MINNEAPOLIS - There are going to be a lot of firsts for Ben Johnson in his inaugural season as the University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach.
Over the weekend, his new roster moved into their living quarters on campus. Monday, he held his first team meeting and his first practice as Minnesota’s head coach. An almost entirely new roster is now together for the next eight weeks, and everybody that could work out on Monday did. Parker Fox is out after having knee surgery, and New Hampshire transfer Sean Sutherland is doing non-contact work, coming off a torn labrum.
The Zoom calls, the FaceTime sessions and phone calls are done.
"It’s the first time you feel like you’re coaching a team, you’ve got bodies in there so that was cool. A lot of positive energy, a lot of excited energy in the building, which is good," Johnson said. To make the final switch over and make it a reality is pretty cool."
The lone player back from last year’s roster? Isaiah Ihnen. The likely early corps Johnson will build around includes grad transfer Payton Willis, a starting guard for the Gophers two seasons ago, George Washington transfer Jamison Battle, William & Mary transfer Luke Loewe, Lafayette transfer E.J. Stephens, freshman Treyton Thompson and junior college transfer Abdoulaye Thiam.
The Gophers will have an entirely new starting five from last season. Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur, Liam Robbins, Both Gach and Brandon Johnson all left the program for various reasons.
Johnson reiterated Monday what he said earlier this offseason: It’s the new normal in college basketball with the one-time transfer rule, and he wants players who want to be Gophers. It’s especially important in his first season, as he builds a foundation, culture and chemistry for the future. That’s the emphasis the next eight weeks.
"You’ve got to have that to get it going and get it all started off on the right foot," Johnson said.
So what’s stood out to him early? His team’s conditioning, and their shooting. They got through their first full workout without breaks, and they made shots. The Gophers were third in the Big Ten in three-point shot attempts last season, but they were dead last in percentage, making just 28.4 percent from the perimeter.
Johnson mentioned Thompson and Battle as early shot-makers. Battle, Johnson’s first commit, averaged 17 points per game last season.
"We had a lot of guys that made shots today. It’s nice, guys that shoot the ball, it makes up for a lot of deficiencies. We have a lot of guys who have the ability to shoot the ball," Johnson said.