Sunday, Jun. 16, 2019

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Pitino Moves Lift Gopher Outlook


It’s been an interesting couple of months since Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers finished their disappointing 15-17 season. Minnesota’s head basketball coach has replaced two assistant coaches (Ben Johnson and Kimani Young who took other jobs) and added three players.

In five seasons leading the Gophers Pitino has produced one NCAA Tournament team and only one year been above .500 in Big Ten games. Last season was among the most disappointing in program history—starting out with conference title dreams and collapsing in January with the suspension of center Reggie Lynch and the shoulder injury to Amir Coffey.

Pitino is on the hot seat with fans, and perhaps the University of Minnesota administration, but next season looks intriguing. The versatile Coffey returns, ready to help at forward or guard. The junior from Hopkins High School should be among the Big Ten’s better players, and joins senior forward Jordan Murphy in that category. A third starter returns in senior guard Dupree McBrayer, plus Minnesota has promising talent in sophomore guard Isaiah Washington and redshirt sophomore forward Eric Curry.

Pitino’s in-state recruiting reputation got a boost with the incoming freshmen class of three Minnesotans—Gabe Kalscheur (DeLaSalle), Jarvis Omersa (Orono), and Daniel Oturu (Cretin-Derham Hall). It was painful for Gopher fans watching former Maple Grove all-stater Brad Davison star for the Badgers last season as one of the better freshmen point guards in the country. Word is Davison is already revered in Madison, not only as a player but for his character and leadership.

Pitino’s freshmen will add depth next fall, and promise for more help in future seasons. Oturu’s recent shoulder surgery is a setback for his offseason development and could mean his early minutes in nonconference games are more limited than they otherwise would be. Oturu could be the team’s center of the future and is a multi-skilled player.

Omersa, a forward, is gifted athletically and also played football as a prep. Kalscheur, a guard, was a superb prep shooter. Pitino, who has reportedly made scholarship offers to several in-state high school players for future years, realizes there is a lot of high quality local talent.

Three transfers from other colleges have also boosted offseason spirits. The latest to announce for Minnesota is Wisconsin-Milwaukee transfer guard Brock Stull who will have one season of eligibility with the Gophers. He was recruited to Milwaukee by new Gopher assistant Rob Jeter when Jeter was head coach there. The 6-4 Stull led the Panthers last season in assists with 3.1 per game, was second in scoring at 13.4 points and third in rebound average, 4.8.

Jeter’s experience includes 11 seasons as head coach at UW-Milwaukee where he developed Midwest recruiting connections. Last season he was an assistant coach at UNLV where the 2017-2018 recruiting class was ranked as high as No. 12 in the nation. That group included a McDonald’s high school All-American and national junior college player of the year.

Jeter joined the staff in April and then last week Pitino announced Kyle Lindsted will also be an assistant coach. Lindsted was an assistant the last three seasons for a strong Wichita State program. “We are very excited about the addition of Kyle to our basketball program,” Pitino said in a statement. “He’s a great recruiter and will bring a lot to our team. He’s got contacts all over the world and a wealth of knowledge about the game.”

Stull is a welcome addition to the roster because the Gophers need talent and depth in the backcourt. Fingers are crossed in Dinkytown that the NCAA will rule that Pitt transfer Marcus Carr will be granted immediate eligibility for next fall. As a freshman he started all but five games for Pitt, averaging 10 points per game and leading in assists with 129, a 4.0 average. Because Pitt coach Kevin Stallings was fired after last season, Carr might be able to play right away at Minnesota if the NCAA makes a ruling allowing such players immediate eligibility. Otherwise he will have to redshirt one season.

A third transfer, guard Payton Willis from Vanderbilt, must sit out next season before becoming eligible to play during the 2019-2020 season. After starting 16 of 66 games over two seasons at Vandy, he will have two years of eligibility with the Gophers and strengthens the guard roster for the future.

There have been a lot of changes in a short time for Pitino’s program. Give him credit for being proactive and creating optimism about the future.

Worth Noting

This week’s ESPN baseball power rankings have the Angels at No. 4 behind the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros. The Twins, who split four games with the Angeles last Thursday-Sunday, are No. 19.

The Cardinals, who the Twins split a two-game series with Tuesday and Wednesday, are ranked No. 6. The Twins swept the Cardinals in St. Louis on May 7 and 8.

The Brewers, who come to Minneapolis for a three-game series starting Friday, are No. 12.

After yesterday’s game Joe Mauer has 2,025 career hits with the Twins. That ranks No. 6 on the all-time Twins/Senators franchise list, trailing Sam Rice (2,887), Kirby Puckett (2,304), Joe Judge (2,291), Clyde Milan (2,100) and Rod Carew (2,085).

Former Twin pitcher Jack Morris turned 63 yesterday. Morris has been working on his induction speech for this summer when he goes into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Allotted time for speeches is eight minutes, although most everyone exceeds the total.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will host a youth football camp for children in grades 1-8 at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Saturday and Sunday. There is a waitlist to participate in the camp that provides not only football instruction but tips on healthy living.

The annual Minnesota Vikings Golf Tournament is June 6 at the Meadows at Mystic Lake. The Taste of the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium will be June 12.

John Anderson

Gophers baseball coach John Anderson has some pro prospects on his team but points out “less than one percent” of college players make the big leagues.

Anderson’s first-place Gophers can win the Big Ten title by sweeping their three-game series at Rutgers that begins today.

Sad to see the passing of my friend Dennis McGrath, the public relations great who was always so encouraging to others. Dennis had many interests including boxing, a sport he followed with passion. Condolences to family and friends.

Condolences also to family and friends of Joe Shrake, the former Winona Cotter pitcher and DeLaSalle baseball coach who passed away several days ago.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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