Ahmad Gilbert, a 6-6 wing from Philly, has committed to the Gophers. Gilbert isn't all that highly ranked, coming in at three stars from ESPN and overall recruit #259 and SF #49 at 247sports, but I'm optimistic after looking scouting reports and reading a bit more (more on that in a second). He originally had committed to George Mason over Wichita State, Temple, and South Florida among others. After GMU fired their coach he was released from his NLI and was recruited by Minnesota, Pitt, and South Florida, ultimately choosing the Gophers.
Everyone calls him a big-time scorer, and he looks like he's a big time shooter and he's left-handed so that's always fun to watch. He shoots more of a set shot and has a really low release point so it's a question if he can get that shot off against big time competition, but it looks like when he does it goes in the basket and awful that and that's the whole point of basketball so that's good. He's not a great driver or distributor, but with Kevin Dorsey and Jarvis Johnson on their way he shouldn't need to be, and the team could use more shooting without question. Additionally he's one of those long type of guys and is already a good defender so he could play right away.
Most likely this also closes the door on Malik Ellison, a more highly rated wing, but Ellison's recruitment is picking up and he's had plenty of time to commit. Pitino really couldn't take a chance holding off Gilbert until Ellison was ready to make a decision and potentially losing both guys, so it makes sense to take Gilbert on now. And, although this post is maybe coming up negatively, I do like the signing. Pitino is basically building this roster from scratch, and he needs a little bit of everything. The one piece missing from this recruiting class so far, besides a power forward, is a shooter and ideally Gilbert will fit that role. He'll be more of a project than any of the other perimeter signings and on a team with a few projects already things could get messy, but he has a ton of potential. Not to mention building a team of similar sized, athletic types is a perfect recipe for the type of style Pitino wants to play.
One scholarship remains for 2015-2016, and it's almost certainly got to be a big guy. Ellison and Gilbert could play together, but the team is so loaded with perimeter guys and so light on bigs right now they really need to bring in somebody with some size, and ideally some skill would be good too. There are a handful of current candidates, but three of them would have to sit out next season:
- PF Chris Boucher, Powell, WY (#10 JuCo): Boucher is big (6-10) but also skinny (205 lbs.) but can run and jump out of the gym and was the Junior College National Player of the Year. He was a monster for Northwest College in Wyoming, averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks per game (4.7!!!). He also shot 58% from the floor and 44% from three on 126 attempts. The stats are insane, but should come with some questions as well considering Minnesota's biggest competition for him looks to be are TCU, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, and Texas Tech. Weird things happen with Jucos all the time, from guys that aren't highly regarded who become stars to guys who look like they'll be big time players who flame out. I am very optimistic about Boucher if he becomes a Gopher, but wary. Still, the Gophers badly need another big man for next year, and I'd be thrilled to take a chance on Boucher.
- PF Cullen Russo, Hobbs, NM (#33 JuCo): Russo, formerly from somewhere in Minnesota that I don't feel like looking up, has bounced around a couple prep schools and junior colleges and finds himself back on the Gophers' radar (Tubby had recruited him in high school). Russo played last season in New Mexico and averaged 12 pts and 7 rebounds per game. If I recall he was kind of a fringey D-1 type of guy coming out of high school, but recent reports make it sound like he's really rounded his game into shape and, like Boucher, can score both inside and out and play solid defense and at 6-9 and 210 lbs. that would fit with the Gophers' needs nicely. The Gophers should be in decent shape here, but Texas Tech and Tubby are still on him, Wichita State recently offered, and Indiana's been sniffing around so he's picking up some steam. I'd rather have Boucher, but Russo could be a nice fall back.
- SF Josh Cunningham, transfer from Bradley: The surest bet of any of these guys to have a productive career, Cunningham is transferring from Bradley after his freshman year. He had a successful season, averaging 7.9 points and 7.5 rebounds (led the team) in 30 minutes per game, but a coaching change triggered a mass exodus of players (6 at last count) and Cunningham was one of them. Coming out of high school Cunningham was ranked as the #115 recruit and #30 SF in the country by 247, and there was mutual interest between he and the Gophers before he chose the Braves. His proven production will have plenty of programs looking at him, but hopefully whatever relationship he developed with the Gophers' coaches was strong and he ends up at Minnesota because he would be a fantastic pick-up. He'd have to sit out next season and obviously that's not ideal especially with Reggie Lynch already on the shelf next season, but for 3 years of his proven production the wait would be worth it. Looking at Minnesota, Arizona, DePaul, Michigan State, Notre Dame, St. John's, Purdue, South Carolina, UIC, Dayton, and Colorado State. Oof.
- PF Kyle Washington, transfer from NC State: Washington was a highly regarded recruit two seasons ago coming into NC State with 247sports listing him as the #82 recruit and #16 PF in the country. In his freshman year he averaged 5 pts and 4 rebounds per game in 20 minutes, and followed that up this past season averaging 7 pts and 4 rebounds, but in just 18 minutes. He also saw his playing time dwindle as the season went along, hitting double figures in minutes in just three of the team's final eleven games, including two games where he didn't get off the bench at all. He's been a capable rebounder and defender in his two seasons, but his sub 47% shooting in each year isn't ideal for a non-perimeter player. He's originally from Minnesota so there's some thought he might be looking here, but he spent time at a prep school out of state as well so who knows how strong that lure is. I can't find any info on which schools he's considering.
- PF Jordan Caroline, transfer from Southern Illinois: Another part of a mass exodus (though this one not because of a new coach), Caroline is one of five Salukis set to transfer and he's shown interest in the Gophers. Unlike Cunningham and Washington, Caroline wasn't highly regarded out of high school but he put up a nice freshman season for So Ill (9.2 points and 6.2 rebs) and is looking for a bigger stage to play on. Granted he was playing for a terrible team, but he put up really impressive per possession rebounding numbers and a good free throw rate so he'd certainly be useful in 2016 (he would have to sit out 2015-2016). Caroline has set up visits to Xavier, Cincinnati, Nevada, and Minnesota so the Gophers are definitely in the mix.
Pray for Boucher.