MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team is in the middle of its eight-week summer program, which includes individual work and competitive team periods.
It’s the first go-around for Ben Johnson as a head coach, after serving for the last 15 years as an assistant for various programs, including the Gophers and most recently Xavier. Earlier this week, Johnson went to social media to give an update on where the team stands in its summer workouts. He’s got almost an entirely new roster, with only Isaiah Ihnen and now Eric Curry back from last season.
He answered a variety of questions for about 25 minutes on Instagram Live. Here’s a sampling of what he answered:
WHO IS STANDING OUT IN SUMMER WORKOUTS?
Ben Johnson said all of his players are doing a great job, but mentioned three specifically. Freshman Treyton Thompson, junior college transfer Abdoulaye Thiam and transfer Jamison Battle. Thompson, a 4-star recruit from Alexandria, averaged 4.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in his last season at La Lumiere prep school. Thiam averaged 15 points per game and shot 48.6 percent from the perimeter at Indian River State College. Battle transferred from George Washington, where he scored more than 17 points per game last season. Johnson called him currently probably the best shooter on the Gophers.
HOW IS RECRUITING GOING? WILL YOU ADD MORE TO THE ROSTER?
Johnson said recruiting is a daily process, whether it’s trying to finalize the 2021 roster or stay in contact with 2022 recruits. He’s busy this weekend watching top targets from the Class of 2022 at various AAU tournaments.He can’t talk about specific recruits, as it would be an NCAA violation.
Johnson did say he could add one or two more players to this year’s roster, but it has to be the right fit as he likes the chemistry the current team has. We now know Steffon Mitchell and Sterling Manley won’t be coming to the Gophers. Both were linked to Minnesota, and both have decided to turn professional. Thompson is currently the only center on the Gophers’ roster.
WHO IS YOUR STARTING 5?
Johnson said he can’t name a starting five at this point. That’s not a bad thing, with the season four months away and still needing to mesh so many new faces. If one had to project a guess, it would likely be Payton Willis, Jamison Battle, Isaiah Ihnen, Abdoulaye Thia and Treyton Thompson.
"I’m just glad all our guys are here, loving to be in the gym, loving to get better, competing. That’s been the coolest thing for me is everybody has been bought in," Johnson said.
PICK ONE WORD YOU WOULD WANT TO DESCRIBE YOUR TEAM?
Johnson said it would be competitive. He wants his players to play at a high level consistently, and understand what it means to compete for Big Ten championships.
"If you’re competitive, you’re a lot of things. I think you’re a fighter, I think you’re gritty, tough, smart. Competitive would be the word," Johnson said.
WHO HAS THE BEST HANDLES ON THE TEAM?
Johnson said he hopes it’s a combination of Payton Willis and Luke Loewe. That gives an indication of the guard rotation this season. Willis is a favorite to be the starting point guard, and Loewe, a transfer from William & Mary, could be one of the first guards off the bench. He shot 35 percent from the perimeter and averaged 3.2 assists last season.
ARE YOU READY FOR WILLIAMS ARENA AT FULL FAN CAPACITY?
Johnson wants nothing more than full fan capacity when the basketball season starts in November. There were no fans at Williams Arena, other than family, at games last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Minnesota is prepared to have fans at full capacity for events, starting with fall sports. Johnson, who played for the Gophers, is more than ready.
"One hundred percent. They’re ready, I’m ready. I think everybody is ready to be back. There’s nothing like competing and playing in front of all our fans in a sold out arena, sold out Barn. Definitely looking forward to that," Johnson said.
The next step for Johnson and the Gophers other than finishing summer workouts? Announcing an official 2021-22 schedule.