Whenever a top local prospect commits to another program besides the Gophers, Minnesota fans seem to take it personally. Saving them from that disappointment four-star Hopkins senior big man Zeke Nnaji left the U off his final five schools announced Sunday, which are Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Purdue and UCLA.
“I've visited great schools, been recruited by awesome programs and gotten to know amazing coaches,” Nnaji said in a tweet. “I am grateful to all.”
The omission of the Gophers wasn’t all too surprising considering Nnaji’s recent unofficial visit tour took the family all over the country, not to Minnesota's campus.
It was becoming clearer that his sights were set out of state. Richard Pitino and his staff did all they could do in recruiting the state's No. 2 senior and a top-40 prospect nationally in 2019.
“It really boiled down to style of play, strength (and conditioning) coach and history of the programs,” Zeke’s father, Apham Nnaji told the Star Tribune. “As well as coaches’ experience was a factor.”
More surprising than Minnesota not included on the final list was Kentucky's absence since the Wildcats offered Nnaji a scholarship last month after head coach John Calipari came for an in-home visit.
The five programs still in the running for the 6-foot-11 Royals standout have been recruiting him longer than UK, including a few blue-bloods. Nnaji’s father said his son will take his first official visit this weekend to Kansas. Following that trip will be officials to Arizona (Oct. 12-14), UCLA (October 19-21), Baylor (Oct. 26-28) and Purdue (Nov. 2-4). He will make a decision around the Nov. 24 weekend.
No Nnaji means that the Gophers will miss out on at least three of the state’s top five players in the 2019 class, including DeLaSalle’s Tyrell Terry (Stanford) and Lakeville North’s Tyler Wahl (Wisconsin). They didn’t offer Prior Lake’s Robert Jones, who committed to Denver.
Still on the board is the No. 1 player in Minnesota regardless of class, Rochester John Marshall senior forward Matthew Hurt, who is likely to schedule an official visit with the Gophers. Breck forward David Roddy is the only local senior who made an official visit to the home state program so far last month.
Roddy, who is considering football, as well as Colorado State and Northwestern in hoops, plans on announcing his decision after the football season. He has one more official visit Oct. 13 to Evanston, Ill.
The Gophers are hoping to prevent a goose egg as far as locals go, which would hurt some momentum they built landing Minnesotans Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa in the 2018 class. Pitino signed Amir Coffey and Hurt’s brother, Michael, in 2016 from Minnesota, but couldn’t follow that up strong going 0-5 in the state’s loaded 2017 class.
-- The next visitor for the Gophers was supposed to be Georgia big man Jared Jones this weekend, but he committed Sunday to Northwestern. Minnesota made a splash with Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.) four-star forward Tray Jackson giving a verbal last month, but Pitino still has three scholarships left to fill.
-- Brewster Academy (N.H.) four-star senior point guard Joel Brown will announce his decision Tuesday with the Gophers among his list of finalists. Brown has a connection with Gophers sophomore Marcus Carr, but he doesn't have an offer and Cal is the favorite.