The Minnesota Basketball Superteam That Never Happened
The 2020-21 college basketball season would not have been the same without Jalen Suggs. The five-star guard played his lone college season for Mark Few at Gonzaga. He was an integral part of one of the best teams in recent memory and hit an incredible half-court buzzer beater to get the Zags to the national championship game. Suggs was then drafted by the Orlando Magic with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. It turns out the St. Paul, Minnesota native was extremely close to staying in-state and playing for Minnesota Basketball and Richard Pitino.
Jalen Suggs Almost Committed to Minnesota
Jalen Suggs appeared on The Road Trippin’ Show a few days ago and dropped this bombshell:
Sophomore year, going into junior year, I am ready to commit to Minnesota. I’m ready to go, I’m ready to do both [basketball and football]…I just need a little more from the basketball side. They didn’t come around much…they didn’t come to recruit, they didn’t come to many games or practice. When you’re that close…I never really had too much interaction with [Richard] Pitino. He’s cool, the times we did talk he’s good people, but if he would have just come a little more and showed interest like he actually wanted me to be there, then I think it would have been easy. I honestly would have chopped it up and committed late junior year to Minnesota.Jalen Suggs, via The Road Trippin’ Show
From the looks of it, former Gophers head coach Richard Pitino seriously fumbled the bag. Some commenters viewed Suggs’ comments as an attempt to curry favor with hometown fans after he left. This is unlikely because it appears he wasn’t the only player who felt this way.
Minnesota Basketball Could Have Had a Minnesota Superteam
Within a few hours of this clip being posted to Twitter, other high-major college basketball players from Minnesota responded with a similar sentiment. First, McKinley Wright IV tweeted his thoughts:
Wright went on to play for Colorado, becoming their all-time assists leader and signing a two-way contract with his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves after going undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. Three more players followed:
Matthew Hurt is a former five-star recruit from Rochester, Minnesota who committed to play for Duke in 2019. He went undrafted in 2021, but signed a two-way deal with the Houston Rockets after the draft. The forward averaged 18.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his sophomore year with the Blue Devils.
Tyrell Terry is a former four-star recruit from Minneapolis. He played one year for Stanford and then was selected with the No. 31 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks. Terry averaged 14.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on very solid efficiency as a freshman for the Cardinal.
Former four-star recruit Wabissa Bede also suggested he was heavily considering Minnesota. He was not from the state, but the Gophers did make his top-five list of destinations.
Pitino Botched It
For those keeping score, that’s a grand total of five former Division I ballers who were turned off to Minnesota Basketball. The four of those five who were from Minnesota are all currently under contract with NBA teams. In-state recruiting clearly was not Richard Pitino’s strong suit. These players probably wouldn’t have all played together with some declaring for the draft earlier than others, but a Gophers lineup with any combination of those guys is likely a solid tournament team when combined with guard Marcus Carr and center Liam Robbins.
A Suggs commitment to Minnesota also may have produced a domino effect that led Suggs’ high school teammate and 2021 No. 1 overall prospect Chet Holmgren to choose Minnesota over Gonzaga.
Last season, Minnesota Basketball started off the year hot, but they lost every road game they played and missed the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Richard Pitino’s failures added up and he was fired at the conclusion of the season. He is now the head coach of the New Mexico Lobos.
Current Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson has already attempted to right the wrongs of the past. He has already secured commitments from three of the top 10 2022 recruits in the state of Minnesota. Ideally, the Gophers won’t miss out on so much homegrown talent in the future.
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