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 most proud moments as a Division I assistant also came years later in Minnesota when Johnson 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 2011-13. He helped the Bulldogs sign Eastview’s Joey King, who played one season there. 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-foot-11 Garcia going to Marquette was a significant achievement for Johnson, who landed his first McDonald’s All-American. 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.”
Johnson’s best known for recruiting former Marquette All-American guard Markus Howard, who finished his career last season as the Big East’s all-time leading scorer. Howard originally committed to Arizona State before Johnson left Tempe to Milwaukee.
Arguably Johnson's first marquee recruiting win, though, as a head coach came in the spring. He convinced 7-3 senior center Mattias Markusson to stay at LMU, instead of transferring. Markusson talked with the Gophers, Louisville and San Diego State before returning.
“That was really the first domino to fall for us,” Johnson said. “He had a chance to go to some elite programs. That gave me great hope. I took this job because I saw what was here in terms of potential for the future. And that kind of validated who we could be moving forward. Guys wanting to be here."
Now after recently beating the Gophers in recruiting, Johnson will compete against them on the court for the first time as a head coach Saturday at Williams Arena.
“We’re playing against a really good basketball team, terrific coach and a great program who has won and had success,” Johnson said. “They have really good players. We’ll be tested. That’s what you want. You want to find out who you are.”