Well as I warned everyone last night, Amir Coffey is officially off to the NBA Draft, leaving Richard Pitino and the Gophers a (top-10 overall Big Ten) veteran talent at the wing away, from a possible sweet-16 team…

I’ll start by saying this: We don’t know why Amir Coffey wants into the NBA so badly. Unless he comes out and honestly tells someone what his reasoning is, we won’t know. 

Now, let’s go this direction:

Most draft experts have projected Amir Coffey as a late-2nd round pick as his best-case draft day scenario. He’s more likely to be undrafted that night. That’s where the obvious questions arise. If Coffey isn’t going to get drafted…. why would he leave when he still has college eligibility left?

That’s the $35,000/year (G-League Average Salary) question… 

It really doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways. But at the same time, most of us are die-hard fans of this team so it’s really hard for us to see why Coffey wouldn’t want to go for greatness… Why wouldn’t the home-town kid want to finish his career with a deep NCAA Tournament run, where he could hang his number in the rafters of The Barn next to a new banner???

Maybe he doesn’t care. At least, not as much as he does other things.

I saw Kobe Bryant give an interview on some 30 for 30, or some TV program that was looking back on his career, when he talked about his decision to jump directly to the NBA from High School, and it will forever stick with me when these moments arise.

The only thing Kobe wanted to be, when he was coming out of high school and entering the next stage of his life, was a pro basketball player. The things that are important to most 17 and 18 year-olds, weren’t important to The Mamba. As a student athlete, you had to focus on a lot of other things beyond basketball. He didn’t want to focus on other things. Spending his time on something other than the game of basketball didn’t make sense…

Even if he was going to ride the bench to start his career, or he didn’t get the playing time he wanted, he still saw the NBA as his best option. Why wouldn’t he want to spend his time around the best coaches and the best players in the the world? Obviously, Kobe knew his talent and he was in a much better spot than Coffey, but the principle can still apply to Amir’s thought process.

It’s possible that Coffey feels like his basketball career, no matter what happens at the college or pro levels, will be held back if he stays in school. It’s possible that he feels like he needs to go up to G-League (if not the NBA right away) so he can get in front of the next level of coaches and the next level of competition, in order to grow his game.

It’s also possible that he sees his age as a ticking time-bomb. If he went back to school and didn’t have a MASSIVE season, or if he couldn’t stay healthy, he’d enter the draft at 24 years old, with an even lesser likelihood that he gets a 2-way G-League/NBA contract

I bring all of this up so you can get an idea of why Amir Coffey might have decided to leave, when most players would more likely stay in this situation, especially when the Gophers would enter the season (likely) in the top-25. 

If Coffey would have come back to blow up the Big Ten this season, averaging ridiculous numbers like he did in the back end of last year, and then leading us on a deep March run, he could have seen his draft stock blow up with a lot more guaranteed money and a much smoother path to a long NBA career…

But, at the end of the day…

How we view this decision in the future, will be completely up to Amir Coffey himself. If he finds a way to get drafted or gets a summer league team to give him a shot; then eventually works his way into the NBA where he then makes a bunch of money… we’ll forever talk about how smart he was and embrace him as “one of us” who made it and succeeded in the NBA…

But, if he can’t make the league, gets shipped off to Europe for a few years, and then eventually enters the real world in his late 20’s, as your Real Estate Agent… this won’t look like the best early departure decision in MN history…. 

I’m rooting for him.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan