The Gophers' 2014 recruiting class is now complete (probably) with the recent signings of Zach Lofton (who almost certainly won't be eligible until 2015) and Bakary Konate, who join Gaston Diedhiou, Josh Martin, Carlos Morris, and Nate Mason to make up Richard Pitino's first official recruiting class. It's not an amazing class by any means, with 247sports ranking it 9th in the Big Ten (this doesn't include Lofton since he's a transfer from Illinois State) but it's a dramatic shift in personnel traits. All five of the freshmen are extremely athletic and should be able to get up and down the court. Make no mistake - this team is changing.
Konate, who ranks as the 182nd best player and 15th best center by 247sports, is originally from Spain, and most recently played at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. Louisville had offered earlier, however Konate's academics weren't in order and the Cardinals moved on. The Gophers swept in and grabbed him over Texas A&M, Tulane, and Creighton, foregoing any other visits other than to Minnesota because he says he knew this is where he wanted to be. So that's cool. Konate still needs to take the SAT and get a good enough score to gain admission to Minnesota, but his coach says that shouldn't be a problem. Which is exactly what he has to say.
Hopefully it isn't an issue, because Konate sounds like he's going to be fun. He's big, strong, and super athletic and he does two really fun things - blocks shots and hits outside jumpers. He's a true center at 6-11, and although they say he's not super polished on the block the fact that he can step out and hit 2s and even 3s adds a nice wrinkle. The one big weakness they say is that he's not as strong in the lower body as he is in the upper, which could get him pushed around in the Big Ten, but if Pitino can get Mo Walker to lose weight, hopefully he can get Konate to gain weight. He's a great pick up this late. Not much video out there, but here's him dunking against a D-I team.
Zach Lofton, originally from Columbia Heights, is transferring in from Illinois State. It's said he'll be applying for a waiver to play right away next season, but he doesn't really have any good reasons for one so it's unlikely. Of course, this being the NCAA who the hell knows what they'll decide. Once Lofton decided to leave the Illinois State program he didn't look at anybody other than the Gophers, hoping they'd make him an offer. They did, and despite a lot of whining and questioning from rubes at Gopher Hole, I think this is an excellent signing.
Lofton scored 11.3 points per game for the Redbirds last season (he also spent a year at a JuCo), which would normally have fans very excited, but his .339 shooting percentage including .292 from three has some fans up in arms about how he "sucks" and using a scholarship for three years is "a waste" and how the Gophers should get someone better (because everyone is just clamoring to transfer here). Perhaps fans are scarred by the whole Malik Smith thing (small school volume shooter with iffy percentages), but this is a very different situation. I promise.
For one thing, Malik Smith was a three point shooter and that's basically it. His final year at FIU he took 71% of his shots from behind the 3-point line and only 12% at the rim. Lofton took 52% from behind the arc and 19% at the rim last season - those are marked differences. Smith went a little more extreme with the Gophers at 78% and 10%, but even if Lofton shifts more towards a 3-point shooter role (I don't expect this to happen) he would probably wind up with similar splits as Dre Hollins last year, a vastly different type of player than Malik Smith.
Watching the video on him (see below) some of his shot selection is cringe-worthy but he's also light years ahead of Malik in terms of athleticism. I also don't see Pitino giving Lofton the same green light he game Smith given that they don't have a past relationship. Illinois State was also a very young team which may have played a part as well.
The other thing people are all pantie bunched about is that he had some disciplinary issues and missed the final 3 games of the Redbirds' season. Unless you're the kind of person who wants your players' all squeaky clean I don't see why this should bother you. He was a little bit immature but it was clear this whole thing came about because of a bad relationship with his coach and there are two other players transferring out as well, both of whom played in every game last season, which tells me maybe the clash isn't because Lofton is some kind of bad seed. There were also four transfers out the prior season, the current coach's first.
So you have a coach with 7 players transferring out since he got the job. Hard for me to not give Lofton the benefit of the doubt, and even if he did act like kind of a dick (he did) who really cares? Who cares about the 3 game suspension? When Mo Walker was basically carrying the team did anyone give a shit about his early season suspension? These things happen, and as long as the player stays eligible I don't really give a crap. If he's acting up and being a general shithead I trust Pitino can handle it. He's a completely worthwhile signee and in his first season he'll have a chance to step in and be a big offensive cog for the team considering both Dres will be gone. I'm baffled by the people who are upset about this. Well, I guess I'm not, actually. I've pretty much come to expect it.