March 5, 2014
The following Q&A with assistant men's basketball coaches Ben Johnson, Dan McHale and Kimani Young was recently published in an edition of Courtside, the official game program of Golden Gopher Basketball.
Talk about your playing and coaching background before you got to Minnesota this year.
McHale: For the last 6 years I have worked for Coach Kevin Willard, a Rick Pitino disciple, at Seton Hall University and Iona College. Prior to that I worked on Coach Pitino's staff at Louisville for 4 years.
Johnson: I played at Northwestern and Minnesota, and began coaching as a GA at Dayton under Brian Gregory. My first full-time job was at the University of Texas Pan American for two years, then University of Northern Iowa for four years, and last year I worked at Nebraska
Young: I had the tremendous opportunity to play for a Hall of Fame Coach in Don Haskins at the University of Texas-El Paso. My experience playing for him directly impacted my decision to want to become a coach.
How would you describe your role among the coaching staff?
McHale: My role would be a "Jack of all trades"...I have a passion for recruiting, scouting, individual instruction and working with the guys in all aspects of their game. I also help oversee their academic well-being and work closely with our academic coordinator, Kelly Brock.
Johnson: On staff here my role is recruiting, player development, team scouting and day-to-day basketball functions that help our program and assist Coach Pitino.
Young: I would describe my role as working with our perimeter players on a daily basis as well as focusing on national recruiting.
What was it about Coach Pitino that convinced you to come to the U?
McHale: I have known Richard for over 10 years and have always had the utmost respect for him as a person and basketball coach. Even though I was leaving the Big East and my home state of New Jersey, I didn't think twice when he offered me the job.
Johnson: I knew Coach Pitino would be the perfect fit the moment I got the chance to sit down and meet with him. He has the passion, energy and ability to reach and relate to young people. His basketball knowledge and life experiences definitely prepared him for this opportunity and his feel as a coach is wise beyond his years.
Young: I knew from my experience of working with him at FIU last season, he was going to bring a tremendous work ethic and passion to be successful and I wanted to continue to be a part of his staff and his journey to build a great program at the highest level.
When you have a break from coaching and recruiting, where would we most likely find you?
McHale: When I have a break from coaching, you can find me on the beach ... still looking for one in Minnesota though.
Johnson: When I'm not coaching you can find me on my couch probably watching basketball on TV or on my laptop. I don't have many hobbies and I don't view basketball as a "job" so I enjoy working and being around it 24/7.
What is your favorite basketball memory?
McHale: My favorite basketball memory has to be the NCAA tournament runs that we went on during my time at Louisville.
Johnson: My favorite basketball memory would be having the opportunity to wear the maroon and gold here at the University of Minnesota. As a kid growing up I followed the Gophers and to be able to play here and now coach is truly a blessing for me!
If you had to compare your playing style to one current Gopher, who would it be?
McHale: Easily my playing style would be to Charles Buggs ... very similar athleticism.
Johnson: Comparing myself to a current Gopher is a tough question... to be honest I'm not sure if there is one player that I would say plays like I did.
Young: I would say my game was probably most like Austin Hollins, except I think I'm a better shooter. He's definitely a better athlete than I ever was but I'm definitely a better shooter.
What do you think is the best thing about the University of Minnesota?
McHale: By far the best thing about the University of Minnesota is the passion of the fan base – hands down this is what makes working here special.
Johnson: There are a lot of things that make the U a special place: the passion of our fan base, Williams Arena, and representing the state as the only Division I basketball program are just a few of the things that make this University special.
Young: The best thing about the University of Minnesota is The Barn and our fan base... By far!
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