Ben Johnson is the new men’s head basketball coach at the University of Minnesota and there’s no doubt, after watching his introductory press conference, that he’s excited to take over what he called his “dream job”. Now, every coach says that when they take a new job but you can believe it with Ben. He loves the state of Minnesota and has proven that throughout his playing and coaching career. He even compared himself to Tom Izzo, who was a Michigan guy hired at Michigan State when he was 35-years-old.
Now that’s a self-comparison that takes some testicular fortitude. The Izzo comparison was just one of the many highlights to a press conference that Ben Johnson tee’d up and absolutely smashed out of the Dinkytown ballpark. I walked away from today’s presser convinced Mark Coyle and the University of Minnesota made the correct hire on Monday.
Ben Johnson walks away from the podium and he should feel good because he just hit an absolute moon shot home run intro press conference. What a great start. #Gophers— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) March 23, 2021
Ok, let’s get into some of the highlights I mentioned above. There were quite a few and Johnson answered all of the pressing questions with a casual ease. Conversation clearly comes natural for Ben and it’s because of his genuine nature. When he speaks, you feel like he’s telling you the truth. Whether he’s being truthful or not, it’s not an easy thing to pull off.
He’s an impressive human being and it’s clear why he is so well-liked by those who know him.
Transfers (or possible transfers)
Let’s start with his likeability, since we’re on the subject. Ben Johnson will need all of the likeability he can muster as he tries to convince some of the current Gophers to stick around town. At the same time, however, I love his overall approach to the transfer portal. It’s the Wild Wild West age of major college transfers so you can’t expect everyone to remain in your saloon. You just have to be ready when they leave.
He touched on the portal earlier in the presser too. pic.twitter.com/jhYQRvsY03— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) March 23, 2021
Before Ben Johnson took to the podium today, my love for Williams Arena had been beaten out of me after years and years of mediocre basketball being played inside. Some voices around town had actually convinced me The Barn had become a detriment to recruiting the best high school basketball players.
Well, I’d like to thank Ben Johnson for verbally punching me in the face with his love for The Barn. Williams Arena is one of the greatest venues in COLLEGE sports, where atmosphere is more important than business suites. It’s not meant to be a knock-off pro arena and we should be proud of that. It’s a legitimate college basketball facility and any downsides are just part of the character. If we can pack The Barn again, we’ll never want to tear it down. Ben convinced me of that today.
For whatever reason, Ben Johnson really took control of this presser when asked about Williams Arena. He did just fine up until that point, but when asked about The Barn and what it means to the state of Minnesota… he hit a different gear and never looked back.
Alright, let’s get to brass tax. Ben Johnson was hired at the University of Minnesota because of his deep ties to local recruiting and elite reputation as a college basketball recruiter. So of course, he was hit with plenty of questions surrounding the idea of closing the Minnesota recruiting borders. Greg Gard at Wisconsin, for example, has built most of his roster off of Minnesota defectors.
That needs to stop and Coyle decided plugging that recruiting leak was more important than hiring a coach with experience. After listening to Ben’s press conference, I 100% agree. The college game, especially basketball, comes down to talent and how well you can recruit that talent to come and put on your team’s uniform.
Minnesota has one of the deepest in-state basketball talent pools in the country right now. Keeping some of the best kids to stay home will all but guarantee a more successful stay in Dinkytown than what Richard Pitino experienced. So how is he going to go about that business?
For Ben Johnson, recruiting is a “we” thing and he made that clear to all of the Minnesota high school and AAU coaches who are willing to listen. The whole “One Minnesota” thing will fit well on Ben Johnson.
"This is OUR program. This is OUR school." pic.twitter.com/j7Y56WUoGx— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) March 23, 2021
Assistant Coaching Staff
As the youngest head coach in the Big Ten, Ben will need quality assistant help as he grows and earns his bruises in a Big Ten’s captain’s chair. Guys like Tim Miles and Dave Thorson both have great relationships with Ben and that’s only the beginning.
When asked about possible staff hires and the budget he’s been afforded to hire assistants, Ben made it clear that there’s no shortage of interest from across the country. In fact, he claims we’d be shocked by some of the names who have called on it. Again, this dude knows how to get you excited.
Johnson wants good assistants but he doesn’t lack confidence in himself and his fit for this job, either. Ben was asked about a possible learning curve, given his inexperience. Sure, there’s all the on-bench coaching stuff (timeouts, adjustments, etc) that comes with being a head coach but that’s not what the former DeLaSalle star is worried about.
Nah, he’s worried about wanting too much, too quickly and working too hard. Ok, Michael Scott. You’ve convinced me. I’m a Ben Johnson believer.
For the full introductory press conference, you can click HERE.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan