Who is Ben Johnson?

March 22, 2021Former Gophers guard and assistant coach Ben Johnson was announced as the new head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball program, Monday.


“The University of Minnesota is such a special place and has impacted me in immeasurable ways on and off the court,” said Ben Johnson. “I want to thank President Joan Gabel, Mark Coyle, Julie Manning and everyone involved in the search process for believing in me and trusting me to lead this historic program. I am ready to get to work.”


Playing career:

Ben Johnson, a Minneapolis native spent his high school basketball career at local powerhouse DeLaSalle. He was regarded as one of the best players in the state leading the Islanders to a pair of state championships. The 6-foot-3-inch guard was a two-time first-team all-state selection, a Street & Smith All-American as well as an honorable mention Nike All-American. Heading into his collegiate career, Johnson was regarded as the 60th-best basketball player in the country by Bob Gibbons. He totaled more than 2,200 points during his high school career.

Johnson began his collegiate career at Northwestern for the 1999-00 season. He averaged double figures in both of his first two seasons with the Wildcats. He then opted to transfer to Minnesota where he spent his two final seasons. He was a two-time captain with the Gophers and finished with 533 points in 59 games. He completed his college career, scoring a total of 1,202 career points between the two schools, and graduated from the U with a degree in sociology.


Coaching career:

It only took Johnson one year until he began his coaching career. For the 2005-06 season, Johnson’s coaching career began at the University of Dayton, where he served as a graduate assistant under head coach Brian Gregory.

Johnson then took an assistant coach role at the University of Texas Pan-American, now UT Rio Grande Valley. He was at UTPA for two seasons from 2006 to 2008 under head coach Tom Schuberth. Competing at the D1 level, Schuberth and the basketball program would later be investigated for a recruiting violation where they would receive a two-year postseason ban.

It was then off to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as Johnson took over a role as an assistant coach with the Northern Iowa program. During a four-year stint under head coach Ben Jacobson. Most notably he was part of the Panthers’ staff when UNI knocked off Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament led by a last-second shot from Ali Farokhmanesh. Northern Iowa won at least 20 games in all four seasons that Johnson was apart of.

Lincoln, Neb. was the next stop for Johnson. He spent one year as an assistant under Nebraska head coach Tim Miles. Johnson assisted in all-day-to-day basketball-related duties while also serving as recruiting coordinator. He also led the development of the Cornhusker’s backcourt players.

It was time for a homecoming, as Johnson returned to Minnesota as an initial assistant under Richard Pitino’s staff in 2013. He spent the next five seasons in Dinkytown, as an integral part of the school’s recruiting. Most notably he was a large reason why Daniel Oturu and Amir Coffey stayed home.

Since 2018, Johnson has been serving as an assistant coach under Travis Steele at Xavier. He was also a big part of helping Travis Steele secure multiple nationally-ranked recruiting classes.

“Ben is a proven coach who is ready to lead his own program,” said Gophers AD Mark Coyle. “He has earned this opportunity and is a tremendous teacher, recruiter and relationship builder. I am thrilled for him to lead his alma mater, and I am excited for the future of our men’s basketball program.”



Initial thoughts:

The biggest gripe within Gophers’ fans is obviously Johnson’s inexperience running his own program. I would say that is a fair annoyance. There have been very very few head coaches that have jumped to the head coaching level at a major school with zero prior head coaching experience.

As a message to Gophers fans, there is no reason to give up on Johnson before his tenure has even begun, give him a shot. Most notably Mike Boyton at Oklahoma State took over the Cowboys’ program with no head coaching experience and he just took them to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

Johnson is reportedly very well respected among players in Midwest. Most notably Daniel Oturu and Amir Coffer have already come out and endorsed the hiring. Johnson should be expected to come in and keep top Minnesota talent in-state.

Just give it time.

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