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U with Coffey Return Could be Top 20

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May 14, 2019


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ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla believes next season could be very rewarding for Amir Coffey and the Golden Gophers if the junior guard-forward returns for his senior season.

In a telephone conversation Sunday night Fraschilla, who follows the Gophers closely, talked about Coffey’s interest in skipping his senior season to turn professional and also what a return to Minnesota might mean for the team. “I think if Amir comes back they definitely have a chance to be a top 20, top 25 (team in national rankings),” the former college coach said. “He would be a leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. So right off the bat that says a lot.”

Fraschilla has confidence in several of Coffey’s teammates including the sophomore class of Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur, Jarvis Omersa and Daniel Oturu. “I think they’re going to be very competitive even if Amir doesn’t come back,” Fraschilla said. “I think they’ll be competitive in the Big Ten and could be an upper tier team, first division team.”

Coffey, 6-foot-8 and about 205 pounds, was a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season and was at his best in March, often making key plays in important games. The Gophers’ leading scorer, he was among the league’s most versatile players both offensively and defensively. He played point guard and wing for Minnesota while averaging 16.6 points and starting every game.

Coffey has been playing in the May 12-14 NBA G League Elite Camp, a three-day tryout for NBA Draft hopefuls in Chicago. However, he didn’t receive an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine (also in Chicago) that begins today and runs through May 19. He has until May 29 to withdraw his name for the June 20 NBA Draft and still retain eligibility to play for Minnesota next season.

Asked about Coffey’s decision to explore his professional options, Fraschilla said, “I believe he is doing the right thing.” But Fraschilla acknowledged it’s a “red flag for sure” that the former Hopkins star didn’t receive an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine.

The Draft Combine invited 66 players based on input from the league’s 32 teams. Coffey not being on the list is a strong indication he won’t be a first round draft choice in June. First rounders receive guaranteed big money. Coffey could more likely be chosen in the second round (payouts and guarantees iffier), or sign with an NBA team as a free agent if he keeps his name draft eligible. There is the possibility, too, that he might play next fall in the NBA’s development league (the NBA G League), or overseas.

“I think he’s got a very good chance to get drafted because he’s a big guard and has shown improvement,” Fraschilla said. “He can handle the ball. He’s very versatile. Even if he doesn’t get drafted, he’s going to have a chance to play professional basketball somewhere next year, if that’s the decision he makes.

“He’s definitely a G League level player, which puts him a step away from the NBA. If he comes back to college, then I think he has a chance to not only make his mark in the Big Ten but I believe he has a chance to be on an All-American team if he continues the upward trajectory he showed at the end of the season.”

Amir Coffey photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications

Could Coffey improve enough next season with the Gophers to move into certain first round status? Fraschilla speculated there could be a 50-50 chance, adding that the former prep Minnesota Mr. Basketball might be somewhere between a top 20 to 40 prospect next year.

Fraschilla looks at Coffey and sees a player who needs to become a consistent “knock-down shooter,” and improve his physical strength and quickness. “There is no one area where he can’t continue to improve,” Fraschilla said.

Is it best that Coffey opt to stay in the draft process now, or return to Minnesota? That’s a decision that will have input from Coffey’s dad, Richard, who is a former Gopher and NBA player. Fraschilla’s advice is for the two Coffeys to listen carefully to NBA representatives.

“NBA teams will shoot Amir straight about his strengths and weaknesses, and his opportunity not only to get drafted, but to make a team,” Fraschilla said. “So they have to take information, factor it into the decision and then decide which route is best.”

Fraschilla said there are 450 players filling out NBA rosters but only a handful are stars. “Everybody else fills a role,” he added. “At lest initially, if Amir were to make a team it would be as a role player. That (also) might be what he is if he stays in the league a long time.

“Character is important (to be a role player). Versatility (too), and talent is obviously important. And then someone that is willing to work at his weaknesses and get better. Those are all key components that teams are looking for.”

Those are attributes that belong on Coffey’s resume. “I think there’s a good chance that at some point in his career, he can make an NBA team even if it doesn’t happen this coming year,” Fraschilla said.

With all this speculation about Coffey’s future, it’s certain Gophers fans are hoping with fingers crossed that he still belongs to Dinkytown on cold winter nights next season.

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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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