Ben Johnson talks healthy Gophers, 2023 season ahead at State Fair

Ben Johnson and the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team enjoyed the Minnesota State Fair on Wednesday, a gorgeous afternoon filled with sun and temperatures in the high 70s.

Johnson spoke of his excitement for the 2023-24 season, his third with the Gophers, and a chance to get out and enjoy the Great Minnesota Get-Together. The Gophers got through an eight-week summer workout program healthy, and are full-go heading into the start of season workouts next Tuesday. It’s the first time in his tenure as coach he’s entered a season with a fully-healthy roster.

"Now going into Year 3 to have a full roster, knock on wood, to have a summer where there was no significant injuries, now you feel like we’re hitting the floor and the ground running. To be able to have multiple guys back from last year is a huge benefit, and I love the new energy," Johnson said. "Whether that’s transfers or new guys, there’s new energy, guys are driven and motivated. Fun group to be around, live in the gym and excited to take the next step."

Johnson is referring to a new backcourt in Howard transfer Elijah Hawkins, Pepperdine transfer Mike Mitchell Jr. and incoming freshman Cameron Christie that join sophomore Braeden Carrington. The Gophers also added 6-11, 290-pound center Jack Wilson out of Washington State.

Minnesota returns top scorer and rebounder Dawson Garcia, Joshua Ola-Joseph, Pharrel Payne and should have Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen back healthy. Both have missed two straight seasons with knee injuries.

"I’ve never seen them play 5-on-5, so I’m excited. I know they’re excited and I know their teammates are excited for them," Johnson said.

Johnson also knows there has to be a sense of urgency in his third season at Minnesota. The Gophers are 22-39 overall, and just 6-33 in Big Ten play in Johnson’s first two seasons. Mark Coyle will show patience with Johnson after Lindsay Whalen resigned from the women’s team after last season.

Johnson says he and Coyle are on the same page, and it’s about a process. They’re not going to skip steps.

"There’s nobody more competitive than the guy who it’s your job to win games and establish a team and move the needle. Mark has been great, he’s been doing this a long time. He understands it’s not a quick fix, that’s not how I think, that’s not how I operate, that’s not why I took this job," Johnson said. "It’s all about to be able to sustain and if you don’t have a base, you’re not going to be able to sustain. Now in Year 3, we’re right where we want to be, right where we want to be and the timing is right. I think that’s why everybody is excited."