Tubby has top recruits thinking Minnesota

The Gophers are in the mix with high-profile schools for nation’s top recruits.

Zach Eisendrath

It appears the hire of Tubby Smith is already paying dividends for the Minnesota men’s basketball team.

Just five months into the job, Smith has quickly transformed the image of the Gophers from a program which struggled to keep in-state recruits to a team that is now heavily pursuing some of the top prospects in the nation.

Trying desperately to add talent to a team which went 9-22 last season, Smith and his staff have been hot on the tracks of top high school and junior college talent since April.

Power forward Paul Carter, a 6-foot-8-inch, top-10-rated junior college prospect currently playing for Missouri State University-West Plains, became the second recruit to verbally commit (the first backed out shortly thereafter) to the Gophers’ new regime on August 20.

“There is a buzz about Minnesota,” Rivals.com national basketball analyst Jerry Meyer said. “I think they are getting in on some players that are pretty intriguing.”

Meyer said Minnesota had been mostly a non-factor in recruiting news under former coach Dan Monson, but Smith has put the Gophers back on the national radar.

“Minnesota wasn’t really in the equation when it came to recruiting news,” he said.

“But Tubby is going to be able to get into the house and visit with prospects on a national level that past Minnesota teams wouldn’t have been able to recruit.”

One of those players is likely center Ralph Sampson III out of Duluth, Ga. The 6-foot-11-inch son of former collegiate and NBA star Ralph Sampson, is Rivals’ 15th ranked center in the class of 2008.

Sampson has received a number of major offers, including ones from Kentucky, Maryland and Georgia Tech – all perennial recruiting powerhouses in college basketball.

But Meyer said because Smith targeted Sampson early in the recruiting process last spring, the Gophers are right in the mix to land his services.

“Tubby developed a very good relationship with Ralph and the Gophers have a very strong shot at landing him,” Meyer said.

Sampson will take an official visit of the campus this weekend, where he will be joined by Yankton, S.D., prospect Colton Iverson.

Like Sampson, the 6-foot-9-inch power forward has an offer on the table from Minnesota. Iverson, who said available playing time will be a factor in his decision, has narrowed his choices of schools down to six teams: Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Iowa State, Creighton and Nebraska.

Iverson said the prospect of playing for the Gophers interested him because he knows Smith is one of the most knowledgeable coaches at the collegiate level.

“When (Minnesota) started recruiting me, I knew coach Tubby Smith is coaching there now,” he said. “Everything they had to say was good. I know it’s going to be a good basketball team and they have a good environment.”

Iverson said he hopes to verbally commit to a school by late September. Meyer called the Gophers’ chances of landing him “very strong.”

Smith and his staff have a number of high-profile recruits scheduled to visit campus throughout the month of September.

Last weekend Devoe Joseph, Rivals’ 18th-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2008, took an unofficial visit of the campus.

According to Ro Russell, Joseph’s AAU coach, the Pickering, Ontario, native came away impressed with what Minnesota could offer him, from the setup of the dorms to the elevated court at Williams Arena.

Russell said Joseph – who also has offers from Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech – liked his visit so much that he plans to return to the Twin Cities for an official visit.

“He was really impressed with coach Smith,” Russell said. “He liked his hands-on approach.”

Meyer said if the Gophers get a commitment from one of the top prospects they are pursuing, others might not be too far behind.

“In recruiting, you hope for a snowball effect,” Meyer said. “You want to get a good prospect and then hope others follow the buzz.”