Rumors of who would be the next Gophers Men’s basketball coach have been circulating for weeks. Back in February, news broke that Richard Pitino would finish out the season but would not be brought back for a 9th Season. Immediately following that news, names like Brian Dutcher, Eric Musselman, Niko Medved, and others were put at the top of the list, including mine. Monday, as I was about to post an article about who could replace Pitino, news broke from multiple Basketball Insiders that former Gopher player and Assistant Coach, Ben Johnson, would be named the next Head Coach. Johnson spent the past 3 years at Xavier following a 5-year stint as an assistant for Pitino.
Prior to today, Craig Smith of Utah State, Ben Jacobson of Northern Iowa, and Dennis Gates of Cleveland State were the apparent front runners. Both Smith and Jacobson had or were scheduled for in-person interviews. As a College Basketball nerd, I like Ben Johnson as a coach, but his hiring came out of nowhere. While he has been an Assistant Coach at the Power Level for 13 years, this will be his first Head Coaching Job. With that said, he does check off multiple boxes; Alumni, Recruits Minnesota, along with bringing much-needed diversity to a University that recently come under scrutiny for its lack of diversity among its coaches.
One area that plagued Richard Pitino’s 8 year run as Coach was signing local talent. The casual fan may not realize, but MSP is loaded with high-level talent that have gone on to play in the NBA. Don’t believe me? Ask Coach K, John Calipari, Mark Few, Scott Drew, and Roy Williams. Every winter they visit the Twin Cities to recruit talent like Tyus & Tre Jones, Reid Travis, Matthew Hurt, Gary Trent Jr., Kendall Brown, Kerwin Walton, along with 2021 Top Prospect Chet Holmgren. Yes, it would be hard for any coach to compete with those legends for recruits, but the fertile grounds go much deeper than those Blue Chippers. Local talent like J.P. Macura, McKinley Wright, Jericho Sims, Dawson Garcia, and Sacar Anim would all have made big impacts at the U but RP had a preference for East Coast kids. His 3 best recruits were Jordan Murphy, Daniel Oturu, and Amir Coffey, all of whom Ben Johnson was the lead man in recruiting. Oturu and Coffey are both Twin Cities natives who now play for NBA affiliates
With new facilities, The Barn, and a shit load of 4/5 Star Recruits in your backyard this should be a job you can win at. Unfortunately, we have not seen the results we desire since Clem Haskins was patrolling the sidelines. The key for Johnson will be to hire an experienced coaching staff as he grows as a young Head Coach.