Gophers basketball coach captures attention from top prospects

Published 11:15am Thursday, August 8, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, By Andrew Dyrdal

It’s no surprise that former Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith offered Lakeville North’s incoming senior J.P. Macura a scholarship this summer.

The 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard is the fourth-ranked player in the state’s nationally-showcased 2014 recruiting class and a four-star prospect overall, gathering offers from Iowa State, Miami, Butler and North Carolina State, among others.

What is surprising is that Smith waited until he was fired from Minnesota and landed at Texas Tech before extending an offer to the sharp-shooting Macura, who was averaging 26 points per game and leading Lakeville North to the state championship game during Smith’s final season at the U.

While Smith’s handling of Macura defies logic, we really shouldn’t be surprised because the former Gophers coach’s recruiting methods were just as unpredictable as his offensive sets.

Future Minnesota recruiting classes have changed dramatically since Minnesota hired new coach Richard Pitino on April 3. Smith’s lone 2013 commitments, Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster, departed for Michigan State and Texas Tech, respectively, and Pitino signed incoming freshman Daquein McNeil and brought in high-scoring guard Malik Smith, who transferred from the Gophers coach’s former team, Florida International.

Pitino’s first recruiting class will have been put together in a few months, and, understandably, will likely rank last in the Big Ten Conference. But looking beyond this fall, Pitino is already doing something Smith neither accomplished nor even really attempted: aggressively pursuing and garnering the attention of the nation’s most elite prospects.

The Gophers have offered scholarships to 13 of ESPN’s top 100 prospects of the 2014 class and are on the short list for many of them, including Minnesota’s own Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughan and Reid Travis.

Minnesota just missed on top 15 point guards Ja’Quan Newton and Sandy Cohen, who both had the Gophers in their top six schools but this week chose Miami and Marquette, respectively. And when Quentin Snyder, who is considered seventh-best point guard in the nation, de-committed from Louisville last week, Pitino was the first coach to call and offer him a scholarship.

It is unknown if any of these elite prospects will end up in Minneapolis, but the fact that Pitino is going after the country’s most talented high schoolers and is capturing their attention is something unprecedented over the past 15 years.

Pitino’s fast-paced offense is surely attractive to recruits, and he’s putting up a fight against the nation’s most prestigious programs. But it’s no secret the best prospects want to have talented teammates, so hopefully Rich can strike while the iron is hot.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.