Long Q&A with The Athletic: Minnesota coach Ben Johnson on establishing a culture and what’s next for Dawson Garcia, Jamison Battle

BleedGopher

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Lots of good stuff, a few of my favorites per Brian:

Is there an area in the offseason plan you really want to attack with this group?

We’re going to have three core values this summer: physicality, mentality and edge. That’s going to be huge. We’ve got to be a much more physical team, because we have the ability to be. I keep hitting it, but we’re going to have the measurables that make us more physical. We have to have that mentality of being downhill dudes. We have to have the mentality of, we’re going to keep coming at you, every single play. That mentality of we’re going to bend but not break. That tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar mindset. And then we have to develop that edge starting this summer, the minute these guys get on campus. We’re going to be good enough, and we have to go out there every day and prove it, but you have to play with that edge. All three of those start early in the summer and that helps build your DNA of what we want this year to be about.

Of the other guys who are coming back, who is most interesting in terms of how he develops over the summer into a piece that really helps?

Isaiah Ihnen will be very interesting. Isaiah is a legit 6-10. Sat out this year with an ACL. Played a little bit the year before for Richard (Pitino). But has every tool to have big-time success. He’s got some big-time guard skills. Versatility defensively. I’m going to challenge him to be the most versatile defender in the league, because I truly believe he can guard one through four, for sure, maybe even one through five. Do some things defensively that can separate him, that guys his size just don’t do. It goes back to my old Chicago Bulls days, you look at a guy like Scottie Pippen, with that size and length who can guard the point — can Isaiah be a guy who can do that for us? All of a sudden, you got length at 6-10 on you, it’s a little bit different. Can he help change our team because of what he can do with those measurables that he has?

And then offensively, he’s got every tool. Now it’s that mindset piece of being confident in yourself and being mentally tough where, if you go 0-for-4, can you make the fifth? And get over failure. That’s the biggest thing for him on the offensive side. You’re so talented, you have so many gifts — do not get in your own head. If he can develop that mindset and that mentality and play with that edge, he can really, really help this team in a lot of ways.

What is the impact of a guy like Gacria basically betting his basketball career on you guys, and coming back to Minnesota, and what that does for Minnesota basketball in general?

It’s big. And I look at it like not necessarily him betting on us. I think he’s betting on himself. He just was at a point where he said, you know what, right, wrong or indifferent, a change of scenery would be beneficial for me. I know he has gone through a ton, personally, that is hard for anybody. COVID was hard on a lot of people. It was especially hard on him and his family. Being able to be in a new environment, one that’s close to home, hopefully puts his mind in a good spot.

But now he’s been there, done that. He knows the work that needs to be done. Now he’s just betting on himself to be who he is, who we know he can be, and who he’s been in the past. It’s a kid I watched in high school. I watched him at Marquette, when I was at Xavier. So I know what he’s all about. I know the good, I know the bad, I know where he can go.

For us, selfishly, you get a high-profile name like that, that can only help with recruiting. It can only help in-state. It can only help with guys looking to make moves in the portal, because good players want to play with good players. He’s another guy who hopefully we sell in recruiting. You can be a top 50-type talent and come to Minnesota and experience all the dreams and goals you want. We’re going to do our best to develop him, and I know he’s excited and eager for the opportunity and ready to get after it.

Fairly or not, for whatever reasons, I’m not sure he’s been known as the best locker room guy at Marquette and North Carolina. What convinces you he will fit the culture and the standards you expect from your guys?

Not being there, it’s hard for me to say yes or no to that. All I can comment on is who I’ve known that kid to be, from his sophomore year in high school. We did our homework. We made our calls. But just talking to him when he became available in the portal, and getting with him on the phone, just hearing his side — that’s important. Any time you take a kid, you want to know, what are your expectations? His expectation and mine have to align. Or at least be close. If they’re not, that’s when you run into problems. His only expectation is that he wanted to win, and he wanted to get back to enjoying basketball. And being able to do that hopefully in front of friends and family — that will obviously give him an extra boost and extra security.

He’s two years in. Now he has a clear image of what makes him happy, what gets him up in the morning every day, what’s important and what he wants to get out of it. All the kid has talked about is wanting to get to work. That is it. There’s been no talk about shots, about minutes, about starting, about what’s my role, about NIL. Nothing. It has strictly been, “Coach, I just want to get to work.”

