Jalen Suggs Was Ready to be a Multi-Sport Gopher Legend But Richard Pitino Didn’t Seem to Want Him

Photo: Robert Scheer – Indianapolis Star

We’ve all heard about former Minnesota Gopher men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino, the recruiter. You’d rarely see him in a high school gym, even if it was just a few blocks away from his house. The local golf club, on the other hand, was a favorite spot of his. Oh, if only more basketball recruits golfed.

Yes, Richard’s lack of recruiting energy cost the Minnesota men’s basketball program a lot of in-state recruits. And we’re already seeing the results of what hard work on the local recruiting trail can do. New head coach, Ben Johnson, has three of them already committed to his 2022 class. Plenty of these kids want to stay home as long as relationships are fostered properly from the beginning.

But there was one recruit that Minnesota fans wanted most of all, while Pitino was head coach. Jalen Suggs, who was a star point guard and quarterback at Minnehaha Academy was already a blossoming star before he left high school. Getting him in Maroon and Gold would bring basketball attention not seen since Kris Humphries did the same thing in 2003. Instead, Suggs landed at Gonzaga, played in a national championship and became a top-6 pick in the NBA Draft.

Lazy Pitino Strikes Again

But according to Suggs, that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to be a multi-sport star at the University of Minnesota. PJ Fleck was on-board and foaming at the mouth. Richard Pitino… didn’t really care, apparently. Here’s Jalen telling the story on the “Road Trippin Pod“.

“Going into my junior year, I’m ready to commit to Minnesota. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to play both sports. I’ll play for PJ. Basketball, I’ll do it… I just need a little more from the basketball side.”

“They didn’t come to recruit. They didn’t come to many games. They weren’t at practice. When you’re that close. Especially, I never really had too much interaction with the team. He’s cool, the times we did talk, he’s good people.”

“I wish… if he would have just came a little more. Like just showed interest. You know, like he actually wanted me to be there, then I think it would have been easy. And I honestly would’ve chopped it up and committed my Junior year to Minnesota.”

Jalen Suggs – Road Trippin Pod

Pain

How in the fuck does this happen? How did Minnesota end up with the one collage coach who cares so little about recruiting that he can’t get his ass off the couch, drive down the street, and watch the guy who’s going to carry his ass to a final four? Think about that..

Suggs was a five-star top-15 recruit in the country. He’s the type of player who can change your program forever. And he’s right down the street and already bought into playing football on the same campus you coach at. Suggs’ affection for Minnesota, working in tandem with PJ Fleck’s best sales pitch, had Jalen’s recruitment on a tee for Pitino to hit out of the park. And he never walked to the batter’s box.

Instead, Gonzaga came in and started the best two year pipeline out of Minnesota in basketball recruiting history. Not only did they get Jalen Suggs and ride him to the National Championship game. They also got a commitment from his one-year younger Minnehaha Academy teammate, Chet Holmgren, who was the #1 national recruit in the 2021 class. It’s easy to see Chet following in Jalen’s steps, had he stayed home.

Too little, too late.

Finally, we’ve ridded ourselves of the smooth talking, easy to like Pitino Jr. But we obviously did it years too late. Sure, there are new and talented youngsters coming up who Ben Johnson will bring in and build his program with. But, there may not be a better opportunity for a complete turnaround like what we could have had if Jalen Suggs had worn Maroon and Gold.

Every hometown kid with any talent would be lining up to be the next Suggs and we’d finally be done talking about 1997 and actually more excited for what the future might hold.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan