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Richard Pitino gives Minnesota something to smile about

Richard Pitino is building a future for the Minnesota program, and it starts by finding commitments who are homegrown. AP Photo/Hannah Foslien

Minnesota basketball fans can't feel their collective face right now, and they love it. You know why? Because Richard Pitino enhanced the program through a pair of top-100 recruits in the 2016 class -- one homegrown -- who committed this week.

And the Gophers' community can, for a brief stretch, forget about the other woes -- not Drake's but the ones in the dictionary -- that currently beset the entire university.

Amir Coffey, ranked No. 33 in the 2016 class by Recruiting Nation, chose to stay home when he committed Monday to the same Minnesota team that his father, Richard, led during the mid-1980s. On Wednesday, Eric Curry, a talented 6-7 power forward from Arkansas, committed to the team, too. Add Illinois State transfer Reggie "King 'Fro" Lynch, who will be eligible in 2016-17 after leading the nation in block percentage last season, and Pitino will boast the best incoming class since Tubby Smith signed Royce White and Co. in 2008.

That's great news for Pitino and his squad, but it's far more important for the athletic department.

Last month, Eric Kaler's hands shook as he announced former athletic director Norwood Teague had resigned after committing sexual improprieties against two university employees. The school's president initially stated that Teague had been "overserved" before changing his tune and assigning full blame to Teague, who was also accused of sexually harassing a Star Tribune reporter during his tenure. A subsequent internal investigation led to the indefinite leave of Teague's No. 2, Mike Ellis, earlier this month. Again, sexual indiscretions, involving the circulation of pornographic images, were alleged.

All of this followed federal inquiries about potential Title IX violations.

The football team has a 2-1 record and a top-20 passing defense, but its struggling offense is guided by inconsistent quarterback Mitch Leidner, a passer who rarely completes game-changing throws.

The drama and discontent aren't rare. They're expected at Minnesota.

Name the decade and you'll find a scandal. The 1970s? Ticket-scalping by players and mismanagement by former coach Bill Musselman lead to numerous NCAA violations. The 1980s? Three players are accused of sexual assault during a road trip to Madison. All were acquitted but the stain remained. The 1990s? The 1997 Final Four squad was stripped of its banner when NCAA officials learned that an office manager had written hundreds of papers for Clem Haskins' players. The 2000s? White, a former five-star prospect, left school in 2010 without playing one possession for the Gophers, and then he enrolled at Iowa State after a series of legal issues in Minneapolis. He led Iowa State to the NCAA tournament and secured a first-round slot in the 2012 NBA draft.

A week of goodness for Minnesota sports is a rare thing. That's why it means so much.

Pitino's Gophers will probably finish in the Big Ten's basement next season. They've lost far more than they've gained, it seems. The 2015 class possesses a few promising youngsters but it will need time to mature before it blossoms in the Big Ten. The next few years, however, will feature talent that programs must get if they intend to rebuild -- or build, in Minnesota's case. Pitino's "he's Rick's son" shine wore off last year when he followed an NIT championship with a 6-12 record in the Big Ten. But his recruiting boon this week proves he has the allure to keep the state's best players and assemble legit classes.

Coffey did not follow the trend of past Minnesota prospects who picked out-of-state schools. Tyus Jones, Reid Travis and Rashad Vaughn were all top-30 recruits in 2014. All three left Minnesota, where they'd played high school basketball.

After he was hired, Pitino recognized he had to become a serious destination for top in-state and regional prospects. And his 2016 class is proof he's made more progress on the recruiting circuit than his first few years on the job suggested. This is a class that will temper whatever disappointment might follow any Gophers struggles next season. He's building something.

It's clear that help is on the way.

Pitino needed a week like this.

And the University of Minnesota needed this even more.