April 2, 2021: Newly appointed head coach Ben Johnson continues to stay busy in the transfer portal, adding former Lafayette guard E.J. Stephens from the transfer portal.
By: Tony Liebert
What just happened:
Ben Johnson has quickly lived up to the billing of an “aggressive-recruiter”. Former Lafayette guard E.J. Stephens joins Luke Loewe as the Gophers’ second commitment today. Stephens, a 6-foot-3-inch combo guard was one of the best scorers at the Mid-Major level last season, averaging 16.4 points per contest.
— Eylijah Stephens (@EJ_Stephens_) April 2, 2021
Who is E.J. Stephens?:
Stephens, a Plantation, Fla. native attended prestigious high school St. Thomas Aquinas. He played four seasons for the varsity team, led his squad in scoring with 20.0 points per game during his senior season. He served as a team captain in his junior and senior years, leading his team in made three-pointers over the course of his career, en-route to winning a district championship in 2015-16. Under-recruited out of high school, Stephens chose to attend Lafayette College in Easton, Pensylvania which competes in the Patriot League.
In his freshman season, Stephens started in three games and played in all but one, averaging 6.8 points per contest, and recorded a career-high 16 points in a Feb. 17 win over American. In his sophomore season, he played in 25.1 minutes per game averaging 7.1 points and 2.8 rebounds. He returned to a bench role in his junior season, starting in only seven of 31 contests, but averaged 12.1 points in 29.8 minutes per game. Stephens broke out as a senior averaging 16.1 points per game in the sixth man role again, starting in only three of the 15 games that Lafayette played. Stephens earned second-team All-Patriot League in his final season with the Leopards.
The 6-foot-3 combo guard plays with a very similar style as his new teammate Luke Loewe. Stephens has the skill to both facilitate the offense and play off the ball, although I believe he would have a much greater chance of playing at the one compared to Loewe.
I don’t think Ben Johnson could’ve really had a better first impression on Gophers fans. After “killing” his opening press conference, he has now signed three players from the transfer portal who all performed at a very high-level last season. Today’s signings of Loewe and Stephens shows that Johnson has a “type” so to speak. Both plays play a very similar style as combo guards who knock down shots and make very few mistakes. Stephens averaged only 1.1 turnovers throughout his career. Free throw percentage is often a better determining factor of a players’ shooting ability and Stephens shot 90.4% from the line last season. The due of Stephens and Loewe is certainly a refreshing change of pace for Gophers fans.
What is next:
Seven Gophers players from last season have entered their names into the transfer portal, but Ben Johnson has responded by adding three new players from the portal himself. A very tentative look at a potential depth chart next season would look like:
G: E.J. Stephens
G: Luke Loewe/Both Gach
F: Jamison Battle/Isaiah Ihnen
F: Brandon Johnson/Treyton Thompson
C: Liam Robbins/Kenny Pohto
That look is obviously very fluid, as Thompson and Pohto have not verbally stated that they intend to remain committed, and Brandon Johnson has not stated any intention of using his extra season of eligibility to return to the Gophers. Looking at the portal now, Parker Fox and Race Thompson are two names that Ben Johnson has reportedly offered and shown interest in. Two big names to keep an eye on are Christian Bishop and Kyler Edwards, while it is reported that Johnson has also shown an interest in both players. This offseason has shown that the transfer portal is very fluid, and it can change any minute, so my best advice would be to buckle up.