In a blink of an eye, the first summer for Ben Johnson as a college basketball head coach was over this month. He only had four practices with the entire Gophers team he'll be leading this season.
A combination of two major injuries and a couple late additions created a roster in flux, but the program's new man in charge goes into the fall with a good idea about what type of players he has in Year 1.
"I like what I saw," Johnson said. "Those guys figured out how hard you need to play and work. The expectations. The demands every day. Hopefully, they're coming out of here confident because they put the work in and have a feel for it. Nothing should be a surprise. They'll be ready to compete here in a couple weeks."
Most teams welcoming 10 newcomers and an entirely new coaching staff would have been faced with a steep learning curve and chemistry issues not having a full summer to work together.
Johnson began establishing his culture and philosophy quicker because he had a primarily veteran group used to the grind of Division I basketball. Seven seniors passed on their work ethic and knowledge to the underclassmen, which made workouts and practices productive and competitive.
"We didn't have any issues with those guys understanding that you got to put the time in," Johnson said. "Understanding you can't just be on time, but you have to be early. They followed the older guys, so they established really good habits. When you establish really good habits, you put yourself in position to grow and get better. I couldn't be happier."
The Gophers have one scholarship left for the 2021-22 season, but Johnson said they are not likely to sign anyone else.
"Unless something really significant pops up," he said. "This will be the crew we got. I'm excited to get to work with them."
Grad transfers Charlie Daniels (Stephen F. Austin) and Danny Ogele (Division II Mercyhurst) joined the team later this summer. The 6-9, 230-pound Daniels and the 6-7, 220-pound Ogele are athletic and physical bodies expected to add depth at center and power forward, respectively.
"Charlie knows how to play, knows how to work and wants to prove himself," Johnson said. "Having that older presence helps, especially defensively. Danny's athletic, strong and he's got a motor. Eager learner. He wants to get better. He wants to help this program. His athleticism is what we wanted and needed to have at this level."
Johnson expects Daniels and returning fifth-year senior Eric Curry to rotate at center. Unlike last season's 7-foot starter Liam Robbins, who transferred to Vanderbilt, they're both undersized. That could give 6-11 freshman Treyton Thompson more of an opportunity.
The former Alexandria standout has gained more than 10 pounds this summer and impressed the Gophers with his outside shooting for his size. But his continued physical growth is critical to contribute early.
"He looks stronger," Johnson said. "But I told Treyton for the first couple years, he's got to continue to grow at it. He's got to continue to attack [the weight room]. That's going to be big. He's not going to be someone who is 250. I told him you have to just meet the demands of the physicality for this level and this league. He's got a lot of tools. He can move. He can shoot. He plays hard. He's got a motor. Now he's just got to add this last piece with his contact, physicality, and his girth."
The U's frontcourt has the biggest holes to fill, especially after major knee injuries to junior forwards Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen. Johnson sees a bright future for underclassmen like Thompson, freshman guard Laye Thiam, and sophomore wing Jamison Battle.
The most consistency all summer, though, has come from the Gophers' backcourt. Johnson is leaning on the experience and versatility from senior transfers Payton Willis, and E.J. Stephens, Luke Loewe, and Sean Sutherlin to set the expectations for the program going into his first season.
"They've all got pretty good versatility," Johnson said. "E.J. is pretty dynamic. He's got a really good first step. He can definitely make plays at the rim. He's kind of got that pop. With Payton and Luke, they're really good at the physicality piece. Those guys are tough, physical, downhill big guards … That's what I'm most excited about is I think we've got a pretty good solid backcourt, with versatility and guys who mesh well with one another."