I spent my Friday night and a chunk of my Saturday at the Sabes Invitational at Bloomington Jefferson high. It was a great event with some of the top high school players in the country competing against each other. Division I coaches weren’t allowed to attend but they made sure that some of their unofficial reps were there.The Gophers are interested in numerous players from the class of 2010 who participated in the event. They’ll have just three scholarships to use on this class. Here’s my take on some of the guys that they’re after:
Group 1: Do anything legal to get him here
1. Harrison Barnes (6-6, 205 pounds, small forward, Ames, Iowa) – Yes. He’s that good. I don’t know about No. 1 junior in America good, but he’s definitely going to make any of the 12 schools he’s considering much better. Good thing for Minnesota, he’s listed the Gophers as a finalist. I watched Barnes’ All Iowa Attack Red squad Friday and Saturday. The first thing I noticed was the way he handled the ball. He has enough finesse to be trusted to bring the ball up the floor and run the offense. He’s explosive in the paint, and he showed off good range. He had to play in the post for his small AAU squad, but he still managed to carry it on both ends of the floor. Down the stretch in a Friday night thriller between the All Iowa Attack and the Illinois Warriors, Barnes handled the ball in the closing seconds of the overtime loss for his team. A Warriors defender ran toward him and Barnes instinctively went behind his back to avoid him. The elusive move was effortless. It’s those flashes of brilliance that justify all of the hype.
2. Ricky Kreklow (6-5, 185 pounds, shooting guard, Columbia, Mo.) – It was easy to see why the Gophers like Kreklow. In the opening minutes of his KC Pump ‘N Run team’s game against SYF Players, I thought he was a post player because of how aggressive he was on the boards and the way he blocked shots. But soon, it was apparent that he was a very talented wing player when his shooting touch kicked in. Kreklow called Minnesota one of two finalists, behind Missouri. He visited Minnesota before playing in the Sabes tourney and said he loved the “nostalgia” of the Barn. Kreklow, who has family in the metro area, would give the Gophers a big shooting guard that could become their Jon Diebler (Ohio State).
3. Alex Kirk (6-11, 230 pounds, center, Los Alamos, N.M) – Kirk is very long, but he moves well for someone his size. He had a huge tournament at Sabes and earned all-tourney team honors. The times I watched him, I was surprised by how agile he was for a big man. Also, he can step back and knock down a 16-footer. He has more than a dozen offers on the table. Minnesota is interested in him, and I understand why. He can definitely play at this level.
Group 2: I’d like to see some more tape on him before I commit to anything
1. Jacob Thomas (6-3, 170 pounds, shooting guard, Columbia Heights, Minn.) – In the end, I think Thomas will suit up for the Gophers, if he qualifies. But I know they have questions about his academics and ability. Lawrence Westbrook is undersized, too, but people don’t realize that he’s probably, pound-for-pound, the strongest guy in the Big Ten. Thomas is a good shooter, but he’s small for a Division I shooting guard. He’s good, but I think he’d be better off playing for a different program that would give him more minutes. At the Sabes Invitational, he earned all-tourney team honors after a series of solid performances. When he gets hot, he’s deadly. But he has to develop more off-the-dribble moves and become a more aggressive defender.
2. Trevor Releford (5-11, 170 pounds, point guard, Shawnee Mission, Kan.) – If the Gophers sign Releford, I can just see Tubby Smith getting off of his stool and berating Releford for some ill-advised drive to the lane at least once per game. But I can also envision Smith praising Releford for an improbable clutch shot. The KC Pump ‘N Run point guard looked good both times I saw him over the weekend. He can get wild at times, but he more than makes up for it with his ability to will his way to the basket and get buckets. He’s small for that position but his older brother and current Kansas guard, Travis, is 6-4, so there’s a chance that he’ll grow a few inches. If he does, he’s going to blow up this summer.
Group 3: He’s probably better off playing elsewhere
1. Chad Calcaterra (6-10, 210 pounds, center, Cloquet, Minn.) – There’s been a lot of recent chatter that suggests Calcaterra and the Gophers are both rethinking their initial interest in each other. But, Calcaterra does have an offer from his home state’s only Division I basketball program. At Sabes, he struggled at times. I questioned why someone his size wasn’t tougher around the basket, although I was impressed by his defensive aggression. I think the Gophers and Calcaterra will eventually join forces, but I’m not sure it’s a good fit for either team. I think he’d be better off in another system.
Group 4: I hope he gets a shot somewhere
1. Brandon Peters (6-1, 185 pounds, shooting guard, Houston, Texas) – He’s not very big, he hasn’t earned any stars from rivals.com and there’s a pair of freshmen on his Houston Hoops squad that get more attention than he does, but Peters does it all. He had a huge dunk Saturday morning, when he caught an alley-oop and flushed with it with two hands against the Illinois Warriors. Peters helped lead his team to the 17U finals Sunday in the Sabes invite with his good defense, solid shooting and explosive finishes at/above the rim. I hope he just landed on some school’s radar because he could be a very good undersized talent for a DI program.
2. Antonio Johnson (6-3, 200-plus pounds, Chicago, Ill., senior) – Here’s my theory. I think Tubby Smith should call Tim Brewster and men’s track and field coach Steve Plasencia. They should all take a trip to Chicago to watch Johnson. Before I tell you why, let me tell you a brief story. On Friday night, I saw a man fly for the first time. In a big game against Harrison Barnes’ All Iowa Attack squad, Johnson came out of nowhere to catch a shot off the rim and dunk it home. On the following play, he did it again, except this time his nose was above the rim. Don’t believe me? There were other witnesses. Johnson is one of the most athletic human beings I’ve ever seen. He’s built like a free safety, he’s versatile enough to play on the wing for a DI program and I’m pretty sure he would excel in track and field, considering his leaping ability and the fact that his calves look like they swallowed small mammals. I’m not sure where he’ll end up, but the Whitney Young product has a shot to have a great collegiate career in about five sports if he wants it. Right now, few schools have shown interest in Johnson. That should change.
-Trevor Mbakwe attended the weekend’s Sabes tourney. But for some reason, he wore a Marquette sweatshirt. Mbakwe, who is expected to be Minnesota’s starting power forward next season, told me that he intends to enroll at the U next month. He also said that the Gophers will probably play in the Howard Pulley pro-am again this summer. For now, Mbakwe is competing in a league in Minneapolis called Brother’s Keeper every Saturday.
-Rodney Williams told me Saturday that he received a 17 on his latest ACT try. Williams, a senior at Robbinsdale Cooper and Gophers signee, said he expects to be eligible to compete next season as long as he finishes strong academically.