The Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball program had a lot of momentum on its side after hiring new head coach, Ben Johnson early last week. Alumni, especially former players, and the local recruiting circuit were all celebrating and slapping each other on the back publicly at every opportunity.
A partial list of ex-#Gophers players to touch base w/ new coach Ben Johnson in the last few days: McHale, Mychal Thompson, Bobby Jackson, Saunders, Bickerstaff, Orr, Randy Carter, Mbakwe, Hoffarber, Coffey, Oturu, Austin Hollins, Mo Walker, Ohnstad. So many are fired up for Ben.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) March 28, 2021
Then, the flame died as the week turned into the weekend and father time pushed us into Sunday. Instead of a snowball effect that led to some good assistant coaching hires and climaxed in some early commitments out of the transfer portal, the Gopher MBB chatter has gone silent.
There’s only one logical explanation for such a hard stop. The next step for Ben and his new basketball program is to find his assistant coaching staff. But if your most prized candidates for hire are currently unavailable to interview because they are still finishing their 2020-21 coaching commitments elsewhere… then what’s a new head coach to do but…. wait?
Patiently waiting, waiting on you..
And if you look through some of the names in Ben Johnson’s (rumored) pool of assistant coaching candidates, testing this theory becomes an interesting experiment. Why? Because two of the top candidates start to look even more obvious.
Dave Thorson | Assistant Coach – Colorado State: NIT – 3rd Place Game
This is the hire that seems most inevitable. Dave Thorson is Minnesota basketball HOF and he coached Ben Johnson when Ben played at DeLaSalle. Their relationship is already one of the mentor/mentee ilk. In 2018, Thorson even told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I told (Ben’s) dad the year he was a senior in high school, I said, ‘Someday, I’ll probably work for Ben.’ It wouldn’t shock me at all if that happened.”
Partnering Dave and Ben together would also unify two of the best Minnesota high school recruiters in the country. Thorson helped land David Roddy at CSU, who flew under Pitino’s radar until it was too late. Now, Roddy’s averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds as a sophomore for the Rams.
Colorado State’s season will come to an end today, after they play in the 3rd place NIT Tournament game (starts at 2PM). If Dave is indeed the guy Ben is waiting for, then we should know very soon.
Jared Nuness | Special Assistant – Baylor: NCAA’s – Elite 8
Nuness is from Eden Prairie and actually won Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year in 1997. Before Jared landed at Baylor, where he’s been for the last 11 years, he was a high school coach in the Twin Cities. Nuness was an assistant at Hopkins before head coaching at Park Center and Bloomington Kennedy.
He played college ball at Valparaiso, under Homer Drew and Scott Drew. Scott is now the head coach at Baylor. If Ben Johnson wants to bring Nuness back, an assistant job offer should do the trick because that’d be a promotion from the title Jared Nuness holds at Baylor (Special Assistant and Director of Player Development).
Baylor won their Sweet 16 matchup this weekend and advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8. If Johnson is waiting for Nuness then we could be looking at another week or two of patience.
Could Ben Johnson be waiting for both Dave and Jared to finish their seasons? It’s certainly plausible. In fact, I’m not sure that waiting for just one hire would hold up the entire process like the Gophers’ coaching search is being stalled right now.
There are plenty of other candidates rumored to be interested in the Minnesota assistant jobs. Here are some of the other names that have been floated. But if these were the targets, what would stop Johnson from hiring them and hitting the recruiting trail already?
- Ed Conroy – Current Minnesota assistant
- Jeff Mailhot – Current Minnesota assistant
- Jim Molinari – Northern Iowa Assistant
- Al Harris – ‘D1 Minnesota’ AAU Team Coach
- Tim Miles – Former Nebraska Head Coach
- Kyle Green – Northern Iowa Associate HC
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan