USA Today

Gopher Notebook: Pitino talks about the freshmen talent and upcoming year

Richard Pitino and several of his players were at the State Fair on Tuesday meeting with the public, doing some media appearances, and getting the local public excited for this winter’s basketball team.

Richard Pitino and several of his players were at the State Fair on Tuesday meeting with the public, doing some media appearances, and getting the local public excited for this winter’s basketball team.

What everybody wants to hear about is the incoming freshmen players.  Depending on where you look, Coach Pitino brought in somewhere between a top 25 through 35 class recruiting class in 2016.  Amir Coffey, Michael Hurt, and Eric Curry are all long and agile talents that can play several positions.

“We thought we got who we wanted,” said Pitino.  “With recruiting, there is so much that goes into it.  First and foremost you target guys you want and you go after him.  These three guys right here were the top guys we wanted at those positions. 

“All three of them know how to win.  All three of them come from great families.  All three of them know how to win.  They all have incredible upside. This group here is all long, tall, versatile, and can play many different ways so that is very exciting.  I think all of them are team guys and they have bought into winning. 

“Michael and Amir, they group up Gopher fans and that is always exciting.  And a guy like Eric, we had to go beat a bunch of good schools and he trusted us and believed in us.”

Nationally ranked four-star top 40 talent Amir Coffey is the 2016 Minnesota Mr. Basketball, he led his team to a state championship, played in the Jordan Brand All Star game, and is the local recruit that Gopher fans have been most excited about since Royce White and Rodney Williams arrived in 2009.

"From what I’ve seen from (Amir), he’s all that I thought he would be and more, he’s a phenomenal passer,” Pitino said.  “He’s got great size. He’s all of 6-foot-7. He’s better defensively than I thought he would be.

“We haven’t had a lot of screening actions and all those things. We’ll see on that. I’m extremely excited about him. I think he’s going to have a chance to play at the next level. He’s got the size and skill to do that. I think he’s going to make an impact right away."

Curry, Coffey, and Hurt all spoke in front of a crowd at the fair yesterday and Rochester, Minnesota born and raised Michael Hurt said it best about the goals of his group.

"These guys and I kind of had the same goal when we came here," Michael explained. "We see a lot of really good players and an opportunity to really change the perspective people have on our team. I think we are going to have a really great year."

Flipping the Record

Can Minnesota turn their 8-23 record around this season to a 22-10 mark in just one year?  Their own fans will look at that sentence and make jokes but the Gopher players are believers in what they can do.

“Our team is excited about what this team could become,” said Pitino.  “Our younger guys, the freshmen, they are going to follow the lead of a Jordan Murphy, of a Bakary Konate.  It’s a really good blend of young talent and some experience which will provide depth.

“I understand it’s human nature to look at the record and saw we are far away.  But I go back a year at this time and watch every game, and as painful as it may be, it’s amazing to me how close I feel we are to turning this thing around. 

“What’s amazing to me is all the guys that are back.  I was watching the game at Indiana and we had four freshmen and sophomore on the court.  We were so close.  That game experience is vital.  It’s hard to go through it but we were so close.”

Regular starters Nate Mason (now a junior), Dupree McBrayer (sophomore), Jordan Murphy (sophomore), and Bakary Konate (junior) are all back plus the three upperclassmen transfers Akeem Springs, Reggie Lynch, and Davonte Fitzgerald join the three freshmen as newcomers

The schedule this year will be much tougher this year though both within the conference and in the non league games in November and December.

“We started a home and home with Arkansas,” said Pitino. “We stayed away from the preseason tournaments that we’ve done in the past but we have Arkansas coming to the Barn, we have St. John’s coming to the Barn, those are going to be really exciting games. 

“We will be going to Florida State which is a difficult place to play and they are a good team.  And we are going to play Vanderbilt in the Sanford Pentagon in South Dakota which was really a fun event to be apart of last year (they played Oklahoma State) except for the outcome. 

“If you look at our Big Ten schedule, they didn’t do us any favors.  I think we start four of the first six on the road.  We have to be ready but I feel like with this team we have the talent, we have the depth, and we have the experience as long as we stay healthy. I think we have the will to do it.”

And the team is eager to get started.

"It’s so hard sitting on a tough season. It’s very difficult to sit for five or six months. So we’re all excited to get back to work. I’m fully confident that it’ll be our best team next year.”

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories