With Coffey gone, what's next for Gophers?

Amir Coffey made it official earlier this week. His days with the University of Minnesota basketball program are over.

Coffey had to decide by Wednesday if he was going to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA, or return to the Gophers for his senior season. If he had returned to school, Coffey had a legitimate chance to contend for Big Ten Player of the Year honors as well as lead Minnesota to a top-four finish in the conference.

His choice was to take that next step and get ready for a professional career, even if he doesn’t get drafted. Projections have Coffey anywhere from a late second round pick to not being drafted at all. He could still sign a two-way contract with a team, or start a career in Europe if he’s not selected inthe NBA Draft.

Regardless of what route he takes, Coffey won’t be wearing his No. 5 Maroon and Gold jersey next season.

So what does it mean for the Gophers? Richard Pitino, entering his seventh season with Minnesota and fresh off signing a two-year extension, now has a daunting task ahead. He’s forced to replace three starters and his top two scorers from last season.

Coffey led the Gophers with 16.6 points per game. Jordan Murphy was right behind him at 14.4 points and 11 rebounds per game. Murphy finished his career the top rebounder in Minnesota history and second in the Big Ten. He was also top five in scoring.

With Murphy graduating and Coffey pursuing a pro career, Pitino has to replace nearly 44 percent of his scoring from last season. Also gone to graduation are Dupree McBrayer, Brock Stull, Matz Stockman and Jarvis Johnson. Guard Isaiah Washington left the program after the season and transferred to Iona to be closer to home.

It also means Minnesota’s lone returning starters from last year are sophomores Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur. Despite being left off the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, Oturu had a standout first year, averaging 10.8 points and seven rebounds per game. Kalscheur was the Gophers’ top perimeter threat, scoring 10 points per game and shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range.

Other returners from last year with game experience include Eric Curry, Michael Hurt and Jarvis Omersa. Curry was limited to 15 games and just five starts in 36 games last season. His return was slowed by recovering from offseason knee surgery, then missed the last seven games after having foot surgery. He averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in 15 games.

Hurt played in 28 games, scoring 1.7 points in 7.7 minutes per game. Omersa played in 26 games, averaging 0.9 points per game.

Among the newcomers Pitino is most excited about is sophomore Marcus Carr. He was poised to be the starting point guard last season before the NCAA denied his waiver for immediate eligibility after he left Pittsburgh. As a freshman, he led Pittsburgh with four assists per game, averaged 10 points per game and played in all 32 games with five starts.

Junior guard Payton Willis will also be eligible after playing two seasons at Vanderbilt. As a sophomore, he played in 31 games and averaged 5.1 points per game. He played more than 18 minutes per game.

Minnesota should get an immediate impact from Drexel graduate transfer Alihan Demir. The 6-9 forward, originally from Turkey, was Drexel’s second leading scorer (14.6 points per game) and rebounder (6.5 per game), and shot 51.2 percent from the field last season.

The three wild cards for Pitino and the Gophers are incoming freshmen Sam Freeman, Tre Williams and Isaiah Ihnen. Ihnen is from Germany and is the No. 89-ranked player nationally in the 2019 class. He averaged 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds last year for the International Basketball Academy in Munich.

Freeman is a 6-10 center from Texas who averaged 13.5 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game as a senior. Williams was the first 2019 player to commit and sign with the Gophers. He’s a consensus four star recruit and top-150 player in the class.

Pitino still has two scholarships, if he chooses to use them both, for the 2019 class with Coffey’s departure.