Interview by Chris Monter
Joey Kern, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard who was a three-year starter at Division III John Hopkins, has committed to Minnesota as a preferred walk-on.
Kern averaged 8.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game as a junior in 2019-20 and led the team in three-pointers made. Unfortunately, John Hopkins didn’t play basketball this past season, due to COVID-19.
GopherHole caught up with Kern Tuesday to learn more about his commitment to Minnesota and the upcoming season.
GopherHole: You committed to Minnesota recently as a preferred walk-on. What were the reasons that you decided that Minnesota was where you wanted to play college basketball?
Joey Kern: Minnesota offered a great opportunity for me. It seems like a great group of guys. I got to talk to Coach Johnson and everything he said resonated with me, so basketball-wise, it is a great opportunity. Hopefully, if I can get into the Business school, that is a great opportunity and it’s closer to home than the University that I spent the last four years at, so I’m excited about that.
GopherHole: What other schools were you hearing from before you decided on Minnesota?
Joey Kern: My stories a little different. I actually had a job lined up in Boston and a lease signed. I actually quit my job when I heard from an old assistant coach who had coached at John Hopkins (John Andrzejek) with me from Washington State and it kind of opened my eyes to playing basketball another year. I knew I didn’t want to give up the game yet, so I kept looking around. The next school I talked to was Minnesota and I fell in love with it.
GopherHole: I know that some kids because of COVID and being able to play this year were kind of thinking about the transfer portal, so this sounds like it was kind of a last-minute thing. It wasn’t something that you had really planned to do, right?
Joey Kern: I knew that I wanted to play basketball and I kind of planned on playing eventually. What I was figuring was I really wanted my job. I figured I would work there for a year and hopefully, they would pay for grad school and I would go and play somewhere. But the way things shook up, I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity and I’m pretty happy to be here.
GopherHole: Last week was quite the week with you committing to Minnesota Tuesday and then graduating from John Hopkins later in the week. What were your emotions like?
Joey Kern: It was definitely a lot. The guys at Hopkins, I’ve been with for four years. I’m the only guy leaving this year, so everybody is staying together and playing together next year, so there were a lot of emotions there. Saying goodbye to the guys. That has been my family for the past four years, so that was the tough part. It is only hard, because we have good memories and don’t regret any of that. Committing to Minnesota and graduating in the same week was borderline euphoric. I have been working hard on basketball and school for my whole life, so to see this come together was a really cool moment.
GopherHole: Your college major was electrical and computer engineering and John Hopkins has a reputation as an excellent school. Minnesota is also a top engineering school and top business school. Was that something that appealed to you in deciding to transfer to Minnesota?
Joey Kern: Yes. I got my degree in engineering, but I’m really interested in business, finance, business analytics, so I’m looking at the Carlson School of Management. That was definitely something that hit home for me and I was pretty excited about.
GopherHole: You are an Iowa kid. Has any of your friends or family given you a hard time in deciding to go to the rival Minnesota?
Joey Kern: Not yet. People so far are excited for me. I’m sure as it goes on a little bit, it is so fresh right now, they might give me a hard time, but it is all in good faith and it will be fun.
GopherHole: You didn’t get to play this past season. I’m sure that you are a very competitive kid. How difficult was that to not be able to participate, due to COVID-19?
Joey Kern: It was really tough. Not only was it hard to not be competitive in something and be able to compete, it just gets kind of boring. When you play basketball in school, that takes up most of your time. It’s studying and it’s basketball and hanging out with the team, so when there wasn’t much to do, it was hard. I spent most of my time at home, because there were no in-person classes at my school, so definitely a long year, but it was important to stay ready and we are through it now. I can feel it.
GopherHole: How much time did you even spend at John Hopkins this year then? I know that you went through graduation, but besides that, how much were you even down there this year?
Joey Kern: I was there for a couple weeks in August and then I came home through Thanksgiving. I went back out there after Thanksgiving and spent most of the second semester there, but not much of the first.
GopherHole: You come from an athletic family. Your dad played football at Northern Iowa and you had an uncle who played football at Harvard. Has athletics always been big in your family?
Joey Kern: Yes. Athletics are huge in my family. Even my old uncles, who are in their mid 40’s and some are in their 50’s, they still play competitive slow pitch softball. It’s always competiting in my family and playing sports in the driveway. It’s always been big for us. We have a huge family, so we’ve got a lot of people doing a lot of things.
GopherHole: Is that kind of nice because you have a lot of family and to be honest, most of your family wasn’t able to see you play very often the last three years or so, due to the distance. Is it nice that your family will be able to see you a little bit more this upcoming season?
Joey Kern: Yes, definitely. That was a big part in choosing Minnesota, a school like that that is closer to home. If my family can be there, they have always been super supportive. We are really close, so it will be cool to see my family at games and around and maybe be able to go home every weekend I got off, so it will be cool. My grandparents have a place right on the western side of Wisconsin about an hour and a half from the Twin Cities, so that will be a cool spot.
