Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s one of the most unique times there’s ever been for boys high school basketball in Minnesota.
The state has had plenty of Division I recruits before, and more emerge every year. Khalid El-Amin took his skill to Connecticut in the late 1990s, big men Joel Przybilla, Rick Rickert and Kris Humphries all stayed home. Add Chaska’s Spencer Tollackson to the list of big men who stayed home also.
Some high level talent like Jordan Taylor, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren went to play for rival Wisconsin. Bloomington Jefferson star Cole Aldrich played at Kansas and went onto the NBA.
In this year’s class, Graham Woodward from Edina is headed to Penn State. Riley Dearring from Minnetonka is headed to Wisconsin and Bridge Tusler from Osseo is headed to South Dakota State to play football. This year’s Mr. Basketball, Quinton Hooker from Park Center, is going to North Dakota. By all accounts, this year’s class of basketball recruits is good, but there are no true stars. I’m not sure anybody out of this class starts at a major school next season and is an immediate contributor.
Right now, everyone has their eyes on the “Big 3” of Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis. It might be the best basketball recruiting class in Minnesota history, and unless the Gophers find a coach and stability soon there’s a chance all three could play college basketball elsewhere. I’ll get to more on that in a minute.
Minnesota has had plenty of good players in the past, but never before has the state had three players as highly ranked in one year as Jones, Vaughn and Travis. The scary part: if they were all seniors who knew where they were going to college, they would all likely be starters as freshman at whatever school they chose. It’s not even clear yet that Travis will play basketball in college, he’s a highly-touted quarterback on the football field.
If you’re a fan of basketball, do yourself a favor and make time to go out and watch these three play before they graduate. All three are ready to play Division I basketball right now, and they still have a year of high school left. Here’s a snapshot of all three players and their talents.
Jones is a point guard who has the unusual combination of size, length and quickness. He can score whenever he wants to off the dribble, but he’s best at creating easy shots for his teammates. He’s one of the few high school point guards who can score 30-plus points and still dish out 10 or more assists. He just finished leading Apple Valley to a Class 4A state championship and a 31-1 season. Jones can find a gear in his game that doesn’t exist for anyone else, and what’s more impressive than his ability is his humility as a person. Jones is also a good defender with quick hands who can get in passing lanes. He just wants to go out and play and almost wonders what all the hype around him is about.
Vaughn led an otherwise average Robbinsdale Cooper squad to a 22-6 season and a North Suburban Conference title. He’s a shooting guard who is as quick as anyone. What gets lost in the awe of watching him play sometimes is that he takes a lot of shots to score a lot of points. Vaughn had 35 points against Apple Valley in the Timberwolves Shootout, but needed 34 shots to do it. He can shoot and score from pretty much anywhere on the floor and has a flash to his game unlike anyone else out there. When he’s on the floor, there isn’t a more athletic player. His skill and potential to be a star at the next level leave coaches drooling. The school he chooses will get a dynamic player who can do it all. The Gophers have offered him a scholarship, but it appears to be a long shot after the coaching staff who had a close relationship with him has now been removed.
Travis is one of those rare athletes that it doesn’t matter which sport they play in college, he will be successful. He’s a star quarterback in football, and a virtually unstoppable post player in basketball. That, and he plays for a perennial state champion in DeLaSalle. He’s a big, strong presence inside who has had multiple 30-point games that include double digit rebound totals. He finishes around the rim and makes opposing players think twice before driving the lane. He’s also the most likely of the three to play for the Gophers since he lives just blocks away from Williams arena and was close to the coaching staff. I can’t remember a player who has consistently dominated teams in the post like Travis has, and he led DeLaSalle this year to its second straight Class 3A state title.
All three players are ranked in the top 50 in the country for the 2014 recruiting class. Will any of them stay home and play for the Gophers? That all depends on who will be coaching the program after Tubby Smith was fired. When you ask players, playing for Smith was one of the main reasons they brought up coming to Minnesota. It’s a reason why the Gophers fan base got so excited about Flip Saunders potentially being the new coach. Saunders played point guard for the Gophers and has coached the Minnesota Timberwolves among other teams in the NBA. He also is a regular at many high school basketball games and has developed relationships with many local players.
There’s a theory out there that if Saunders was named the Gophers coach, at least two of these three would come to Minnesota. Norwood Teague offered him the job late last week, and for unspecified reasons Saunders turned it down.
Jones and Vaughn are in the top 10 nationally for 2014, while Travis is in the low 30s as far as individual rankings are concerned. I would expect all three to have their verbal commitment done by the time their senior year starts in the fall, that way they can play basketball without the stress of constant recruiting. Whoever the new Gophers coach is, their primary job other than keeping current players is to get any of these three to stay home.
In the meantime, get out and watch these three play whether it’s in the AAU circuit this summer or next winter for their high school teams. It’s highly unlikely we will ever have three players with this much skill and this much hype playing in the Twin Cities again.