Mar 11, 2013; Hot Springs, AR, USA; Florida International Panthers head coach Richard Pitino reacts during the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Summit Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Gopher Basketball: Whitehead Commitment Not Crazy

On the surface, Isaiah Whitehead coming to Minnesota seems far-fetched. Whitehead, an incredibly talented shooting guard, has a 5-star rating and absolutely no connection to the state of Minnesota.

The Gophers are a basketball program far from Isaiah’s home of New York City and have been known as being a bubble team at best. They also haven’t produced a NBA draft pick since 2004. It just doesn’t appear to be a great fit.

However, shortly after Gophers head coach Richard Pitino began recruiting for Minnesota in early June, Whitehead spoke to reporters and mentioned Minnesota, along with Syracuse and Louisville, as the teams that were recruiting him the hardest.

Minnesota fans were excited to see some evidence of effort and ambition from the new coach, though they didn’t necessarily believe a commitment from Whitehead was realistic.

It wasn’t until a couple weeks later when Whitehead, who was rumored to be contemplating a package deal with another Minnesota recruit in Ja’Quan Newton tweeted,

“Me & My Bro @J_Newton20 Thinking Of A Master Plan All Imma Say Is #StayTuned.”

Ja’Quan tweeted something similar and this caused a stir of speculation as to what this might mean in recruitment.

The exciting part about this for Minnesota fans was that the only two schools that were on both Whitehead and Newton’s list were Minnesota and Syracuse. Though to this point, Syracuse had yet to make Newton an offer.

Twitter feeds and sports blogs blew up and the generally accepted favorite to land the pair was the Golden Gophers.

This all changed when Newton committed to the University of Miami in early August. The fading hope of Whitehead in a Gophers jersey had all but disappeared. Newton had frequently been the one to talk up Minnesota and it appeared that if Whitehead were to come to the Maroon and Gold, it would be only by Newton’s persuasion.

Despite the discouraging evidence, I don’t think landing Whitehead is as crazy as it seems.

As of right now, it is reported that Whitehead plans to visit Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, Syracuse, and UCLA. 247Sports, a site that predicts recruiting destinations, lists Syracuse in the lead for the shooting guard at 62 percent. Indiana and Minnesota come in next on the list at 19 percent apiece. Arizona and UCLA did not receive a vote.

Until Tuesday night, I too leaned towards Syracuse as Whitehead’s future squad. That is until I saw a tweet from a sports fan to Jerry Meyer suggesting that Whitehead is no longer considering playing basketball for the Orange. Meyer is the Director of Basketball Scouting for 247Sports. This conversation must have sparked some legitimate information to back up the claim, because Meyer quickly changed his “Crystal Ball” prediction away from Syracuse on the recruiting site.

In addition to helping Minnesota’s case, Robert Johnson, a shooting guard with a 4-star rating on Rivals, plans to visit Indiana this weekend. Many believe that he could leave Bloomington verbally committed to the Hoosiers. Indiana has offered the Richmond, Va. native and his only scheduled visit is to IU.

Justin Albers from Insidethehall.com wrote, “If Indiana impresses him away on his visit later this month, there’s a pretty good chance that could be the only visit he takes.” A commitment by Johnson could direct Whitehead away from the Hoosiers due to the playing time competition at the shooting guard position in 2014.

In recruitment, it is hard to know what to believe. It is possible that all the reports I’m going off are wrong and this whole thing could change tomorrow. Whitehead might have a completely new list of possible schools in a month. However, I think Pitino has put in the necessary work and there is a reason that Minnesota continues to be mentioned by the Whitehead camp, when teams like Louisville and Miami have fallen off the map.

If we can get this talented shooter to campus, I believe Pitino can sell him. Recruits have been meeting with the Minnesota coaching staff in Minneapolis and there has been nothing but positive feedback. If Pitino can paint the Brooklyn native a picture of himself as the star that will turn the program around, I think there is a good chance of seeing Whitehead run out of the tunnel regularly at Williams Arena.

Tags: Basketball Gophers Minnesota Minnesota Golden Gophers Recruiting Richard Pitino

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