Richard Pitino made sure he landed at least one player during the early signing period with his four available scholarships for the 2019 recruiting class.
The Gophers’ sixth-year basketball coach likes the versatility that Texas native and Wasatch Academy (Utah) wing Tre’ Williams will bring to the program, saying Thursday he “fits in our system perfectly.”
Williams even has local ties with family in St. Paul, but he doesn’t count as a Minnesota prospect.
When it comes to in-state talent, Pitino is back at zero again. DeLaSalle’s Tyrell Terry signed with Stanford. Lakeville North’s Tyler Wahl signed with Wisconsin. Breck’s David Roddy signed with Colorado State. Hopkins’ Zeke Nnaji will announce his decision on Nov. 23, but he already left the Gophers off his finalists, which include Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA. They all had Gophers offers.
“It’s tough, because you want to keep those guys home,” Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi said. “… You can’t sugarcoat it and act like they’re not missing on some of those guys. It’s one thing if players leave for blue bloods. If they leave for non-blue bloods, that’s when it’s concerning.”
The biggest fish of them all, though, is still considering the Gophers, along with every blue blood in America. Rochester John Marshall’s five-star forward, Matthew Hurt, won’t sign until the spring period. That could give Pitino an opportunity to land one of the most talented prep players in state history.
Hurt, who is being recruited the hardest by Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Minnesota, North Carolina and Villanova, hasn’t made any official visits this fall. His father, Richard, talked previously about why a spring decision would make sense.
“The reality is [the decision] could be based on what other people are doing,” Richard Hurt said. “Whether that’s commitments or … who is playing at a certain position, who is going to the NBA — that kind of stuff.”
Hurt’s plan is to take advantage of official visits during the season to see teams play, watch their style, watch the coaches and experience the game atmosphere. A factor the Gophers might have in their favor, if he plays well, is the presence of Hurt’s older brother, Michael, a junior forward.
“Seeing him there helps out a lot,” Matthew Hurt said in the fall. “I could see myself trying to fit in that system playing with my brother. I love playing with him. How he takes care of me off the court and on the court, too. I think it would just make a big difference.”
A year ago, the Gophers inked Cretin-Derham Hall’s Daniel Oturu, DeLaSalle’s Gabe Kalscheur and Orono’s Jarvis Omersa. The three Twin Cities prospects and former Howard Pulley AAU teammates were encouraged by the U’s turnaround from eight to 24 wins and an NCAA tournament berth in 2017. Pitino’s team couldn’t sustain that success, though, last season. And now the Gophers failed to persuade four local seniors to follow in the footsteps of that trio and Amir Coffey (class of 2016).
There’s still a chance to make the biggest statement of all with Hurt, but if that doesn’t happen in the spring, it will be reminiscent of Pitino going 0-fer in the state’s loaded 2017 class. Six players from Minnesota were offered scholarships by the U in 2017, most notably Maple Grove’s Brad Davison (Wisconsin), Champlin Park’s McKinley Wright (Colorado), Cristo Rey’s Jericho Sims (Texas) and Apple Valley’s Gary Trent Jr. (Duke).
Although Hurt didn’t attend Monday’s win against Utah, he was present at the Maroon and Gold scrimmage, their exhibition game and season opener vs. Omaha. Pitino’s team showing signs of improvement after a disappointing 15-17 record last season will be critical — similar to Michael’s commitment in 2016.
“We sat and watched an eight-win season,” Hurt’s father said. “But then, it was followed up by a good season. Those things can change.”