GopherHole: Obviously, a lot in the world, has changed with COVID. If I had told you two years ago that you would be playing in the Big Ten as a senior, what would you have thought?
Joey Kern: I probably would have laughed at you. I mean, it would have been hard to see how that would play out. I probably wouldn’t have planned them, redshirting or anything, so I would have played out my career at Hopkins and that would be that. I’d go to work my job I got in Boston and continue on my life. The way things did shake up, I couldn’t be happier or more excited for this opportunity.
GopherHole: Obviously, you are coming into a unique situation at Minnesota with a new head coach and new coaching staff and most of the players on the team are very new. They have a lot of transfers coming in on the same somewhat level playing field as everybody else. Does that make it a little bit easier knowing that they aren’t players that have been here for three or four years and that everyone is sort of in the same boat?
Joey Kern: I don’t know if it makes it easier, per se, but it is definitely another thing that intrigued me. I love when teams come together and go against the odds. I know a lot of people don’t see much coming from us because we’re all brand new. Nobody knows each other, but that’s what excites me. I think we are going to be a great group of guys. I can’t wait to get to know the team here in about a week. I feel like getting to work.
GopherHole: Have you heard from any of the teammates since you committed?
Joey Kern: Yes. I’ve heard from one or two guys, just on social media. Direct message. They said some cool, nice things. Welcoming me to the team, which I really appreciated. I think that most of the guys are transferring in. Everything is kind of a blur for us right now until we get on campus, so everybody is pretty busy, but the guys that did reach out, I appreciate that. Excited to get going.
GopherHole: Have you followed Minnesota basketball at all through the years?
Joey Kern: Yes. When I was at school the last four years, my four roommates and I would just sit in the living room and just watch all the basketball games going on, so I got a taste of everything.
GopherHole: To be honest, last year was a little bit of a disappointing year. They had a lot of injuries and they were a three-point shooting team that didn’t really shoot a high percentage. That seems like that is one of your strengths, that you can shoot the ball. Is that something that you are hoping to add to the team?
Joey Kern: Yes, definitely. I’m definitely not the biggest guy in the world, so shooting has always been important for me to see the floor. I would say that is probably my greatest asset. Besides that, my basketball IQ is pretty sharp. I kind of pride myself of seeing the game in a pretty good light. Maybe I can use that one day to be a coach or something. We’ll see.
GopherHole: Is that something that you would like to get into, coaching?
Joey Kern: I never really thought about it until recently, but it’s definitely an interest to me.
GopherHole: You mentioned that you were just coming back from the gym. What things are you really trying to work on this spring and summer to continue to improve yourself as a player?
Joey Kern: The main thing I’ve been working on is extending my range. Trying to get comfortable from a lot deeper since the guys we are playing against are lankier and more athletic, so finding space and getting open is a big thing. Shooting from deeper and shooting quicker off the move are two of the bigger things and trying to gain a little bit more weight. Strength and upper body, so I can bang down low, if I need to. That has been my focus this summer.
GopherHole: What is it going to mean to walk on that court your first game at Williams Arena as a Division I player?
Joey Kern: It is going to be surreal. It is going to be an awesome moment. I hope that the Barn can be full. The COVID restrictions will be gone. I hope that there is a bunch of people there and that would be an awesome moment.
GopherHole: What do you see as your strengths as a player?
Joey Kern: Like I said before, definitely, the IQ part. Try not to make mistakes out there on the floor and shoot threes. The two things that I fall back on.
GopherHole: You are 6-1. The shortest player they had before you was 6-3, so a lot of fans and observers from the outside were seeing this as a team with a lot of interchangeable guys. Have they talked to you about your role or what style that they want to play?
Joey Kern: We haven’t gotten too specific about it. I did get to talk to Coach a little bit. I don’t have like an exact game plan for you or a style that we are going to play, but that is definitely something that I am very interested in talking to the coaches about and figuring out in the upcoming weeks.
GopherHole: You mentioned about watching a lot of college basketball. Are there certain teams or players that you watch for more when you are watching games? Like guys that are your position to learn things from?
Joey Kern: I don’t really pick them out before the game, but like last night, watching Damian Lillard (score 55 versus Denver Tuesday) ignite from deep was really cool or Jared Butler from Baylor last year was really awesome to watch. Just guys that can really fill it up from deep. I think that it’s just awesome when somebody is on fire. Somebody lights it up.
GopherHole: You mentioned Washington State. What other schools were you hearing from?
Joey Kern: Besides them and Minnesota, it was a lot of Division III schools, once my name was in the portal, reached out, but at this point in my career, I was really interested in the D1 style and living that life.
GopherHole: Do you know when you are going to be coming up here yet? You had mentioned going through the COVID-19 protocol.
Joey Kern: It depends if I get a room in this certain apartment or not. If I do get this apartment, I’ll be there this Sunday and if not, I’ll be there the next day, Monday. I’m assuming I’ll be there Sunday.