The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 31, 2013

MSU basketball team wise to keep Illinois pipeline open


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Back in 2003, when Tony Thomason came to Minnesota State to play basketball, Illinois kids on the roster were unusual and a luxury.

It cost more to give a scholarship to Illinois kids because that was not a state with reciprocity with Minnesota, meaning a full ride for an out-of-state player cost more than the in-state scholarship.

But now, Minnesota has a better arrangement with Illinois, and coach Matt Margenthaler and his staff appear to be reaping those benefits.

On Tuesday, guard Thomas Kopelman of Rockford (Ill.) Lutheran commited to joining the Mavericks program next season. If you trust his high-school coach, Kopelman is a Division I talent that slipped through the recruiting net of the 13 Division I programs in Illinois.

The first Illinois player to come to Minnesota State during the Margenthaler era was Jermaine Brown, an incredibly athletic forward who grew up in Chicago and came here after a couple seasons at Bradley.

Thomason was the first high-schooler that Margenthaler brought in from Illinois, and he was a stalwart point guard for four seasons who helped build the foundation for today’s successful teams. Then came Reuben Trotter, who transferred here from Lincoln Community College and really blossomed as a senior.

The current roster includes Zach Monaghan, who grew up near Chicago and attended South Dakota State for one season. Having his older brother Pat on the coaching staff may have had more to do with him coming here, but it also kept the Illinois pipeline alive and the Minnesota State brand on the minds of kids in that state.

There’s been some Twiiter talk about another Illinois kid considering Minnesota State. Sounds like Alex Sorenson, a 6-foot-8 post from Dunlap, Ill., has the Mavericks on his short list.

Recruiting Illinois makes a lot of sense for the Mavericks. In Minnesota, there are fewer elite-level kids, and you compete with the University of Minnesota and the Dakota schools for the few Division I players. If a player falls through that level, then you compete against all of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

In Illinois, a player who doesn’t feel like he fits at the Division I level might be looking for a Division II program that wins conference championships and plays in the national tournament. Minnesota State fits that profile.

And there are more recruitable players in Illinois, especially the Chicago area.

Margenthaler grew up in Macomb, Ill., which is about three hours from Chicago, and his father Jack, a highly successful coach, surely still has name recognition in that state. Assistant coach Mike Schott is from Rockford, and Pat Monaghan grew up in Chicago. That’s a lot of connections to find out about players and get them to consider Minnesota State.

Kopelman said that he had never really heard of Minnesota State before the recruiting began, but once he did some research, he chose the Mavericks over some Division I programs and successful Division IIs.

So expect to see more Illinois natives on the Mavericks’ roster in the future. It costs the same to bring someone here as it does from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas, and the results have been pretty good so far.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.