getting into specifics,” Pitino said. “Obviously for our program when you have a guy like Liam, who's an impact guy, that'll drastically impact your program. It's also been very, very challenging because there are certain transfers out there that we feel like we can get, but we don't know if they're going to be eligible right away or not. I don't know, we've got to be patient somewhat because I just think we're in such a different time right now that what we've been before.”