Recruit’s choice of Stanford hurts Gophers but is understandable

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

As a senior in high school, I began considering where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life as a college student.

The decision wasn’t tough. I immediately ruled out large state universities, opting for a closer relationship with my classmates and professors and wanted to leave the state I’d spent my entire life.

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While most of my friends were headed to Mankato, Duluth or a liberal arts college in the Twin Cities, I applied to schools only in South Dakota and Iowa, hoping to be forced to make new friends without any of my old ones around.

I settled at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, partially because my dad went there, and I had fond memories of trips to his former college as a kid, but mainly because while it was only 100 miles from Albert Lea, it felt nothing like southern Minnesota.

There were bluffs, rivers, springs and people from all over the world on one small campus. Albert Lea felt like days away, and I rarely went home my freshman year because of that.

Thousands of students each year buck their home state to go to school elsewhere. I don’t think anyone cared that I didn’t commit to a school in the state I called home, but Gophers fans around state did when Reid Travis, a senior at DeLaSalle high school in Minneapolis, and one of the best basketball players in the country, decided to attend Stanford University instead of the school just minutes from his home: the University of Minnesota.

Travis is part of a group of senior prep basketball players dubbed the “Big Three,” and, along with Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones and Golden Valley’s Rashad Vaughn, is one of the highest recruited players in state history.

It was expected that former Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith would strike out with all three players, and what little hope remained disappeared when Smith was fired and Richard Pitino was hired just months before these players would be making life-changing decisions.

While I still don’t believe the Gophers have a shot at Vaughn or Jones, who are being heavily recruited by Duke and Kansas, Travis was the most likely to commit to the U and he whittled his list down to Minnesota and Stanford before slapping on a cardinal red hat at a press conference at De La Salle in front of his family, classmates and the media.

Because speculation grew during the weeks prior to Travis’ planned announcement, I spent Friday morning watching highlight videos of the six-foot, eight-inch power forward on YouTube.

Travis is a physically imposing player who attacks the rim and and will be a double-double machine in college.

What separates Travis from players like Trevor Mbakwe, who stood a similar height and weight for the Gophers, is his polished jump shot and ball handling skills. Travis was a point guard until his freshman year of high school, so he has no problem bringing the ball up the court or attacking the basket off the dribble.

He has a scary combination of size, athleticism and skill.

Had Reid chosen the Gophers, he would have immediately legitimized Pitino as a recruiter and shot Minnesota’s 2014 class into the nation’s top 25. And unlike Jones and Vaughn, he will likely stay in college for more than one year and be a program builder rather than a flash in the pan.

Oh, what could have been.

But unlike all those who will scorn Travis for not staying home and playing for the Gophers,

I sympathize with him and respect his decision.

Stanford is an elite school both academically and athletically and is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Travis, who’s a smart kid, has aspirations of the NBA and beyond, and Stanford will give him a better shot to be a pro and the education he’ll need for a post-NBA career.

And there’s something exciting about leaving home and carving your own path in someplace new.

Still, Pitino’s 2014 recruiting class is nothing to shake your head at, and the Gophers should feel no shame in losing out on one of their own to Stanford.

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