Rickert chooses Gophers over Arizona

High School basketball standout Rick Rickert walked into the gym at Duluth East on Monday afternoon, still sporting a blue Arizona bucket hat.
In the senior’s hands were letters of intent for both Arizona and Minnesota. After dropping the one for the Wildcats on the floor, Rickert signed on to play for the Gophers.
“Minnesota has a lot of good qualities,” Rickert said. “(The program) is in trouble right now. I want to see what I can do to help them.”
Yesterday ended three weeks of questions that ran through Rickert’s mind, not to mention fans of both the Gophers and Wildcats.
After delaying his college choice in order to wait for the NCAA sanctions to be announced against Minnesota, Rickert verbally committed to Arizona on Oct. 25.
But last Wednesday, the first day of the fall signing period, Rickert decided not to sign a letter of intent with the Wildcats.
After saying he was having second thoughts, speculation began surfacing that Rickert was leaning toward the Gophers.
“I wanted to go to Arizona and Minnesota,” Rickert said. “They’re both great schools. By not going to Arizona I’m missing out on playing for a great coach. But Dan Monson is a good coach too and I think I’ll be good for him also. I think I’m going to like it there,”
Gophers coach Monson agreed.
Despite his verbal commitment to Arizona, Monson continued recruiting Rickert to Minnesota. Monday’s announcement paid off for a surprised and very happy coach.
“As I told Rick when he said he was going to Arizona, ‘On behalf of the four million people in the state of Minnesota and the basketball program here, I can’t accept that answer,'” Monson said.
“I really believe it came down to Rick wanting to represent this whole state,” he said.
Monson, who hadn’t talked to Rickert as of 4:30 p.m. Monday, said he felt Rickert’s mind didn’t change because of the Gophers coaching staff’s efforts.
He also didn’t feel Rickert switched schools to obey the wishes of his parents, who openly admitted they wanted their son to play for the Gophers.
Ultimately, Monson felt Rickert’s reversal came as a result of the fans who attended this weekend’s exhibition game at Williams Arena.
“What he saw on Saturday was the sincere side of the University of Minnesota that is unique,” Monson said.
The decision was also aided by Rickert’s parents and friends. When a friend he planned on rooming with told the Greyhounds star he wasn’t sure he would get into Arizona, all bets were off.
Rickert’s decision seemingly speeds up the program’s rebuilding efforts many felt were in grave danger after the academic scandal.
After a junior season in which he averaged 29 points per game for Duluth East, the 6-foot-10 Rickert is considered the best high school player in the state, and is highly respected nation wide as well.
Recruiting expert Brick Oettinger ranks Rickert the 20th best prospect in the country, and the fifth best power forward.
Rickert is even higher on Rivals100hoops.com’s top 100 list, as he comes in No. 8 among high school seniors.
While Rickert felt great pressure in making his decision, being one of the most sought-after prep players in the country did leave him options.
“I figured if I went to Arizona or Minnesota I couldn’t miss either way,” Rickert said. “I’m going to get to the NBA either way.”
Although this year’s Minnesota team has yet to begin its regular season, some of the Gophers have already began to dream about next season.
Minnesota freshman Michael Bauer, who along with another top recruit — Minneapolis Community College’s Jerry Holman — and Rickert, will make up an intimidating front court for the Gophers in the 2001-02 season.
“He’ll help us out a lot,” Bauer said. “It will be a lot of fun and we’ll be able to run with people.”
Rickert also said he thought Minnesota would surprise many pundits during the current season.
“They’re underrated in the Big Ten right now,” Rickert said. I think they’re a lot better than people think.”
John R. Carter covers football and men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]