Jalen Suggs would have been a two-sport Gopher, if Richard Pitino recruited him harder
Other Minnesota prep basketball players also shared similar stories about Pitino not showing enough interest.
Jalen Suggs was on the verge of becoming a two-sport athlete for the Gophers, the West St. Paul native revealed on the “Road Trippin’ ” podcast this week.
Suggs, a four-star quarterback at Minnehaha Academy, had a good relationship with Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck in the recruiting process, but the five-star point guard said he didn’t get a strong enough vibe from former Minnesota men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino.
“So, sophomore year going into junior year, I am ready to commit to Minnesota,” Suggs said. “I’m like ready to go. I’m ready to do both sports. I’ll play with P.J. The basketball — I’ll do it. I just need a little bit. I need a little more from the basketball side.”
Former NBA player Richard Jefferson, one of the podcast’s hosts, then asks, “What do you mean? You need more attention?”
“I didn’t care about that. … They didn’t come to recruit,” said Suggs, the first Minnesota high school player to be named Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in the same year. “They didn’t come to many games. Like, they weren’t at practice.”
In the video of the podcast, Jefferson’s reaction goes from wide-eyed to seemingly confused — perhaps like a lot of Gopher fans while reading this.
“When you (live) that close, and especially I never really had too much interaction with Pitino,” said Suggs, who signed with Gonzaga instead and led the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in April in his one season of college basketball. “He’s cool, the times we did talk. He’s good people, but I wish if he would have just came a little more, showed interest and like he actually wanted me to be there. Then it would have been easy and I would have chopped it up and committed late my junior year to … Minnesota.”
Rochester’s Matthew Hurt shared a similar story to the St. Paul Pioneer Press a few years ago — Pitino not showing enough interest. But there has to be more to the story both for Suggs and Hurt, who went to Duke. How could a Big Ten coach not want premier talent, especially the in-state variety?
Yet once Suggs’ interview made the rounds on Twitter, other Minnesotans added their desires to stay home in follow-up tweets, including Champlin Park’s McKinley Wright, who went to Colorado and is now with the Timberwolves, and DeLaSalle’s Tyrell Terry, who played Stanford and is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks.
But there was enough of a disconnect between Pitino and recruiting players from the state of Minnesota for Gophers Athletics Director Mark Coyle to cite in-state recruiting as one of the reasons he fired Pitino last spring. New coach Ben Johnson recruited top in-state guard Tre Holloman, but the Cretin-Derham Hall product already had established a connection with Tom Izzo, and that led Holloman to Michigan State. Since his hiring last spring, Johnson has received commitments from a few in-state players.
Suggs, of course, ended up at Gonzaga, where 6-foot-4, 205-pound player had a stellar freshman season in 2020-21. He banked-in a 3-pointer to prope the Zags to an overtime win in the national semifinal, before Baylor ended their perfect season in the title game.
After his award-filled freshman year, the Orlando Magic selected Suggs fifth overall in the NBA Draft. So even if he would have stayed home in Dinkytown, it likely would have been short-lived.
Yet given his immense talent, it’s hard not to think about what might have been.