Richard Pitino and his staff spent July traveling between many different cities throughout the country including bigger areas like Las Vegas, Kansas City, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Indianapolis, Dallas, and Chicago as well as North Augusta and Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“July is a necessary step,” said Pitino to Darren Wolfson on his ESPN1500 show. “You are making sure you are evaluating but you are also making sure that your top targets see you. It doesn’t get it done, but it’s a step you have to take.
“The top targets have to know that you are there watching. You also have to develop a list, you have to develop really good B, C, D plans just in case. It went great, but we are happy to be back on campus to be back around our guys.”
Minnesota put in a big time effort especially to see local kids. There was one point in early July where the Gophers had three coaches (Richard Pitino, Ben Johnson, and Kimani Young) watching Theo John, Daniel Oturo, Gabriel Kalscheuer, and Tre Jones at the Peach Jam and then two hours later another three coaches (Pitino, Johnson, and Nate Pomeday) were in the northern half of the state to see McKinley Wright, Jericho Sims, and Matthew Hurt.
This was the case all July long as Pitino and Ben Johnson were a constant in front of the local kids plus they put in a lot of time to see guys like Isaiah Washington, Wabissa Bede, Jamir Harris, Marcus Carr, and others.
The next step after July is getting some answers from the kids. Setting up various visits is what the coaches do including unofficial and official visits on campus as well as traveling to high schools and homes to meet with kids.
“Once August starts you take a deep breath,” said Pitino. “Some of the local kids you can get them on campus in August, but what you are trying to do is get kids committed to official visits, and then trying to get into their homes.
“I think the first contact period starts the first week of September so you do that and put yourself in position to be there. Many coaches go on vacation because the guys have left campus for break, although not me as I’m having a baby (Coach Pitino and his wife had their third child yesterday).”
Coach Pitino and his family welcomed Zoe Grace Pitino into the world on Saturday evening.
Since the final game was played in March the Gopher basketball team has put a focus on improvements. Improving the freshman that played a lot a year ago (Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer, Ahmad Gilbert, Stephon Sharp), getting the transfers ready to play (Reggie Lynch and Davonte Fitzgerald), welcoming the freshman and getting them ready for college life (Michael Hurt, Amir Coffey, Eric Curry), and getting veteran leadership from now upperclassmen (Nate Mason, Bakary Konate, Gaston Diedhiou).
This is a team that has depth at every spot and part of that is due to the versatility of this team. The squad was motivated by the struggles of the previous season and eager to show Minnesota and the country what they can do.
“I feel like this is the most complete and most talented group we’ve had,” said Pitino. “It’s hard to be young in the Big Ten, we were young last year. I don’t know how much of that was our fault, but I don’t think there was a lot to avoid that.
“We took a step back, I knew we were going to take a step back but we took a bigger step back than we wanted to obviously but I think we have the team to take a step forward. We have a lot of versatility, I think our freshman are more talented this year, and I think it’s a more complete group, and I think it’s a team that can make some noise.”
Jordan Murphy averaged 11.6 points and eight rebounds a game as a freshman in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-6 forward had that type of year and did much of it on natural ability. There is even more that Murphy can bring to the Gophers and the Big Ten.
“From day one of the off-season I’ve talked to Jordan about taking the next step,” said Pitino. “He had to put on some weight and he put on ten pounds. His body looks awesome. He was all freshman last year, one of the best forwards in the conference, and I don’t think he even knew what he was doing half of the time.
“We have to teach him. Teams will trap him more next year, they will dig down on him with guards so I think he will be more prepared for it. But he’s had an awesome spring and summer and I think he is really eager to take some steps.”
Fellow sophomore Dupree McBrayer started much of the Big Ten season before the late season suspension. He had a tough start shooting the ball as a freshman but then after making a triple against Penn State, McBrayer made 10 of 23 at the arc before having to sit out.
Dupree hit double figures five times in Big Ten play and had a 2.2 to one assist to turnover ratio for the season. When you look deeper at what McBrayer did, he had a nice freshman year when you get past the slow shooting start and the late season suspension. And he’s been consistently talked about as the team’s most improved player this off-season.
Dupree playing with freshman Amir Coffey in the backcourt or on the wing is something that has the Gopher staff very excited. Adding in Nate Mason and the rest of the freshman class and these could be exciting times at Williams Arena.
“Dupree McBrayer has been tremendous in the weight room, he’s put on about ten pounds,” said Pitinno. Amir Coffey has been a pleasant surprise. Our strength guy Shaun/Sean always talks about Dupree and Amir standing out and they need to because they are thin.
“Nate Mason has hit weight down which is something we talked about, but all the guys top to bottom have been good. All of our guys are eager. We had a tough season and these guys are eager to get back and show people what we are all about.
“Amir is really talented, 6-foot-7 and can pass the ball. When you are running ball screens like we run, to be able to see over the top to see all of the options and see what you have, that’s what basketball is. That part of it (passing) is really exciting and (Amir has room to grow). He’s a competitor and one of the most talented guys we’ve brought in.
“I also think Eric Curry is extremely under the radar as a player, that was a great get for us and Michael Hurt is the hardest working player I’ve ever recruited or coached. I haven’t been doing this a long time but nobody is going to out-work Michael. Eric reminds me of a taller Jordan Murphy. He’s a freshman obviously but he’s got great talent. A phenomenal and has great talent. He has a chance to be special as well.”
Something to Prove
An eight win season will leave a team hungry for the future. Listening to fellow students and your own fan base put the team down in a mocking tone will motivate a club. Having to listen to the joy that the local media seems to have in the team struggles will also motivate a team.
And this off-season Coach Pitino feels his club has been greatly motivated.
“The attitude of our guys in summer workouts has been good. I think when you endure what we’ve endured it wakes up everybody up. I wouldn’t want to do that again but I think it’s opened everybody’s eyes. I think they understand what is expected of them and I think they are eager to show everybody what they can do. I think they believe they are a very good team.”
There is one more guy to add to the bunch that has something to prove. Graduate transfer Akeem Springs has been having success at the mid-major level his entire career at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Northern Illinois.
“We brought in Akeem because Akeem has been a really good player on a really good team for a long time,” said Pitino. “They (Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Akeem’s former team) obviously beat us, they beat Wisconsin, they played really well at Notre Dame.
“They were tough and Akeem was one of the better players on the court. We felt that Akeem was a steal for us. He’s finishing up summer school right now in Milwaukee, and then he will be here.”
· Bakary Konate has been back playing for about a week after an injury earlier in the summer. He had a quad injury.
· When the team had a meal at the home of Kris Humphries, it was Kris reaching out to them. Walter Bond and John Thomas spoke to the team this summer and it was those players reaching out to the team.
· Kris Humphries is the only current Gopher in the NBA and he’s been in the league for 13 years.
· “Now that the facility is being built, we are really catching up. Will it be the total difference maker? No but it helps us catch up. It’s a huge variable for our guys to get better, and for our recruits to see, especially local guys. Shows our recruits that we mean business. It’s important in recruiting.” – Richard Pitino
· The new facility will give the team two courts running side by side and more space to break up into groups of players to do drills. Put simply, it will give them more space.
· The expectation is that the team will start being able to use the new facility next December.
· They are completing the contract on one more non-conference game and then they will announce the full non-conference schedule.