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Four-star Hopkins guard Walton has Gophers among six finalists

Four-star Hopkins guard Kerwin Walton, one of the top unsigned seniors in the country, narrowed his list to six schools Tuesday night, including the Gophers.

Among Walton’s six finalists are also Creighton, Arizona, Georgetown, North Carolina and Vanderbilt. 

The 6-foot-5 sharpshooter doesn’t have a date for his announcement yet, but the spring signing period runs from April 15 to May 20.

Walton did a Q&A with the Star Tribune recently about a range of topics, including te advantages of waiting until the spring, how he improved his senior year, watching the Gophers play this season, how his recruitment was affected by the coronavirus pandemic and more.

Q: What do you feel about the choice to wait until the spring to make your decision?

A: It’s been great. It’s worked out being able to watch all of these teams. It’s been a great experience for getting a feel on the playing style and how I can see myself in that system they play in. Being able to play was very helpful with me trying to make my decision. Just being able to have guys talk to me and what they think about certain things has been a big help.

Q: How has the virus crisis affected your recruiting process with having no coaches visiting?

A: I wouldn’t say too much. All the schools recruiting me or offering me I’ve already been able to visit. I’ve been able to visit every school to visit me other than Georgetown. I’ve been able to talk to everyone. [The schools] went to some of my games. I went their practices and checked out their facilities. I don’t think it will be too much of an impact, because I can still talk to them at least. For me, it’s mostly just calls and texts.

Q: You attended several Gophers games. What did you take away from watching them play this season?

A: It definitely gives me a good insight on who I would be playing with and how they play. Is it a selfish team? Is it a team-oriented type of offense? Who is running the show and who are the shooters. Being able to see that so many times was very helpful.

Q: How much did Richard Pitino being back for next season help in considering the Gophers?

A: If he wasn’t there, I don’t think it would be much of anything for me there.

Q: Do you feel any pressure from Minnesota fans about staying home and playing for the Gophers?

A: I don’t really feel too much pressure about it. I think it’s pretty cool and interesting for the simple fact that how much love and support I would get from the hometown.

Q: There were three players on your D1 Minnesota AAU team (Dawson Garcia, Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl) who decided to sign with other schools and not the Gophers. Does that influence your decision?

A: Well, not necessarily. They’re going to programs where I didn’t have offers from. If they stayed home that would’ve been cool for them to also be considered one of the hometown heroes. But I don’t think it really plays too much of a big role. Unless they would’ve considered coming to Minnesota than that would’ve done something. Other than that, not really.

Q: How much do you lean on your parents in your final decision? Is staying close to home a factor?
A: Big time. My family is a huge influence on my decision. Whatever they feel is best is probably going to make a big impact on my decision, whether it’s staying home or going away. I’m not sure if they’re too concerned how far I go from home. But they will have a big impact on my decision.

Q: Arizona coach Sean Miller was heard on wiretaps on a recent HBO documentary on the FBI recruiting fraud scandal. Does the NCAA potentially looking into the program affect your decision?

A: I kind of have to [factor that into the decision]. You never know what that can turn into. Unless it becomes a super big deal than it shouldn’t be too much to worry about.

Q: How much are transfers and NBA draft decisions factors in your recruiting process?
A: It’s tough. All I can do is stay updated about it and keep asking coaches questions. What’s going on and what they’re planning on doing just so I can get a handle on how the roster is going to look like.

Q: What did Hopkins coach Ken Novak tell you guys about not being able to compete for the state title due to the virus cancellations?

A: He was really proud of us. We were considered underdogs going into the season, mostly because we lost a lot of our seniors, including our big guy Zeke (Nnaji) to Arizona. We thought we improved a lot as the season went on and got better. I think it’s going to carry over to next year with all the juniors being accustomed to the system. I think the season itself was a very successful season. That was his message to us.

Q: How did you think you played this year? What did you improve on in your last season at Hopkins?

