Arguably the best boys’ basketball class in Minnesota history has more than lived up to that distinction in their freshman seasons.
McKinley Wright’s breakaway dunk against Arizona on Saturday was the latest example — and a stamp on Colorado’s incredible week that also included taking down No. 4 Arizona State in overtime.
Wright, who leads the Buffaloes in scoring and assists, was named Pac-12 player of the week and national freshman of the week for averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 assists in the first back-to-back wins against top-15 opponents in his program’s history.
The 6-foot point guard and former Minnesota Mr. Basketball at Champlin Park leads a loaded Class of 2017 from Minnesota, many of whom immediately established themselves among the best freshmen across the country — from high-major to midmajor levels.
Like Wright, former AAU teammates Brad Davison and Gary Trent Jr. are starting guards and among the leading scorers at Wisconsin and Duke, respectively.
Then you have a trio of big men in Champlin Park’s Theo John (Marquette), Cristo Rey’s Jericho Sims (Texas) and Lakeville North’s Nate Reuvers (Wisconsin) who are contributing faster than expected at programs in the Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten.
You also can’t forget about the local kids getting it done at the midmajor level as freshmen.
Former DeLaSalle standout Goanar Mar is starting at George Mason and is one of the top newcomers in the Atlantic 10.
Although Watertown’s Trae Berhow was a Mr. Basketball finalist, he flew under the radar as a recruit and landed where he could make an instant impact at Pepperdine. The same can be said for Maple Grove‘s Tywhon Pickford at Northern Iowa.
Pickford’s one of the best rebounders for his size (6-4) in the country, nearly averaging a double-double, highlighted by an 18-point, 18-rebound game in a win against North Carolina State.
Tartan’s Jordan Horn isn’t the biggest player, either, but he hit a game-winning three-pointer for Siena against Canisius last Sunday.
And Shakopee native Steffon Mitchell is starting at Boston College.
There might be more Minnesotans shining as freshmen — and that just shows you how deep the class is.
Looking back, did it hurt that the Gophers struck out on the six players they offered in the 2017 class? Sure, especially now. Fans see Wright and Davison outperforming Gophers freshmen Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris from the East Coast.
And, you betcha, Sims, Reuvers or John would be a huge help in the paint with Gophers center Reggie Lynch suspended possibly for the rest of the season.
To be fair to Richard Pitino, Washington was a top-50 recruit whom he focused on years before most locals from the class of 2017 were of major interest. Davison and Reuvers committed to Wisconsin when Minnesota still was an option.
And it’s tough to truly compare Washington and Harris to Wright and Davison because one pair is getting significantly more playing time and opportunities than the other.
Currently, college basketball is filled with Minnesotans making waves. The 2018 class — with three staying home in Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa, and one leaving in Tre Jones (Duke, like his brother Tyus) — could continue the trend of freshman success by Minnesotans next season.
But not many classes will be able to compete with the start the 2017 group has had together in college.