He committed to us with his family, and most kids, they want to put out the graphics and do this and that. I said, hey man, just let me know how you want to go about it. He said, coach, I’m just going to put something on my Instagram real quick. I don’t need the photo shoot. I don’t need the jersey and the picture. I’ll just put a Block M up and I’m ready to work. And that was it.

The kid I’ve always known, that’s who he is. A blue-collar dude who’s been like, any gym, any time, anywhere, I just want to hoop. I don’t know what the outside perception is. But, honestly, that is the kid I’ve always known. That’s all he’s talked about. When he’s been here on campus unofficially—- I’m pretty good with body language and reading guys. That’s the only vibe I get. The dude is just ready to get to work and have fun with it.


Go Gophers!!
 

eker0016

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Wow, great interview.

Really interesting to see him talk about Ihnen guarding the 1-4. IMO that means he will see more of those wing/guard minutes than I thought. I had him pegged as mostly a "4".

Also love hearing the mentality from Garcia.

Man basketball season is far away!
 



fan of Ray Williams

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Ben seems to have pretty high hopes for what Ihnen can bring this year. That would be a very pleasant surprise that I think most fans aren't expecting.
Yeah, Ihnen seems to be someone he thinks can do some special things defensively.
But has every tool to have big-time success. He’s got some big-time guard skills. Versatility defensively. I’m going to challenge him to be the most versatile defender in the league, because I truly believe he can guard one through four, for sure, maybe even one through five. Do some things defensively that can separate him, that guys his size just don’t do.
 



bga1

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That's a great interview. Makes me excited about the coming year. I like the attitude!

It will be very interesting to see what he can do with athletes like Ihnen and Henley. I was very surprised to hear him talk of Ihnen's guard skills. We have not seen him put it on the floor and beat guys off the dribble which has led to the perception by some that he can't do it. I think Ben believes he can and has seen him do it in practice but also sees that he has not had enough confidence in the past to do it in games.
 

leib0039

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Yeah, I wonder if the coach knows more or the people who haven't seen him practice or play for 2 years? Tough call
Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
 




Gopherfan84

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Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
Coach speak would be shorter. It would be talking about solely how hard he's working to get back on the court. Ben went into some pretty specific things which is not what you do when you do coach speak.

Ben also brought II into the question. He could've went Fox and others, but he choose Ihnen for a reason.
 

WriterGoph

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Coach speak would be shorter. It would be talking about solely how hard he's working to get back on the court. Ben went into some pretty specific things which is not what you do when you do coach speak.

Ben also brought II into the question. He could've went Fox and others, but he choose Ihnen for a reason.

Exactly. Was just gonna post the same thing. The interviewer didn't ask about Ihnen. It was an open question and Ben chose to highlight Ihnen. If Ihnen was a lost cause, he is not the answer.
 

bga1

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Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
When a guy "blows" you say nothing. He said a lot here.
 

greatdane1973

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Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
I think I'll move my Cheerio bowl juuuuust a little closer to the toilet so you can get that very last drop on them.
 



gopherguy15

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Coach speak would be shorter. It would be talking about solely how hard he's working to get back on the court. Ben went into some pretty specific things which is not what you do when you do coach speak.

Ben also brought II into the question. He could've went Fox and others, but he choose Ihnen for a reason.

Maybe he heard all the talk on GH about Ihnen not being good enough to get minutes next year and wanted to shut that up right now... 😁
 

leib0039

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I think I'll move my Cheerio bowl juuuuust a little closer to the toilet so you can get that very last drop on them.
BHAHAHA fair!

My point is just that some people seem to be angling towards being these guys agents, HEY PLAYER X IS GOING TO THE LEAGUE HE IS F'N AMAZING! lets just hold up on Ihnen being an All American at shooting gaurd. I hope he is the man, I just want to see it and not blindly believe it.
 

GopherPlaya

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BHAHAHA fair!

My point is just that some people seem to be angling towards being these guys agents, HEY PLAYER X IS GOING TO THE LEAGUE HE IS F'N AMAZING! lets just hold up on Ihnen being an All American at shooting gaurd. I hope he is the man, I just want to see it and not blindly believe it.
No one has said anything close to this. No one even said he will be good on the wing they are just reacting to what Ben said in the interview about his guard skills
 

short ornery norwegian

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I saw the bit about "three core values" and I had to laugh.

for those who don't follow the Wolves, incoming owner Marc Lore has this whole shtick about businesses having "three core values" and how that was going to be a big part of the Wolves' future going forward - developing those core values.

Coincidence?
 

bc2211

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That's a great interview. Makes me excited about the coming year. I like the attitude!

