After a couple of down years and a string of bad news, the Minnesota basketball team has some work to do to get fans excited and compete within the Big Ten.
Luckily, the state of Minnesota has plenty of talented players in the Class of 2017, and beyond.
Unfortunately, Richard Pitino and the Gophers are going to have to battle to keep these players at home. The recent high-profile example is Tyus Jones, who played high school ball for Apple Valley, MN before winning an NCAA championship during his lone year with Duke. There is also competition in the Big Ten. It appears that Greg Gard and the Wisconsin Badgers are beginning to rebuild the Minnesota recruiting pipeline that brought Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor, Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Kammron Taylor and others to Madison near the turn of the century.
That pipeline dried up in recent years. The Badgers had two Minnesota natives on their 2015-16 roster. The now-graduated Jordan Smith, an Orono, MN native who earned a scholarship prior to his last semester, and freshman Alex Illikainen. The 6'9" Illikainen signed with Wisconsin despite being offered by the Gophers as a freshman in high school in 2012. No Minnesota natives are joining Wisconsin in 2016-17, but a few are on the horizon in the future. On May 18th Gard got Nathan Reuvers, of Lakeville North, MN, to turn down the Gophers and commit to the Badgers for the 2017-18 season.
The Badgers offered Brad Davison this week. A 6'3" four-star 2017 point guard from Maple Grove, MN, Davison has picked up steam this spring, receiving offers from Wisconsin, Northwestern and Stanford this week alone.
Even if those two go elsewhere, the Gophers still have plenty of talent to work with. Apple Valley's Gary Trent Jr., the ninth-ranked player in ESPN's updated Top 100 for the Class of 2017, is at the top of the class. It appears the Gophers may be a long shot to land Trent, but they could be in the running for in-state recruits Theo John, Goanar Mar, Jericho Sims, Ishmael El-Amin and McKinley Wright. Seven players in Minnesota's high school Class of 2017 are listed as three-star recruits or higher by 247Sports.
This recruiting cycle could be huge for Pitino, who has come under criticism on and off the court. Whether the wins come this year or not, bringing in Minnesota prospects can excite the fan base and keep them invested until the Gophers start winning again.