Of the newcomers still yet to arrive on campus, Brandon Johnson might be the most important addition for the Gophers next season.
The 6-foot-8, 220-pound former Western Michigan standout projects to be a starting forward and will be immediately eligible to play once he graduates this summer.
Johnson understands what his role could be for Richard Pitino’s team. Still at home in Chicago, he’s been focused on finishing his degree online.
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune this week, Johnson gave updates on summer school and what he has been doing this offseason to prepare himself to be an impact player in the Big Ten.
Q: How close are you to being done with your classes to graduate?
A: I’m in the process of finishing up my last semester right now. I’m basically finished. I only have a week and a half left. After I get my final grades and everything, I will head down that way.
Q: Do you feel safe joining the Gophers during a time when there is so much uncertainty during the pandemic?
A: During this time for me I’ve acquired the basic things to do and how to keep myself safe. Everything I’m seeing with the guys down there I’ve been checking with them on the precautions. How they’re getting tested when they get down there. Even if they get a negative test result, they force them to quarantine. I definitely feel comfortable going down there.
Q: What have you been working on basketball-wise this summer in Chicago?
A: My old AAU coach sets up times for me to get in the gym and the weight room. I’ve been pretty much doing that the past couple months to stay in shape and keep a feel for the game. I’ve added new stuff to my game as well. I’ve basically been focusing on my ballhandling and perimeter work. I didn’t do bad in those areas last year, but my numbers could have been improved. My three-point percentage and turnover ratio could’ve been better. I really wanted to work on everything to bring down the negative things in my game and build up all the positive.
Q: Pitino’s offense is set up for the frontcourt players to be able to stretch the floor. Did that make the Gophers attractive for you?
A: Absolutely. My first couple years at Western, I actually wasn’t able to shoot the ball at all. Our coach didn’t like bigs shooting on the perimeter. He felt like they should be by the rim for offensive rebounding and things like that. Later in my career there, I proved in summer workouts that I could shoot. They saw me working with my assistant coaches. They noticed I started to become a capable shooter from the outside. Then they gave me a little freedom to do that this year.
Q: Playing in the Big Ten is a big step up from the Mid-American Conference. Are you prepared for that transition?
A: When we played Michigan State last season, I was injured during the game. But I still got a feel for how the Big Ten was by playing them. I understand that there is a change of pace from the Big Ten to the MAC. I feel like I’ll be ready for that transition. It was definitely tough to stay in shape during the quarantine. I bought a 40-pound weight jacket. And I was doing curls with that. I was improvising trying to do anything to stay in shape. I was running sprints in my backyard to keep my cardio up. Whatever it takes to stay at the level I was. Once I get there [in Minnesota], I want to get to a better level. That's my goal.
Q: How excited are you that Marcus Carr announced he was returning to the Gophers and removed his name from the NBA Draft?
A: I text him and have talked to him on multiple occasions. We’ve talked on zoom calls and everything. I haven’t had a chance to see him play in person. I’ve been watching games from last season of the guys who have returned. I just wanted to get a feel for how they play and their tendencies. What do they like to do? And to see if I can help them with my game in a certain way.
Q: What did you like when watching Carr’s games?
A: His court vision is great. He has a great feel for the game with his teammates in any type of situation, especially with pick and rolls and pick and pops. His court vision was really good in transition. I watched the game when they played Iowa. He had a few passes in transition that I’m not typically used to seeing from guards I played with.
Q: The Gophers are still waiting on the NCAA to sign off on waivers for Utah transfer Both Gach and Drake transfer Liam Robbins. How would the 7-footer Robbins especially help you in the frontcourt?
A: Just playing some center the past few years at 6-8 was definitely a difficult transition from what I did in high school. Just having someone I know who is playing who is a true center would be great. I did my research on him and watched [games] of him playing at Drake. I think he was averaging three blocks a game. He’s someone who can impact shots. I know myself personally I like to impact shots. It was definitely a necessity for my team for me to do. I know with both of us working together it would be tough for teams to score in the paint on us. We would have so much length on the defensive end.