New Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson is undoubtedly going to get a lot of unsolicited advice in the coming days, weeks and months from alums and fans of the program hoping to help him succeed.
Chances are he should listen politely to all of it but implement only very select pieces of it.
However: For some solicited advice from an alum hoping to see the program succeed — and someone who is like Johnson in a lot of ways — he would do well to listen to one person in particular.
Lindsay Whalen, the Gophers women's basketball coach, was asked Tuesday for her thoughts on Johnson and words of wisdom she might give to him.
Returning to coach a team for which you once played? Yep, that was Whalen three years ago and Johnson now.
Former standout high school player in Minnesota? Check.
Young and looking to grow into your very first head coaching job? Check.
"I've known Ben for a long time. We crossed paths while both playing at the U," said Whalen, who was a senior leading the women's team to the Final Four during Johnson's senior season with the Gophers. "I am very excited for him and this opportunity he has."
Johnson served an assistant on Richard Pitino's Minnesota staff for five seasons and is credited with recruiting some of the best players of Pitino's tenure — including Amir Coffey and Daniel Oturu. His mission as head coach will be to create even stronger in-state relationships — a constant criticism of Pitino and one that ultimately contributed to his firing last week.
Likewise, part of Whalen's approach when replacing Marlene Stollings in 2018 was to strengthen relationships with Minnesota high school girls' basketball coaches and land more in-state recruits.
Being one of the all-time greats in the state certainly helped Whalen. And while Johnson did not have the same career as Whalen, he was a two-time state champion at DeLaSalle who started 98 career Big Ten games at Northwestern and Minnesota.
Johnson can use his existing relationships and his background in the state to his advantage in recruiting — and he should, Whalen said.
It has worked for Whalen, though it takes time. The Gophers won nine Big Ten games in her first season, then dipped to five conference wins in her second year before winning seven Big Ten games this past season. Her upcoming recruiting classes are full of long-term wins.
Whalen started recruiting Chaska's Mallory Heyer and Eden Prairie's Nia Holloway as soon as she took the job three years ago before they had finished eighth grade. Both players committed to the Gophers this past fall and highlight her 2022 recruiting class.
So while Gophers men's basketball fans might focus on unsigned top national recruit Chet Holmgren of Minnehaha Academy, the more likely scenario is that Johnson's success will depend on laying groundwork that pays off in three,four years.
"For him, continuing to grow and foster relationships in the Twin Cities as well as the state of Minnesota is something that is key," Whalen said. "Being from here and having played and coached here already definitely gives him a leg up in that area."