The preseason projections for the Gophers men's basketball team are far from flattering this year, but that doesn't shake the expectations third-year coach Ben Johnson has for his program.
Before Tuesday's practice, Johnson showed his players a video of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talking about how polished and professional Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud looked because he played at Ohio State.
"Stroud's doing an awesome job," Tomlin said on the video. "He looks mature beyond his years. He looks like a guy who just wore the responsibility of being a franchise quarterback at Ohio State. You know what I mean. Some programs are different than others."
Tomlin added: "You do it for multiple years at a place like that, man. It's probably very similar in terms of wearing the responsibilities for being a quarterback for an organization at this level. He doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by it at all. He manages himself in game and out of game with a maturity level that's impressive."
Johnson gave his team a speech after the Tomlin video about how he wants to raise the standard of what it means to play for the Gophers.
"In my mind, we're not taking a back seat to anybody," Johnson told the team Tuesday. "Dudes that play here. That needs to be said about us. That you played at Minnesota, so you're going to be at this level. That standard has risen because you played here. Everybody clear on that?"
Is it realistic for Gophers hoops to be talked about like Ohio State football? Obviously not after they finished last in the Big Ten in back-to-back seasons. But Johnson's message is clear that his goal is for players to have much higher expectations for themselves and the program.
Looking back on this 2021 profile on Johnson, when he took the Gophers job, he also talked about Tomlin being one of the coaches he tries to emulate. A framed picture of Tomlin (along with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra) was on the wall in Johnson's basketball office.
"Mike Tomlin is a guy who does it the right way, all the way around," Johnson said in 2021. "He's a players' coach but scheme-wise he knows what he's doing. He can do it all. He's got quotes I tell the team all the time. That dude is just a winner."
— Quality point guards are hard to come by in college basketball. Last season, the Gophers had no depth at the position. They have three players who will be the team's primary ball-handlers this season with Pepperdine transfer Mike Mitchell Jr., Howard transfer Elijah Hawkins and freshman Cam Christie, Johnson said Tuesday. Sophomore Braeden Carrington was also mentioned as "being more comfortable handling it."
"This is probably the most perimeter ballhandlers that we've had," Johnson said. "With Cam, with Mike and with Elijah, you've got three guys who I'm pretty good with playing in ball screens, pushing it. [Dawson Garcia's] a guy on a defensive rebound, I'm comfortable with him bringing it. So, it's another ballhandler."
— Forwards Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen were cleared for contact this fall and looked to be running, jumping, and dunking with ease in practice. There were really no signs of them being out the last two seasons with knee injuries. Ihnen even ran with what could potentially be starting lineup alongside Mitchell, Christie, Garcia and Pharrel Payne. Known for his highlight-reel play as a Division II All-American, Fox was dunking everything at the rim.
"He's getting that pop back," Johnson said on Fox. "Like anybody, it's going to be a work in progress once you get used to playing 5-on-5 with conditioning. But you can see he's got a nose for the ball. He really understands how to play."