Minnesota is home for Dave Thorson. It's where he went to college and eventually carved a name for himself as a basketball coach. First as Clem Haskins' Gophers assistant before coaching DeLaSalle to nine state high school titles.
After three years away coaching with an old friend in college, Thorson wasn't going to return home unless he found the absolute right fit. And then came the day last month, when the Gophers hired Ben Johnson, Thorson's old pupil, as their new coach.
"I had no idea the stars would align like this," Thorson, 55, said Thursday after being introduced as Johnson's assistant. "I'm just so thrilled be here. To be home and be part of his program and his vision is unbelievable."
Thorson's passion for coaching, teaching the game and preaching defense first rubbed off on Johnson at DeLaSalle during the first of those Minnesota record nine state championship runs for the Islanders.
Now, Thorson believes Johnson is just the coach to turn the Gophers program around.
"It's great to get [Thorson] back," said the 40-year-old Johnson, who replaced Richard Pitino last month. "He's obviously a big, big piece of what we're going to do here. He was a huge get for me personally. Obviously, he knows the state and the state knows him … He's going to do a great job of being the face that we know we all need here to help our brand."
The infectious enthusiasm Thorson showed on the sidelines at DeLaSalle came off during his interview with local media Monday.
As giddy as Thorson was about his latest career move, it was also bittersweet. He had no intention of leaving Colorado State for any other situation. Rams coach Niko Medved was a student manager for Clem Haskins when he grew close with Thorson, who was on the U staff from 1990-94.
Thorson's and Medved's friendship remained strong decades later. It was the main reason Thorson jumped back into college coaching to join Medved at Drake in 2017. That ended a 23-year stint at DeLaSalle.
In three years at Colorado State, Thorson was a part of back-to-back 20 win seasons, including a school-record 14 wins in the Mountain West this year. Thorson recruited all-league sophomore forward and former Breck star David Roddy, who will remain with the Rams.
"That was a hard decision," Thorson said on leaving. "I so believe in Ben and the vision, but I'm a loyal guy. Let's face it, CSU is going to be a Top 25 team next year. But at the end of the day, Minnesota is home for me."
Thorson toured the campus with Johnson last week before making his decision. And all the early Minnesota hoops memories popped back into his head.
After his senior year playing at Hamline in 1988, Thorson spent a season as a grad assistant at South Dakota the following year. He was hired by Haskins as a Gophers volunteer assistant in 1990 but promoted to full-time job two years later.
Haskins and his wife, Yvette, reached out to Thorson recently to congratulate him on returning to the Gophers.
"He changed my life," Thorson said about Haskins. "I'll forever be grateful for that to him. I think very highly of him — and he wants Minnesota basketball to be great."
Johnson hoped to build a foundation with the Gophers by recruiting Minnesota's rich high school talent. But it started with recruiting Thorson to join him.
Thorson started Johnson on his coaching path as a DeLaSalle assistant after Johnson's senior year at Minnesota in 2004. It was Thorson's mutual friend, Brian Gregory, that gave Johnson his first college gig as a grad assistant at Dayton in 2005.
"I've known [Thorson] for over half my life," Johnson said. "He knows me. I've got the utmost trust in him, and I know he's going to do a big-time job for us here. To be able to get him done was a big relief."