Pitino optimistic about grad transfer Brandon Johnson

Johnson will be a factor right away on the court and in a leadership role for the Gophers this season.

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Brad Rempel / Gopher Athletics

Forward Brandon Johnson

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

With all the new faces coming into the program this upcoming season, no one player should be overlooked. Head coach Richard Pitino has talked about the newcomers and the immediate impact they will have on the team.

Grad transfers know that with one remaining year of eligibility, the goal is to make as big of an impact as they can in that time. Last year, the Gophers had Alihan Demir for the season, who was thrust into a starting role after Eric Curry suffered a season-ending injury. This year, the Gophers will rely on forward Brandon Johnson.

Johnson graduated and transferred from Western Michigan following the 2019-20 season. He played three seasons for the Broncos while missing what would have been his junior year due to an injury.

“He needs to be ready, physically and mentally, to step in right away. It’s not as easy as anybody thinks to jump up a level,” Pitino said.

In his three seasons at Western Michigan, Johnson averaged 10.9 points per game and had his best season last year when he averaged 15.4 points per game, playing in 32 games. Year after year, his playing time has increased, as have his points and rebounds per game.

“He’s got the size, he’s got the skill, he’s tough, he’s willing to work. He wants it bad, and he’s got a great opportunity in front of him, and I think he’ll be ready to go,” Pitino said.

The 6-foot-8 forward will likely be incorporated into the game plan a lot this season. His experience will help develop the younger guys on the team. Johnson has four seasons under his belt, including a year of reflection when he was out due to injury.

Sophomores Isaiah Ihnen and Sam Freeman saw the court last year and will continue to see their roles increase. Learning from Johnson will help their development this season and prove to be beneficial for their remaining years.

Similar to junior center Liam Robbins, Johnson will have an adjustment period as he makes the transition into the Big Ten.

“Fifth-year seniors are highly recruited in our landscape right now. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for him to come in right away in the Big Ten and be productive,” Pitino said. “That’s gonna take some time; unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have a lot of time.”

Pitino praised Johnson’s talents and skillset. He sees similarities between Johnson and Gophers’ great Jordan Murphy, who produced for Minnesota on both ends of the court.

“I need him to be like a Jordan Murphy type. He’s similar physically in a lot of ways there,” Pitino said. “I’m not gonna ask him to set single-season records for rebounds, but that’s the way we need him to play.”