Gophers coach Richard Pitino said at a media news conference on Tuesday that he would “absolutely” grant medical redshirt Jarvis Johnson a release from his National Letter of Intent were the former DeLaSalle guard to decide to pursue playing elsewhere.
“He knows that and the family knows that,” the coach said.
The University announced in June that Johnson, who has a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy would not be medically cleared to play. Johnson was diagnosed with the condition when he was in eighth grade and played all throughout high school, contributing to four state titles with the Islanders.
Currently, Johnson is enrolled in summer classes at Minnesota and is remaining with the Gophers although not participating in workouts or practices. Pitino did not elaborate much on Johnson’s specific role with the team. He did note that Johnson would be accompanying the team on its upcoming trip to Spain, which begins Monday.
“I think he loves the game,” Pitino said. “He’s a special kid. There hasn’t been one day where he’s ever let off that he’s feeling sorry for himself in any way. He is on the sidelines, loud voice, wants to be as loud as possible. I told him get as involved as you want to, and he’s been great at that.”
Asked whether he was helping Johnson transition to coaching, Pitino said he would be willing if the freshman expressed the interest.
“He would be a great coach one day,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s what he wants to do, but if he ever does want to go down that road, I think he’d be great. Because he’s got great substance, knows the game and is a really good person.”
Johnson and several family members have all expressed his desire to continue playing basketball.
Earlier this summer, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan announced he would be retiring after this season.
“Thank goodness he’s gone,” Pitino joked on Tuesday. “ I really have a lot of respect for him as a coach. I’ve learned probably more from him and what he does than any other coach I’ve gone against – I’m young – but just because of how well he drives home what he’s trying to do. You know what he’s trying to do, it’s very simple. Don’t turn the ball over, don’t foul, every possession is extremely important. Not only does he get that across to his players, but he also recruits really well to his system.
Last season, the Badgers advanced to the Championship game before losing to Duke, 68-63. Pitino said he texted the 67-year-old veteran coach when the squad was in Indianapolis with some well wishes and a plea.
‘I hope you win it all and I hope you retire, he wrote.
“He didn’t listen,” Pitino said of the man who led his team to back-to-back Final Fours in the last two years. “But I think he’s one of the best coaches I’ve seen and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. He’s done it with in-state talent. You look at his team last year, [forward Sam] Dekker was from there, Bronson Koenig is from there … a lot of it was those Midwest guys. Frank Kaminsky is from Illinois, Nigel Hayes is from Ohio. So certainly that is something that we look at and are impressed with…. What he’s been able to accomplish there is miraculous.”
Asked if he knew when his reported contract raise of $400,000 per year would officially be announced, Pitino said only “I don’t.”