It will be very interesting to see what he can do with athletes like Ihnen and Henley. I was very surprised to hear him talk of Ihnen's guard skills. We have not seen him put it on the floor and beat guys off the dribble which has led to the perception by some that he can't do it. I think Ben believes he can and has seen him do it in practice but also sees that he has not had enough confidence in the past to do it in games.
Yeah it’s interesting to think about what he might have shown in practice versus game tape. Personally I felt that Ihnen took a considerable step towards the end of sophomore year - he began pump faking on the three ball, taking a dribble or two towards the hoop and pulling up for the midrange.

It’s not much to write home about, but he clearly had been focusing on adding that dimension to his game, and it stated to show. He was just transitioning out of the standstill shooter mold. I was excited to see what else he had added to his game in the offseason.
 

Spottedmuskie

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I saw the bit about "three core values" and I had to laugh.

for those who don't follow the Wolves, incoming owner Marc Lore has this whole shtick about businesses having "three core values" and how that was going to be a big part of the Wolves' future going forward - developing those core values.

Coincidence?
Are you implying Lore wants good college basketball in the state of the timberwolves and he's paying gopher players??
 

Spottedmuskie

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Ihnen will be good, I've been really high on him his whole time in Minnesota. Really frustrating to see how Pitino used him. He will come out with a chip on his shoulder this season
 

fan of Ray Williams

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Geeze, think most of us would take a lockdown defender in a heartbeat. We will see.
 

Fleckoff

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Or maybe its coach speak to try to get a kid more confidence? Tough call!

Like what do you think he is going to say? Nah Ihnen blows, I cant believe he is still here....

I hope hes great but just because the coach says he is great in May doesnt mean much.
I am skeptical about the Ihnen stuff, but if it that's what Ben truly envisions and it actually happens, it's an absolute game changer. Ihnen's such an enigma to me, I think the physical tools are there, he may have looked slow two years ago because he was overthinking things, much like the gopher defense under Robb Smith in football. Will see, but there's always a dude that looks completely different under a new staff, Dame under Tubby, Mo under Pitino, maybe Ihnen is Ben's reclamation project, or maybe he's as slow as we remember and it's worst coming off a major knee surgery, time will tell
 

Pete smith

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Hey, Ben how about starting the summer like IA State did, practice at 5a.m. and find out real quick who wants it and who is just giving lip service. Talk is cheap, action wins the prize.
 


Bayfieldgopher

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I am skeptical about the Ihnen stuff, but if it that's what Ben truly envisions and it actually happens, it's an absolute game changer. Ihnen's such an enigma to me, I think the physical tools are there, he may have looked slow two years ago because he was overthinking things, much like the gopher defense under Robb Smith in football. Will see, but there's always a dude that looks completely different under a new staff, Dame under Tubby, Mo under Pitino, maybe Ihnen is Ben's reclamation project, or maybe he's as slow as we remember and it's worst coming off a major knee surgery, time will tell

I've never been an Ihnen guy but it appears he is putting in the work to use his natural ability. I watched a couple of his games overseas and he was almost totally a passive perimeter player and not a force on D. He didn't do much under RP then he dinged his knee. Its encouraging to read Bens comments. Maybe he will be a solid contributor after all.
 

Johnnyboy18

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Call me crazy but I could a starting lineup of Cooper, Battle, Ihnen, Fox, and Garcia for the first game of the season.
 


GFBfan

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I am skeptical about the Ihnen stuff, but if it that's what Ben truly envisions and it actually happens, it's an absolute game changer. Ihnen's such an enigma to me, I think the physical tools are there, he may have looked slow two years ago because he was overthinking things, much like the gopher defense under Robb Smith in football. Will see, but there's always a dude that looks completely different under a new staff, Dame under Tubby, Mo under Pitino, maybe Ihnen is Ben's reclamation project, or maybe he's as slow as we remember and it's worst coming off a major knee surgery, time will tell
That was painful to watch. Could have even said Tanner while Sanford was the OC.
 

GopherWeatherGuy

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Call me crazy but I could a starting lineup of Cooper, Battle, Ihnen, Fox, and Garcia for the first game of the season.

I would be surprised if that was the starting lineup, but I would not be surprised to see those 5 on the court at times together.
 

topos

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Call me crazy but I could a starting lineup of Cooper, Battle, Ihnen, Fox, and Garcia for the first game of the season.
I would hate to watch past Gopher teams play against this zone...
 




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