Nope, not the elder Pitino, y’all- that one, the one in the picture above, the former Florida International coach who recently took over Tubby Smith’s old post at Minnesota. His name is Richard Pitino and, if the past couple of weeks have been any indication, we may soon find ourselves fighting against him in a battle for the soul and signed NLI of point guard Tyus Jones (I use “we” metaphorically; really, this is Coach Cal’s battle to fight, and win. Just to clarify).
Jones has been on Coach Calipari’s radar for awhile now- Cal has already offered the class of 2014 point guard- but many of you all probably read about him for the first time this past weekend while coaches and journalists flocked to the Boo Williams AAU event. Jones, playing for the Howard Pulley Panthers, scored 50 points with ten assists in two games on Sunday (including 21-22 in free throws). Consistently ranked in the top five players in his class, Jones lists all the typical elite schools among his final choices: UK, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Baylor, Ohio State… and Minnesota.
“Pshaw!” you might say, doing a spit take over your morning coffee (or tea, I suppose). “Jones is a point guard, and Calipari gets whatever point guard he wants!” Well, typically, you are correct, sir or madam. However, we’re a paranoid bunch, us BBNers, and to that end, I see no harm in engaging in a little speculation about what advantages Richie P might have over Calipari when it comes to wooing Tyus Jones.
Pitino has more going for him than you may think. Jones is from the quaintly named Apple Valley, Minnesota, and the hometown draw can never be underestimated. Also, with Pitino being a new coach, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the Gophers right now- something that Pitino worked to his advantage by calling Jones almost immediately after he was hired to convince the point guard to keep Minnesota in consideration. Interestingly, Minnesota has a bevy of top recruits this year, including shooting guard Rasahd Vaughan (#6 on Rivals) and small forward Reid Travis (#41)- both of whom have also received offers from Minnesota and who have spoken to Richard since his hiring. Regardless of whether the players could influence each other to stay close to home and play together in college, it’s worth noting that Minnesota and Pitino 2.0 aren’t afraid to recruit on the same level as schools that are traditionally on a higher level. The Gophers have come to play.
Jones has remained open-minded to Minnesota despite the coaching change, telling CBS Minnesota that the Gophers were “still on my list” and that he might even delay his decision so that he can get to know Pitino and his coaching style better. And speaking of style- we heard this weekend that Emmanuel Mudiay (the other top point guard of the 2014 class who also holds an offer from Kentucky) said he didn’t want to play with Jones in college because they’d have to compete for the point guard position. At Minnesota, Jones would have an immediate impact and would be able to shine without worrying about another point guard nipping at his heels for playing time.
So now that I’ve gotten you nice and worried, ready for some reassurance? Well, Jones has been insistent that he and center Jahlil Okafor will play together in college- and Okafor doesn’t seem to be considering Minnesota. Also, Pitino is stuck playing recruitment catchup, which doesn’t bode well when courting a player cites coaching style and philosophy as one of the most important factors in his college decision. And finally? It’s Calipari, guys. When the guy who produced Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight, and (next year) Andrew Harrison comes calling, you answer the phone. Oh, and speaking as a Midwesterner, the weather up here sucks during basketball season. Much better to play in Kentucky and travel to other SEC schools.
Regardless, the recruitment of Tyus Jones is shaping up to be a good one- and with any luck, Calipari will get the guy over the younger Pitino.