Ben Johnson tabs two assistants for men’s basketball team

New men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson added two assistants to his coaching staff to go along with several transfers.

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Photo by Kelly Hagenson / Courtesy of Gophers Athletics

Men’s head basketball coach Ben Johnson.

AJ Condon

Dave Thorson and Jason Kemp are the most recent additions to the Gophers’ men’s basketball team ahead of the 2021-22 season. Head coach Ben Johnson has been making quick work to fill out his team that now consists of several new transfers and two new assistant coaches.

“You wanna put together the best staff you can, and I know that’s what we were able to do here,” Johnson said. “I was able to target guys on the first round and actually be able to hit on the guys I wanted.”

Thorson, a name familiar in the state of Minnesota, returns to Minneapolis. Thorson has ties all across the state and specifically to the Maroon and Gold. Thorson comes back to the Gophers as an assistant coach for the second time.

After his first tenure as an assistant coach with South Dakota, Thorson joined the Gophers from 1990-94. Thorson had two other stints at the collegiate level as an assistant coach. He spent one season at Drake and three seasons with Colorado State.

Following his time with the Gophers, Thorson moved down a level and coached at DeLaSalle High School for 23 years. Throughout his tenure, Thorson won nine state championships with six consecutive titles. Both accomplishments set state records.

Johnson attended and played for DeLaSalle during Thorson’s time there, winning two state titles in the process. Now, Thorson will join Johnson once again as his assistant.

“It’s great to get him back. He’s obviously a 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,” Johnson said. “He’ll do a great job just being that face that we know we all need here.”

The two have known each other for a long time, so much so that Johnson said he’s known Thorson for half his life. In fact, their ties go even further back.

“I can remember watching Ben, frankly, as a seventh grader when I first went to DeLaSalle. It’s an incredible relationship that he and I have, going from coach-player to friend, one of my closest friends,” Thorson said. “He’s the right leader for Minnesota at this time.”

Kemp doesn’t quite have the long-standing relationship with Johnson that Thorson has, but their paths have crossed before, which set the stage for a relationship unlike others and made way for what’s to come.

“There’s been a mutual respect for a long time. We’ve known each other since I was a young assistant at North Dakota State,” Kemp said. “As we’ve both worked our way up the ranks, we’ve been fairly close … and done a good job staying connected.”

Kemp, similarly to Thorson, is returning to the state of Minnesota, but uniquely it is where Kemp started his coaching career. It all began at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he spent the 2004-05 season.

Since then, he has accumulated nearly 15 years of Division I experience.

He started at North Dakota State, where he spent eight seasons, six of them as an assistant coach. He helped the Bison to a 108-77 record in his six years as an assistant before moving on. The next stop was Toledo, where he coached just one season before going to Ohio for five seasons.

His most recent position was an assistant at William & Mary, coaching the likes of new Gophers’ guard Luke Loewe.

Johnson knows what he is getting with Kemp joining the staff. The two have had rivalries in the past but now come together to help lead Minnesota.

“Jason knows how to teach the game. He’s one of the best teachers in the country, especially the way we’re gonna play. He has a high basketball IQ; he’s not just an assistant coach that can’t coach on the floor. He can really teach the game and develop guys,” Johnson said.