Perhaps the biggest factor in Minnesota’s remarkable leap from putrid 2015-16 Big Ten bottom dwellers to 2016-17 cream of the conference crop was their infusion of talent. Sure, familiar faces in Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy, and a wily Dupree McBrayer were around for the 8-23 campaign. But a year of maturity paired with the additions of freshmen Amir Coffey and Eric Curry, as well as incoming transfers in Reggie Lynch and Akeem Springs, turned Richard Pitino and the Gopher squad into media darlings.
Now, with an entrenched foundation to build on, and Big Ten Coach of the Year award in hand, Pitino has shifted the focus towards sustainability. Incoming freshmen Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris come in not as program saviors, rather additional pieces that can contribute in spots and develop their game.
The 2017 haul is certainly a success story in its own right, especially top 15 point guard Washington, but it’s the 2018 class that is commanding recognition. A trio of teammates from the Howard Pulley Panthers are establishing a chemistry comprised group not to be reckoned with.
Lead by 5-star point guard Tre Jones, AAU team Howard Pulley has seen its share of success on the EYBL circuit this summer. After going 13-3 in their division, the Minnesota based team qualified for the Peach Jam Tournament, ultimately losing in the first round.
Howard Pulley is still competing, however, and they kicked off play in the Las Vegas Classic on Wednesday. While the squad lost their opening game, three key players performed admirably. Post presence Daniel Oturu notched a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling in 11 rebounds. Forward Jarvis Thomas flirted with the idea, adding 9 points to his 10 rebounds. Guard Gabe Kalscheur chipped in 18 points.
All three will be playing for the Gophers in 2018-19.
Daniel Oturu was the trend setter, committing to the Gophers back in January. Oturu is currently ranked in the top 50 for the class of 2018, and is a top 5 center, per 247Sports. Heralding from Cretin Derham Hall in St. Paul, MN, the four-star center views the University of Minnesota as home.
“Minnesota, it’s my home state, home state school,” Oturu said during his announcement. “I felt really loved by the coaches there. Just having the opportunity to play for the people that watched me growing up. My family coming to my games and my friends, it just really meant the world to me.”
After his commitment, Oturu turned recruiter, bending the ears of his fellow Howard Pulley teammates.
“Every now and then I’ll say: ‘Hey, don’t forget about the U.’ Or I’ll say, ‘We can really do something special here and make our city proud,’” Oturu told the Star Tribune earlier this month. “It’s a really good goal that I have that we can play well together here at Minnesota and make people here proud – to put Minnesota on the map.”
His pitches certainly made an impact. Jarvis Thomas and Gabe Kalscheur have both announced their commitments to the Gophers in the last two weeks. While Thomas and Kalscheur possess a considerably smaller profile than Oturu, the immediate and crucial depth they will provide is invaluable.
Ultimately, the three Howard Pulley players combine to catapult Minnesota up to the fifth overall spot in the 2018 recruiting rankings, second to just Michigan State in the Big Ten, per 247Sports. Hope also remains for a Tre Jones commitment, though many believe he will follow in the footsteps of brother Tyus Jones and sign with Duke.