PHILADELPHIA — One year ago, top basketball recruits in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia corridor weren’t talking about Minnesota as a possible destination.
Not even a little bit.
Now, it’s hard to find a top recruit in this area who isn’t mentioning Minnesota and new coach Richard Pitino among the schools working the hardest for their services.
“He came at me with a great recruitment,” 2014 Brooklyn Lincoln guard Isaiah Whitehead said of Pitino Sunday at the Mary Kline Classic.
The 6-foot-5 Whitehead — who went for 27 points and earned team MVP honors in the Mary Kline Underclassmen Game — listed Minnesota along with Syracuse, Louisville, UCLA and St. John’s as the schools at the top of his list, but did indicate that Syracuse and Louisville were working the hardest.
Ja’Quan Newton, a 2014 point guard out of Neumann-Goretti who went for 17 points and five rebounds, had similar things to say about Minnesota.
Asked who was recruiting him the hardest, he gave this list, “Minnesota, Xavier, USC, Temple, Villanova,” among others.
“Minnesota’s a good school, I talk to Coach Pitino,” Newton said. “He hit me up. He talked to me, he said he liked my game a lot and he wants me to come out there and run the show for him.”
Newton, who plays at the same high school as former Syracuse forward Rick Jackson, also said Syracuse was “trying to get back in the mix with me. I think they want to recruit me hard.”
In the Northeast, Minnesota is also involved with 2014s Wade Baldwin of St. Joe’s-Metuchen (N.J.), Marial Shayok of Blair (N.J.) Academy, Kaleb Joseph of Cushing (MA) Academy, Terry Larrier of the Phelps (Pa.) School and D.J. Foreman, a Spring Valley, N.Y., native who attends Massanutten (Va.) Military Academy and visited the Minnesota campus last week.
“Certainly, my staff has a lot of roots in New York and New Jersey,” Richard Pitino told SNY.tv by phone. “Certainly there’s great players there and we want to try and be involved with as many guys as possible from there. There’s great basketball, there’s great coaching there. And those guys just compete on the big stage and there’s no bigger stage than the Big Ten so it’s important for us to do.”
Pitino and his staff are certainly familiar with the Northeast. Pitino brought along from FIU Kimani Young, a New York native who was the head of the New Heights AAU program, and added former Seton Hall assistant Dan McHale.
“Recruiting is all about relationships and those guys have a lot of relationships in the metropolitan area, as well as myself,” Pitino said. “So it’s certainly something we’ve got to use to our advantage and they’ve been doing a great job with it so far. So we feel confident that we can get some great players.”
But Pitino isn’t limiting his recruiting to the Northeast.
Josh Perkins, an elite point guard from Colorado, who will play for coach Rob Fulford at Huntington (W.V.) Prep, also listed Minnesota among the schools working the hardest for him.
In a video interview with Fox Sports, Perkins listed UCLA, USC, Gonzaga and Minnesota as recruiting him the hardest, and said Kentucky, Syracuse and UConn are newly in the mix.
Pitino isn’t permitted to comment on specific student-athletes, but speaking generally, he said: “I really believe you should be able to recruit nationally when you’re at the University of Minnesota because you’ve got a great fanbase, you’ve got a great conference with great exposure, especially with the Big Ten Network that has over 52 million homes. You’ve got the exposure, you’ve got the league, you’ve got a great University and a great city as well.”
Speaking of that great city, the state of Minnesota has a “Big Three” of Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis, who are among the best recruits in the nation.
The 6-foot-1 Jones is the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2014 out of Apple Valley (MN), and says he will go to college with Chicago big man Jahlil Okafor, who doesn’t have Minnesota on his list.
Duke is considered a strong contender to land Jones and Okafor, while Kentucky, Kansas, Baylor, Michigan State and Ohio State remain in the mix for both.
The 6-5 Vaughn, meantime, just recently visited UCLA while at the Pangos All-American Camp, and also lists Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Iowa State, Florida, Texas, Maryland, Baylor, Tennessee and Georgetown.
The 6-7 Travis is a two-sport star who also is being recruited as a quarterback in football.
He plans to take officials to Gonzaga, Stanford and Minnesota, according to the Star-Tribune.
“When you’re the only Division 1 school in the state, guys grow up wanting to go to the University of Minnesota” Pitino said, speaking generally.
“Now it’s our job to show them that we’re going to have a competitive, high-level basketball program, a program that should be as good as anyone in the country. You’ve always got to try to keep guys close to home and kids are going to want to play in front of their family and friends, you’ve just got to show them that you’re just as good as any other program out there.”