So much going on in Gopher Basketballvilletown. Both of Tubby's recruits for next year (Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster) are now gone. I mentioned it on here before, but Ellis decommitted from the program in the limbo time period between coaches, and news broke last night that Foster had decommitted as well after one of Pitino's assistants pretty much told him he wasn't really in the new regime's plans. Neither player is a massive loss, although Ellis would likely have been a pretty major contributor from the get go, and both are understandable. Both players made the decision to play for Tubby Smith, and with him gone it makes sense that they'd want to back off of their commitment and at least reevaluate their plans.
On Pitino's side it makes sense as well because he's planning on going with a philosophy and game plan very different than what Tubby was running and would like to get his own players installed as soon as possible. Not to mention that he probably never spoke nor watched film on Alex Foster in his life. Nobody should vilify Ellis for leaving nor Pitino for pushing Foster out the door - these things happen when there is a change at the top - just as Teague got rid of Tubby despite his most successful season as Gophers' coach. It is what it is, let's just hope Mr. Pitino has a plan (that works) to fill up the now four scholarships available for this season. It's possible at this late date he may simply bank one or two of them for next year when he has a full recruiting period to work with, but the team will need at least 1 or 2 guys in order to field a full roster, and that's before any transfers by current players (if any). The main candidates, in order of their likelihood of wearing maroon and gold:
1. Rakeem Buckles. Buckles, a 6-7, 215 lb. power forward, was a top 50 recruit way back in 2009, but two knee injuries limited him to 27 games played the last three seasons, including zero games last year as he sat out per transfer rules (transferred from Louisville to Florida International) and in order to finish rehabbing his knee. There was an announcement that Buckles was transferring here, but I haven't seen anything official so I think it may not quite be 100% just yet, although it is quite likely since Buckles followed Pitino from Louisville to FIU so it makes sense he'd try to come here as well. Buckles would need a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible next year (due to transferring) but I think due to his injury history and following Pitino he'd likely get it.
The Gophers have a clear need at PF next year so Buckles would definitely be welcome even if you're not 100% sure what you're going to get after two major knee surgeries. It sounds like his legs aren't Maurice Creek dead yet and in his second year at Louisville, prior to the injury, he was averaging 7 pts and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game. At a minimum he should be able to fill the "bench big" role and with the way the Gophers' roster is now constructed that is a big need, and he has considerable upside as well.
2. Malik Smith. Smith is another of Pitino's guys from FIU, a 6-2 combo guard who was the second leading scorer for the Panthers last year at 14.1 ppg. Although he would be a transfer (and he has already announced his intention to do so) due to the NCAA rule that allows a player to transfer without having to sit a year if he's already graduated and looking to pursue a graduate degree not offered at his current school (and guess how often that's probably used as a loophole) he would be eligible right away.
Smith is a volume shooter, but more importantly is an excellent three point shooter, hitting a so-so 36% but doing so on 8 attempts per game. Given the Gophers lack of outside shooting options Smith would be a very welcome addition, and a transition game with Smith running one wing and Austin Hollins the other sounds pretty damn good. In the last day or so someone tweeted something to the effect of "Malik Smith would be an excellent fit in Minnesota next to Austin and Andre Hollins" which Smith himself retweeted, so I would guess he's just waiting for the call and offer from Pitino.
3. Cameron Forte. An athletic power forward coming out of Howard Junior College, Forte averaged 23 points and 8 rebounds per game this past season and would likely be a starter at Minnesota right off the bat, which is why I'd imagine the Gophers would appeal to him this late in the recruiting process. His finalists were recently announced as Pitt, Long Beach, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Colorado State, but with Pitino carrying over his scholarship offer from FIU to Minnesota things may have just gotten more interesting for Forte. It sounds like he's just starting to take his official visits now, so it may not be too late, particularly if he and Pitino had a good relationship and it was the FIU/Sun Belt factor that turned him off. We can hope.
4. Tarik Black. Of all the players I'm listing Black would be my number 1 choice to join the Gophers. Black is that monster (6-9, 262 lbs.) who played for Memphis the last three years, averaging right around 9ppg and 5rpg all three seasons, and who recently announced plans to transfer from the Tigers. Black, like Malik Smith, also has graduated already and so will not need to sit out a year and will be eligible immediately.
His range is basically zero and he's a horrible free throw shooter but he gives his team an excellent rebounder who can score in close and, once again, the Gophers desperately need some big guys for next season. Many, many schools are trying to Black to come to their program including some big-time ones (I read Duke was interested) but the Gophers do have a possible edge in that Black and Dre Hollins basically grew up playing against each other in Memphis at rival schools and know each other quite well. Hopefully Dre has enough pull with Black to at least get him interested and then Pitino can take it home. There was mutual interest between Black and Florida (when Pitino was there) when Black was coming out of high school, so perhaps a relationship already exists?
5. Shane Rector. The first of two freshmen I'll mention, Rector was a Rutgers commit before asking (and getting) his release after Mike Rice was fired and is a guy Ryan James tweeted that the Gophers would likely be looking at. Rector is a 3-star point guard who had offers from Providence, Dayton, Hofstra, and UMass before signing with Rutgers, and the reason the Gophers could be in the mix is new assistant coach Kimani Young and his deep ties in NYC since Rector is from the Bronx.
Rector sounds like your typical NYC point guard: fast, great in transition, pass first, with a bad jumper, and the speed and transition thing certainly make you think he'd be a nice fit in Pitino's system. I'm in favor of anything that helps to get Dre Hollins more time playing off the ball (not all the time, just some of the time) especially if it doesn't involve Maverick Ahanmisi. Can the NYC pipeline pay off this quickly? Guess we'll see. And do you know how fun it would be to make "Rector? I don't even know 'er" jokes for four years?
6. Jaren Sina. This is a pretty much monster long shot, but I'm including it here well because I can. Sina is one of four Rivals Top 150 players who is not currently signed (he was with Northwestern but bailed when they fired Carmody) and the only one who you could say the Gophers have even a 1% chance of getting late. Given that he had offers from about 20 schools prior to choosing Northwestern and now Indiana is sniffing around that 1% might be generous, but you know if you don't aim for the sky you can't see the clouds or something like that.
Will the Gophers end up with any of these dudes? Almost certainly. I'd say Buckles is a done deal and Smith is damn near. The last two are probably long shots with Black and Forte falling somewhere in the middle. If they end up with Smith, Buckles, and Black I'd be ecstatic. Sub Forte in for Black and I'd still be pretty happy. I don't know. At least shit's interesting.