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'That was special': Stanford hands Eli King first Power Five basketball offer

Caledonia's Eli King is becoming a monster name throughout the country. The inside story on his recruitment, including an offer from Stanford and a ton of interest from high-major basketball programs. Plus, a new football offer from the SEC.

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Caledonia's Eli King (1), right, goes up for a shot as Waseca's Kyreese Willingham, left, defends during a Rochester Hoops Challenge boys basketball game Saturday at Mayo Civic Center. Caledonia won the contest 81-73 in a battle of Class AA state powers. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

CALEDONIA — Eli King doesn’t have a cell phone, and that’s probably a good thing. If he had one, it would be buzzing non-stop.

Monday was the first day that college basketball programs could officially talk to Class of 2022 prospects. King has quickly turned into one of the most coveted targets in the country.

The two-sport Caledonia superstar had a litany of high-major basketball programs reach out Monday. They all want a piece of the high-flying Caledonia guard who was the best dunker in southeastern Minnesota last season (46 dunks) when he averaged 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 3.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game for the 28-1 Warriors.

King is the No. 140 prospect in the Class of 2022, according to Rivals.

He had multiple phone calls with Minnesota, including a one-on-one chat with head coach Richard Pitino on Monday.

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Then, late Monday night, Stanford men's basketball head coach Jerod Haase called. Except King wasn’t home. He was at football practice. That didn’t bother Haase; King returned the call as soon as he got home. A few minutes later, Haase offered King a scholarship.

Northern Iowa was the first Division I program to offer King a basketball scholarship. Stanford became the first Power Five basketball program to offer King.

“That was special,” Eli’s father and Caledonia basketball coach Brad King said. “Notre Dame was special for football and Stanford is special for basketball, no doubt about that. We didn’t expect that on the first call. It was neat listening to that coach tell Eli, ‘Not only are you an elite basketball player but you’re an elite academic student. There’s only so many of those in the country that we can recruit, so we’re excited that we can do that.’”

Stanford won 20 games in 2019-20, and it turned freshman point guard Tyrell Terry into a potential first-round draft pick.

“The part that we liked about Stanford is that some coaches say, ‘We’re going to wait and start a relationship,’ which is all good,” Brad King said. “But you have to pull the trigger at some point. Some coaches wait until five other coaches have offered. I’ll never understand that. I don’t need anyone to tell me what to think. If I watch a kid and love him, I’ll make that assessment and move forward. Sometimes it feels like they’re waiting for someone else to verify their feelings. And then you’re behind.

“Like Will Tschetter from Stewartville. If you’re the fifth school that offers on the same day, in my eyes, it looks like you’re following the herd.”

Stanford didn't do that. They got ahead of the curve, and the quick offer showed the Kings that they mean business. But the competition is really ramping up.

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Eli King also talked with Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery.

King has been working out almost daily with former Rochester Mayo stars Gabe and Mason Madsen, who are two of the best recruits in the University of Cincinnati's Class of 2020. Cincinnati is hoping to draw more talent from southeastern Minnesota; the Bearcats have talked with King as well but haven’t offered a scholarship quite yet.

Creighton, Virginia Tech, California, Belmont, Northern Iowa, Illinois-Chicago and Drake also reached out to King yesterday.

King isn’t a stranger to the recruiting process. He watched his older brother, Owen, get recruited for both football and basketball and eventually sign with South Dakota State for basketball. Owen recently transferred closer to home, to Division II Winona State University, after two years in the Jackrabbits’ program.

Noah King was also committed to South Dakota State at one time, but he’s changed gears and will head to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the fall. Kirkwood has won two NJCAA Division II titles in the last four years, and Noah hopes to play Division I basketball after a year or two at Kirkwood.

Though his two older brothers are staying close to home, that doesn’t mean Eli King is convinced that he has to stay home and play for the Gophers. It's certainly on the table, though.

"I think Eli was comfortable going anywhere,” Brad King said. “He’s been through it with Owen and Noah. He’s thought about it a lot. He is comfortable going away. But more importantly, he’s looking for a good fit. He’s looking for an environment that he likes and a style of play that he likes. Again, it’s not like he’s sold on basketball 100 percent. He’s still talking to football coaches also.”

And the football angle is especially significant. Owen and Noah were standouts on the gridiron, but their true love is basketball. Eli is dominant at both basketball and football.

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Eli was a first-team All-Area selection by the Post Bulletin after an outstanding sophomore season. He finished with 50 receptions for 958 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. He added six more incredible touchdowns as a punt and kick returner.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound wideout was a big reason why Caledonia won yet another state title in 2019. He had two receiving touchdowns and one highlight-reel 58-yard punt return touchdown in Caledonia’s 26-0 win over Minneapolis North, as the Warriors completed a fifth consecutive undefeated season and ran their winning streak to 68 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the United States.

“Eli has an ability to cut like no other,” Caledonia football coach Carl Fruechte said. “He puts that foot down, makes a cut and he’s gone. Nobody caught him all season.”

Football coaches at Notre Dame, Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa have all offered King scholarships. And now another school has hopped in the mix. Led by energetic new coach Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri has made a big impression on King and they offered him a football scholarship.

“Yeah, I like the Missouri coach a lot,” Brad King said. “Talking to their staff has been interesting. It’s unique how some guys love the fact that he’s playing in multiple sports. There are coaches that are telling him to keep doing it and enjoy the heck out of it, and decide when the time is right. Those are the guys that you like having a conversation with.”

Eli King might have to get a cell phone sometime soon, or his dad's phone might not ever stop ringing.

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Caledonia's Eli King (1) goes up for a shot as Stewartville's Bode Mayer (10) defends during the Section 1AA championship boys basketball game on March 12 at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

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