A: I thought it was good. My biggest goal for the season was winning another ring with my guys. Other than that it wasn’t really much I cared about. I just focused on getting as many wins as possible and winning a state title. I had a good senior season, but I just couldn’t finish it out. I think I improved a lot on my overall strength and athleticism. I think my vision and passing ability is starting to improve thanks to Novak. Just learning how to play improved for me. Just being more aggressive with everything I do. I improved a lot on those things. I kind of got both stronger and heavier. Last year, when I weighed myself I was in the 180s. Now I’m 200 right now.

New U basketball assistant? Eight coaches with Minnesota ties

Former Gophers assistant Rob Jeter, who accepted the job as Western Illinois coach last week, was officially announced to his new duties Monday by the school.

Jeter had been on Minnesota’s staff for the last two seasons, including on the NCAA tournament team in 2019. Jeter was previously the head coach at UW Milwaukee from 2005-16. 

Richard Pitino has lost three assistants in the last two years, including both Ben Johnson (Xavier) and Kimani Young (Connecticut) in 2018. His staff currently includes Kyle Lindsted and Ed Conroy, his longest tenured assistant.

The Gophers have two scholarships still to use in the 2020 class, so they likely won’t take long to hire Jeter’s replacement to help them during the spring recruiting period.

Obviously, Pitino will look to hire somebody that is the right fit with Conroy and Lindsted, but he needs a big man to replace All-American Daniel Oturu. The Gophers could also benefit from hiring someone with local ties.

Here are possible assistant coach candidates with ties to Minnesota (in alphabetic order):

Gameli Ahelegbe, South Dakota – Ahelegbe has been on South Dakota's staff for four seasons and spent three seasons at North Dakota prior to that. Was on the Coyotes staff when they upset the Gophers at the Barn in 2015-16. Former club director and trainer at 43Hoops AAU program in Minnesota. Played at Minnesota State and briefly in the ABA.

Kyle Green, Northern Iowa – Green, a Minneapolis native, is an associate head coach for Ben Jacobson at Northern Iowa. He’s spent 15 seasons on the Panthers coaching staff. A 1992 Hamline graduate, his son, A.J., was the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year as a sophomore guard this season.

Al Harris, D1 Minnesota – Harris is head coach for D1 Minnesota, one of the top AAU programs in the country. Among the players he coached and trained in recent years, includes McDonald’s All-Americans Dawson Garcia and Matthew Hurt, Colorado star McKinley Wright and current Gophers target Kerwin Walton. He’s the general manager at Drive Athletics, a sports training company located in Edina.

Jeff Mailhot, formerly Iona – Mailhot was in his first season as an assistant at Iona in 2019-20, but head coach Tim Cluess resigned and was replaced by Rick Pitino earlier this month. The Minneapolis native spent two seasons as an assistant at New Mexico State and had stints at Odessa College and Midland College in Texas. As a high school assistant locally, Mailhot coached at Hopkins and Cooper. 

Jared Nuness, Baylor – Nuness has spent the last 10 seasons on Scott Drew's staff with the Bears, including in his third season as special assistant to the head coach and director of player personnel. The former Valparaiso and Hopkins player was a head coach locally at Bloomington Kennedy and Park Center. He helped Baylor land four-star big man Dain Dainja from Park Center this year.

Darryl Sharp, Hampton – Sharp has been the associate head coach at Hampton for 10 seasons, going to three NCAA tournaments. The father of former Gophers walk-on and Hopkins guard Stephon Sharp. His high-major experience includes as an Iowa State assistant and former director of basketball for Denny Crum at Louisville. Coached AAU and high school ball in Minnesota, including for Washburn and Breck.

Larry Suggs, Grassroots Sizzle – Head coach of Grassroots Sizzle AAU program, which has Gophers targets Chet Holmgren and Prince Aligbe. Suggs, the father of McDonald’s All-American and Gonzaga five-star recruit Jalen Suggs, is also an assistant at Minnehaha Academy, one of the top high school teams in the nation.

Dave Thorson, Colorado State – Thorson is a former Gophers assistant under Clem Haskins, a position which gave him a chance to return to the college game 20 years later a couple years ago. Niko Medved, a former U manager under Haskins, hired Thorson at Drake. The longtime championship coach at DeLaSalle then followed Medved to the Rams.