Column: Addition of Johnson just the beginning for Pitino, Gophers

Tubby blew at teaching players to basketball

by David Nelson

What a difference a year makes.

Just 10 months after watching Reid Travis tell the hometown crowd he would be leaving Minnesota for the warmer climate of Palo Alto, Calif., another highly sought-after DeLaSalle High School basketball player stepped onto the podium to announce where he would be playing his college basketball.

This time, however, Gophers fans weren’t disappointed.

Jarvis Johnson announced Friday that he is going to stay at home and play in Minnesota.

Jubilation erupted from the crowd as Johnson pulled out a maroon and gold hat and placed it on his head.

Gophers fans should get used to that feeling, and it’s all thanks to second-year head coach Richard Pitino.

Pitino needed just one year to establish himself as a better developer of talent than his predecessor, Tubby Smith.

I don’t think it will take long for fans to see a difference in recruiting, either.

Smith was often criticized during his days at Kentucky for not landing elite prospects, and he did nothing to shake that reputation while at Minnesota.

Pitino’s tutelage and ability to get the most out of his players helped the Gophers win the 2014 National Invitation Tournament.

No, it’s not the NCAA tournament, but it’s more hardware than the Gophers ever received from 2007-2013.

Last Saturday, when Johnson verbally committed to bringing more hardware to Minnesota, it marked Pitino’s first local marquee recruit joining the Gophers, and it likely won’t be his last.

Keep in mind that Johnson also had offers from Tom Izzo, Fred Hoiberg and Bo Ryan staring him in the face when he made his decision.

But Johnson decided to go with an up-and-coming Minnesota team.

Last year, Gophers fans watched three extraordinarily talented players from Minnesota announce that they would be heading to greener pastures to play college basketball.

I’m sure Pitino understands that sort of mass emigration can never happen again.

DeLaSalle head coach Dave Thorson told reporters last week that Pitino nearly got Reid Travis to come to Minnesota, just months after getting the head coaching gig.

He also acknowledged that Pitino had to “dig the Gophers out of a hole” to even come close to nabbing him.

So rejoice, Gophers fans.

Gone are the days of mismanaged games and a lack of player development. Pitino brought in a new style of coaching and a fresh personality, that’s already paying dividends with recruits.

And it all started on Friday with Johnson.