By Myron Medcalf
What’s up, everybody?
I talked to some people close to Gophers basketball Friday. Here’s what I learned:
Myth No. 1: Super dunker and freshman forward Rodney Williams has the highest vertical leap on Minnesota’s squad.
False. While Williams recently soared to a 40-inch vertical in front of team trainers, junior college transfer Trevor Mbakwe topped him with a 42-inch leap, the best mark on the squad.
Myth No. 2: The Gophers will definitely start Ralph Sampson III or Colton Iverson next season.
Maybe. Iverson and Sampson will still play key roles in next season’s rotation. But this lineup has been considered by Gophers coaches and could give Minnesota the kind of dominate athleticism they’ve sought in recent years, according to multiple sources close to the team: G Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, F Damian Johnson, F Royce White and F Trevor Mbakwe.
Myth No. 3: Royce White will battle Trevor Mbakwe for the starting power forward spot.
Not necessarily. White, a freshman forward and last year’s Mr. Basketball in the state of Minnesota, is the strongest player on the team. And at 6-8, 245 or so, he’s probably the biggest, too. All signs point to him playing a lot at the four-spot.
But he’s managed to wow coaches with his versatility over the summer. And right now, I’m hearing that White might end up battling Damian Johnson for the small forward spot because of what he can offer defensively. He’s viewed as a guy who can guard opponents on the perimeter and help out in the paint because of his strength. Paul Carter will also be in that mix.
-St. Paul Johnson’s Estan Tyler has created a lot of hype for himself this summer with a number of standout performances for former Timberwolves guard Chris Carr’s 43 Hoops 16U squad. One Gophers coach says he’s the top player in the state. The 6-0 junior guard averaged 10.6 points per game for Johnson last season. He told rivals.com that Northern Iowa, Iowa, Iowa State, Wichita State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame are all interested in his services.
-The Gophers are still looking for legitimate dancing partners in the 2010/2011 classes. They’re on a number of top 10 lists.
Alex Kirk, a 6-11, 230-pound center from New Mexico, has about a dozen or more offers on the table. He had a strong performance at the Sabes Invitational in May at Bloomington Jefferson. And he continued to shine throughout the summer. Gophers coaches followed him closely and really like the fluid big man’s ability. Kirk has family in the state and told Rivals.com that he’s still considering the Gophers.
“We have heard from the Gophers since we came back from Orlando and they were watching Alex’s games down in Orlando,” Kirk’s father, Alan, told the website. “I know Alex appreciated that and I think Minnesota is still in Alex’s thoughts.”
Kansas prep point guard Trevor Relerford, a two-star player on rivals.com, also said recently that Minnesota is one of his finalists. He has seven scholarship offers from DI programs. He’s a Gold in the Barn finalist, too. I love the way this kid plays. He’s quick, aggressive at the rim and doesn’t back down from anyone, even though he’s 5-11.
-The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors is considering a recommendation that would make schools more responsible for assessing the academic aptitude of basketball recruits during the summer and placing them in summer school classes when necessary.
-Gophers fans I talk to sometimes suggest that Tubby Smith is probably too old to make another major coaching move. Some seem to think that schools favor the young, up-and-comers over veterans like Smith. What they fail to realize is that in a one-and-done recruiting climate, name recognition is a wonderful quality for any coach and it often supersedes age.
Former Detroit Pistons great Isaiah Thomas has somehow lured the No. 23 player in the class of 2010, according to rivals.com, to Florida International, where Thomas became head coach in April. Dominique Ferguson, a 6-8 power forward who will play for Hargrave Military Academy this season, took an unofficial visit to FIU Thursday. By Friday, he’d committed to Thomas and the Golden Panthers. Kentucky, Arizona, Florida, Duke, Connecticut, Tennessee and Alabama were all interested in Ferguson. But a lackluster summer hurt his stock.
I know what you’re thinking. Maybe, this guy isn’t that good, especially if those schools backed off. ESPN ranks him as the No. 8 player in the country. And it’s clear that top programs wanted him. Plus, he had other options. But he committed to a team that plays in the Sun Belt Conference. A team that’s won 34 games over the last three seasons.
Every FIU recruit says the same thing: “I’m here because of Thomas.” Don’t underestimate the power and draw of name recognition in college basketball.
-Nothing new on the Harrison Barnes front. He still has Minnesota on his list of finalists. This is what it comes down to for Barnes. He’s a very smart kid. He’s also a very good basketball player with legit NBA potential.
If his goal is to get the most exposure, then a school like Minnesota will have trouble competing against North Carolina, Duke and Kansas for his services. If he wants an opportunity to shine for a few years and then, make the leap to the NBA, then Minnesota certainly presents that opportunity.