Before Stan Johnson arrived in Minnesota this week with Loyola Marymount to play the Gophers, he had fond memories of the state.
It was where Johnson ended his playing days in college basketball and started his career as an assistant coach on Bemidji State's staff in the early 2000s.
One of his proudest moments as a Division I assistant also came in Minnesota, when he was the top recruiter for Marquette signing five-star Prior Lake big man Dawson Garcia last year. The Golden Eagles also previously landed DeLaSalle's Sacar Anim and Champlin Park's Theo John.
"We really recruited the state heavily and hard," Johnson said. "There are so many good players up there. I think it's one of the more underrated states when it comes to basketball and talent."
Johnson's first stint recruiting Minnesota prospects in Division I was at Drake from 2011 to '13. He helped the Bulldogs sign Eastview's Joey King, who played one season in Des Moines. Johnson left Drake after King's freshman year to coach at Arizona State. King then transferred to his home state to finish his career playing for the Gophers and Richard Pitino.
"I love Minnesota," Johnson said. "I love the type of basketball they play up there. The guys are well coached. Terrific AAU coaches and programs, too. We were fortunate to land some of those kids."
The 6-11 Garcia going to Marquette was a significant achievement for Johnson, who landed his first McDonald's All-America. His relationship with Garcia's family remains strong, so it was difficult to leave before Dawson played his freshman year for the Golden Eagles.
"You work so hard to get a kid like that," Johnson said. "You can go a long time and not land one of those kids. So, it was bittersweet to hear 'yes' from him, and then get offered a job you can't turn down. For me, it was incredibly hard. I will be watching him closely, and all those kids at Marquette. It was hard to walk away from that. I had to do what was best for my family and my career. I still talk to Dawson and his family a lot. That relationship is forever."
After getting beaten by Johnson in recruiting Garcia, the Gophers got revenge in Saturday's 88-73 victory over Loyola Marymount. The teams have a rematch scheduled for Monday at the Barn.
"We're playing against a really good basketball team, terrific coach and a great program who has won and had success," Johnson said. "That's what you want. You want to find out who you are."
Gophers sophomore guard Tre' Williams missed Wednesday's opener because of a shoulder injury, but he had four points and three rebounds in 14 minutes Saturday.
Freshman guard David Mutaf also missed the first game, but he was dressed in uniform and on the bench for the Gophers on Saturday.