Tyus Jones and Reid Travis ran through drills for the Howard Pulley AAU basketball team at High Performance Academy in Eagan. (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE)
In the 2009-10 season, one special point guard in Apple Valley burst onto the Minnesota high school basketball scene. A year later, a phenomenal shooting guard showed up in New Hope and a season after that, a third player began to dominate in Minneapolis at power forward.
Now the state will watch as Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis — the “Big Three” headlining the most highly recruited and nationally recognized class ever to come out of Minnesota — make decisions about where they’ll take their next steps. College basketball’s early signing period starts Nov. 13, and Travis is expected to announce his choice Friday.
Minnesota has been the breeding spot for some elite basketball players in the past, including Khalid El-Amin, Rick Rickert, Kris Humphries and Royce White. But never have there been three five-star recruits (as ESPN ranks Travis, Vaughn and Jones) in a single year.
The last group that came close to Minnesota’s Class of 2014, in terms of consolidated talent, was in 2009 when the state produced three four-star recruits (according to Scout.com) in White (Gophers/Iowa State), Rodney Williams (Gophers) and Trent Lockett (Arizona State/Marquette). In 2008, Jordan Taylor and Jared Berggren graduated and both went on to excel at Wisconsin.
And there were several other star-studded recruiting classes. Four stars Cole Aldrich (Kansas), Jon Leuer (Wisconsin) and Trevor Mbakwe (Marquette/Gophers) joined three-star Blake Hoffarber (Gophers) in 2007. Humphries (Gophers) came out of the 2003 class; fellow NBA player Alan Anderson (Michigan State) and Rick Rickert (Gophers) graduated two years earlier. The class of 1999 produced Troy Bell (Boston College) as well as Nick Jacobson (Utah), Michael Bauer and Shane Schilling (both Gophers).
Rene Pulley, director of the High Performance Academy basketball facility in Eagan, cites that class in demonstrating that talent has come from Minnesota in the past.
“We’ve had great players here before, we just didn’t get the recognition,” Pulley said. “Minnesota was not on the map. This is the first time we’ve had three players that finally got their just due across the country.”
This group, however, is different. Jones, Vaughn and Travis are not simply good; they are elite. All three are rated in the top 25 of the Class of 2014, according to ESPN, which ranks Jones at No. 4, Vaughn at No. 17 and Travis at No. 23. The trio has been soaking up the national limelight for years, being wooed by some of the country’s best programs in Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina, to name a few.
“To have three top-50 kids, including arguably the best point guard in the country, maybe the best shooting guard in the country and then another guy who has become a top-40 kid — I just think it’s tremendous for a state not known for producing stud basketball players to have three in one class,” CBS Sports recruiting analyst Jeff Borzello said.
Together, the diverse trio would make for the most dynamic recruited class in University of Minnesota history, but all three showing up on new Gophers coach Richard Pitino’s doorstep is highly unlikely. Pitino has heavily recruited the trio since taking the job in April, but securing a commitment in six months when other top programs have had years of contact is a tough assignment.
Duke and Kansas seem to have captured Jones’ interest long ago. Travis, a top student as well, has been intrigued by Stanford and by the more recent interest of Duke, who seem to have plenty of space for the forward after recruit Kevon Looney, an expected Blue Devils grab, surprised many by committing to UCLA. Vaughn is more of a wild card, but he left Minnesota for Findlay Prep in Nevada before this season, putting him in the back yard of suitor UNLV.
Travis is probably the Gophers’ best hope of any of the three. The forward took an official visit to Minnesota in October, the only one of the three to do so at their home state school, and he seems to respect the new Gophers staff and like Pitino’s system, even showing up at the team’s exhibition game at Williams Arena on Monday, only days before announcing his college decision.
But even if Minnesota isn’t able to nab any of the three, the state might still benefit. With premier coaches traversing through the Land of 10,000 Lakes to watch the Big Three, underclassmen such as DeLaSalle guard Jarvis Johnson, Grand Rapids forward Alex Illikainen and Hopkins wing Amir Coffey have become national targets as well.
“Those are guys that would have been found sometime, but the more big-name coaches that are coming through Minnesota to recruit, they’re bound to find talent earlier than maybe they would have,” Borzello said.
Amelia Rayno email@example.com