New Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson has a reputation for being a good recruiter and inherits a program that owes a good deal of any recent recruiting successes to Johnson's work as a lead recruiter on Richard Pitino's staff.
That said, the Gophers have also had their share of misses on in-state recruits — a problem that goes back decades, not years.
On Tuesday's Daily Delivery podcast, I talked about recruiting with both Star Tribune Gophers beat writer Marcus Fuller and columnist Chip Scoggins. In short: Johnson, a high-risk but high-reward hire by AD Mark Coyle, will almost certainly succeed or fail based on his ability to recruit.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Scoggins made the point that particularly in the short-term as he tries to assemble a roster for next season, Johnson needs to recruit three groups of players: current Gophers who are considering transferring; high school players, particularly those in Minnesota; and players from other colleges who have or will enter the transfer portal.
In short: Johnson must recruit players like himself — in three different ways.
*Johnson was a highly regarded guard coming out of DeLaSalle, leading the Islanders to state titles in 1998 and 1999. But he signed with Northwestern out of high school. He went and started 30 games as a freshman with the Wildcats in 1999-2000, averaging 11.6 points while the Gophers suffered through a coaching change resulting from the academic fraud scandal.
Would Johnson the player be a slam dunk to be recruited by Johnson the coach? Hard to say. But he does at least signify the type of in-state player that Johnson will be tasked with landing for the Gophers.
*Northwestern had a coaching change after Johnson's freshman season, with Bill Carmody hired to replace Kevin O'Neill, who had recruited Johnson. For his sophomore year, Johnson stayed at Northwestern and again started all 30 games. In his role as Gophers coach, Johnson will have to try to convince current Gophers players to stick through a regime change.
*After his sophomore year — after suffering with Northwestern teams that went a combined 3-29 in Big Ten play during his two seasons under two different coaches — Johnson decided to transfer. He ultimately decided to come back and play for the Gophers, for whom he played two more seasons after sitting out a transfer year and averaged 9.0 points while making 39.2% of his three-pointers.
And again we find the kind of player Johnson must recruit: those unhappy with their current situations or looking for a change of scenery — in particular Minnesota kids who went elsewhere initially but want to come back home like he did. It's much easier now than it was two decades ago, with players often being granted immediate eligibility.
In the long run, the most important type of player to recruit is the first one: keeping many of the top in-state high school players will be the lifeblood of anything Johnson builds.
But don't underestimate the transfer portal — in both directions — and how it will impact Johnson's tenure.