Men's basketball: Gophers star recruit Dennis Evans wants out of letter of intent
The 7-foot-1, 210-pound center from Riverside, Calif., has been labeled one of the best recruits in the 2023 recruiting class.
ST. PAUL -- The Gophers men’s basketball team has been dealt a big blow: four-star recruit Dennis Evans III wants to be released from the national letter of intent he signed with Minnesota in November.
The news, first reported by the Star Tribune, was confirmed to the Pioneer Press by two sources on Friday.
The 7-foot-1, 210-pound center from Riverside, Calif., has been labeled one of the best recruits in the 2023 recruiting class. The 247Sports composite ranking has Evans as the fourth-best center and 38th-best overall prospect in next year’s crop.
Evans picked Minnesota over other finalist Texas Christian after visiting both schools in September. He was the headliner in a two-man recruiting class with Cam Christie, a four-star guard from Illinois. Now, the Gophers will have 30 days to release Evans from his national letter of intent. If that doesn’t happen, an appeals process is available.
Minnesota coaches have visited Evans in California this season.
The Gophers are mired in an 11-game losing streak and once the season comes to a merciful end in two weeks. They will be underdogs in the final three scheduled regular-season games starting Saturday at Nebraska. With the postponed Michigan State game looking more as if it will be canceled, the university would then only have a Big Ten Tournament appearance left on the docket.
Off the court, the Gophers cannot afford to have an offseason filled with players leaving via the NCAA transfer portal.
After a mass exodus of players tied to fired coach Richard Pitino after the 2020-21 season, new head coach Ben Johnson was forced to rely heavily on the portal for his first season. He brought in seven transfers, including key wing Jamison Battle.
Once the majority of those players exhausted their eligibility, Johnson had to go back to the portal for three more players, including new leading scorer and rebounder Dawson Garcia.
Johnson brought the program’s rebuilding effort down the studs with a five-person freshman class, and four of those are playing significant minutes this season. That foursome has been taking their lumps, but have also been showing signs of growth.
If Minnesota has one of those players after enduring their growing pains, it would compound a losing streak that started in mid-January. If the Gophers can’t pull off an upset in their final three scheduled games, their losing streak will reach 14, matching the program’s longest period without a victory since 2015-16.
Johnson was asked earlier this season about his concern regarding the transfer portal and he said if players’ decisions to leave boils down to playing time, his players shouldn’t have any issues.
The four freshman in the rotation — Josh Ola-Joseph, Pharrell Payne, Braeden Carrington and Jaden Henley — have each averaged more than 20 minutes per game. The fifth freshman, Kadyn Betts, reclassified into this year’s freshman class and is redshirting.
Ola-Joseph, Payne and Carrington are from Minnesota, while Henley is a friend and former AAU teammate of Evans in California.
Perhaps the most interesting potential departures would be Ta’Lon Cooper and Treyton Thompson. When Cooper transferred to Minnesota from Morehead State in April, the point guard made it clear he wasn’t sure if he would use his two years of remaining eligibility.
Cooper has stared 26 games for Minnesota and is averaging 9.8 points and 5.9 assists a game.
Thompson, a Pitino recruit whom Johnson inherited, has played in 20 games and started eight when the U was short-handed midseason. He has averaged 11 minutes per game, but that playing time has lessened in recent weeks.
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