If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to turn the page on Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball, or at least try to. 2016-17 is a huge year for the Gophers and that holds particularly true for it’s embattled coach, Richard Pitino. (So embattled, in fact, that the Star Tribune’s Amelia Rayno wrote a piece in March about his job safety. He’ll be given the opportunity to turn around the program, but with everything surrounding the athletic department, his time could be limited.)
Off the court issues concerning its players plagued the program late last year and well into the summer. Those issues for sure impacted the decision of one recruit, Nathan Reuvers, and have been a public blackeye for the university. Then to top things off, the coach became the target with his travel expenses and excessive buyout. (That last one isn’t really Pitino’s fault.)
New athletic director Mark Coyle hasn’t made any rash decisions, obviously. All indications point to giving Pitino an opportunity to execute his vision. But we’re trying to turn the page. I say trying because these issues will linger and if the team’s performance and record don’t improve, the issues will become an even more pressing matter later this winter. Even so, there haven’t been any wins/losses yet in the 2016-17 season, so let’s take a look at some of the latest Gopher basketball news.
Jarvis Johnson Plays
Jarvis Johnson, part of Gopher head coach Richard Pitino’s 2015 recruiting class, sat out all of last year. The University of Minnesota would not clear him to play, due to a heart condition.
Obviously, if his health is of serious concern he shouldn’t play and the University shouldn’t allow him to play (which is what they did last year). But it’s murky because Johnson and his family were shocked by the U’s decision. And this summer he did in fact play in the Twin Cities Pro-Am. (In the Star Tribune article, he said he played 8-9 games during the tournament.)
Undeniably, Johnson would’ve helped the Gophers last year, as he was actually rated as Minnesota’s top recruit and a local kid hoping to change the program. Now with the departure of Kevin Dorsey, that further opens opportunities in the backcourt.
Unfortunately for his playing career with the Gophers, it doesn’t seem likely that Minnesota doctors will ever clear him medically. If deemed safe, it’s quite possible that he could continue his playing career elsewhere, though. That of course wouldn’t benefit Pitino and the Gophers very much unfortunately.
Gopher Coaching Staff Changes
According to Marcus Fuller of the Star Tribune, Nate Pomeday has left the Gopher basketball coaching staff to become the associate commissioner in charge of men’s basketball for the American Athletic Conference. (Here’s a link to the official release from the AAC.)
Pitino hired Pomeday, who played at Northwestern, as director of basketball operations in 2014 and then made him an assistant coach the next season when a spot on his staff opened. Speculation about his departure is really just that. It’s quite possible that after experiencing coaching, he wanted to return to an administration role.
The American Athletic Conference is no slouch basketball-wise. Looking at the schools, it’s comprised with a number of the teams left after the Big East disbanded. Southern Methodist University (SMU), Cincinnati, Connecticut, Temple and Memphis are the highlight basketball programs.
According to Fuller in the Star Tribune, Pitino will take his time finding a replacement.
The offseason has been eventful for the Gophers in many of the wrong ways. But a new and promising recruiting class brings hope for the 2016-17 Gophers and in college basketball things can change quickly. Programs on the wrong course can suddenly head in the right direction, and certainly that’s the hope in Minnesota, on and off the court.