It is only natural to think programs reclassifying programs will struggle early as they acclimate to a new, higher level with stiffer competition, a fluctuating roster and a new way of life.

In that way, St. Thomas men’s basketball will probably be no different. Come 2021, when the program moves up to Division I and into the Summit League, the Tommies will take a roster featuring some players who just competed in a Division III season and pit it against some of the toughest tests the NCAA has to offer.

There will be some early bumps. But don’t expect the transitional period to take too long — not for this program.

“You talk about programs that are trying to make the transition, there are very few that are in as good of a position as St. Thomas,” Prep Hoops national analyst Ryan James said. “I think it’s in a fantastic position, because of who the head coach is, because of the location, because of the support system and because of the hunger for basketball in Minnesota. I think they’re in a fantastic position to have quick success.”

The talent pool with which Tommies head coach John Tauer has to recruit is deep. Minnesota has grown into a hoops hotbed over the past decade. James said the state’s high school Class of 2022 is probably going to produce more Division-I players than it ever has before.

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Before now, those players likely had no choice but to go elsewhere. Sure, there’s the University of Minnesota, but only a certain class of player will even receive an offer from the U, and the Gophers only have so many roster spots. Talented players who are best suited to play mid-major Division-I basketball couldn’t find a good fit in the Twin Cities.

“I think we’ve had several guys, and probably more female basketball players, that fell into the mid-major (level). Currently at Minnehaha, we have several boys that could fit that mold,” Minnehaha Academy athletic director Josh Thurow said.

Now, with St. Thomas joining the mix as the state’s second full-time Division-I program, local Division-I-quality athletes have another option.

“I think it would be a really good fit for our kids to go over there. You could stay home and your parents could watch you play. We don’t have anything close to that here,” Thurow said. “You’d have to be Gopher-good to stay at home, and to be Gopher good, that’s the (Jalen Suggs, Chet Holmgrens and Prince Aligbes) of the world, and not many more. I think this could be a really good option for some of our kids.”

Cretin-Derham Hall boys basketball coach Jerry Kline Jr. has had recent grads go across the country to play for other mid-major schools. Ryan Larson and Sy Chatman from the Raiders’ 2018 state championship team are currently playing for Wofford and Massachusetts, respectively. Should St. Thomas eye players of that quality, it would seem to have a major leg up in recruiting battles.

“They’re going to be able to really compete with, maybe not Wisconsin and Minnesota, but when a kid is picking between Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and North Dakota State or South Dakota State, and they want a metro experience, and you walk onto that campus, to me, that has the ‘Wow’ factor,” Kline said. “And it’s no disrespect to the Dakota schools. … When you walk on that campus, that’s just ridiculous. It’s unbelievable. And now that you can get a full ride athletically … that’s a game changer.”

Kline and Thurow talked about the opportunity kids have to stay at home and play in front of their friends and family. That’s often discussed as a reason why people think local star recruits should stay home and play for the U. But it rarely plays out that way. James thinks that has created the “misnomer” that many kids want to leave home and get away for college. James countered that by pointing out “95 percent” of scholarship-worthy players who have the choice of going elsewhere to play or staying close to home, chose to stay in this area to play Division II or Division III ball.

“They’ve rarely had the option to compare Cal Poly with staying home and playing D-I basketball,” James said. “You could say the same about a kid going to Elon or going to Wofford. They’ve never had the chance to compare that Wofford offer with something right in the Twin Cities. I think when they have that option … they’re going to hit it harder than people really, truly understand.”

Schools like Hopkins are producing all different levels of college talent each year. Look at Ishmael El-Amin, who earned all-MAC honors this year as a junior guard at Ball State. Now consider: Is a local athlete more likely to want to play in St. Paul, or Muncie, Indiana?

“To me, that’s a no-brainer. I think that’s where John and his staff will close the deal on some of these kids,” Kline said. “I think he’s going to have a lot of opportunity in the metro.”

The only complicating factor, at least early on, is that St. Thomas won’t be eligible for NCAA postseason play until the 2025-26 school year, meaning no March Madness for the Tommies until at least 2026. James knows how important that dream is for kids. But he also thinks that’s about the only negative working against St. Thomas versus countless positives.

“John Tauer has such a quality reputation with high school coaches and AAU coaches, that that is going to make the transition easier,” James said. “A St. Thomas degree is going to make it easier, the location is going to make it easier. … (The lack of a posteason is) the one counter balance.”

Tauer and his staff already possess such a strong foothold in the metro. Thurow knows St. Thomas’ men’s basketball, women’s basketball and football coaching staffs well by now, and is confident in what they’re about. It’ll still be those same coaches doing the recruiting — St. Thomas AD Phil Esten confirmed as much Thursday — they’ll simply be recruiting a slightly higher level athlete.

“They’re the type of people you want to send your kids to to play for, because you know they’ll be treated well, coached well,” Thurow siad. “Those folks … they’ve been in our gyms more than the University of Minnesota staff, so this is exciting for us. It feels like there’s a little bit more connection, so I think that could be a really nice thing to have in our backyard.”

The benefits will likely be mutual. It would surprise very few people if St. Thomas built a high-level basketball program within the next five years, and did so using a high number of local kids.

“St. Thomas, they’re winners, they win. They’ll figure out how to do it at that level, as well,” Kline said. “St. Thomas going Division I is a no-brainer. It’s just going to be fun to watch the transition. I think we’ll have a fair amount of kids from Minnesota having the opportunity to go there.”