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April 11, 2013After barely a year on head coach Tim Miles' staff, assistant coach Ben Johnson found maybe the one opportunity that could lead him away from the program he's helped build at Nebraska.
Reports first began surfacing Thursday night that Johnson, a native of Minneapolis and former player and graduate of Minnesota, had been contacted by new Gopher head coach Richard Pitino and offered a spot on his coaching staff.
A few hours later, Minneapolis sports reporter Darren Wolfson of KSTP Channel 5 and ESPN 1500 radio reported that Johnson has in fact accepted the UM job, and it would be officially announced in the very near future.
Johnson, 31, had helped the Huskers establish solid ties in Minnesota and the surrounding areas, making his loss a significant blow to NU's recruiting efforts. He was the lead recruiter with 2013 commits Nick Fuller, a three-star forward from Sun Prairie, Wis., and Leslee Smith, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound power forward from Seward County (Kan.) Community College who just committed on April 1.
Johnson was a standout guard at De La Salle (Minn.) High School and initially signed to play at Northwestern, where he spent his freshman and sophomore seasons. He then transferred Minnesota for his final two seasons and helped lead the Gophers to the NIT semifinals in 2003. He ended his college career with 1,202 points and was named team captain in both his seasons at UM.
After starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Dayton in 2005-06, Johnson got his first assistant coaching job at Texas-Pan American. He then took an assistant job at Northern Iowa, where he coached from 2008-11.
When it was announced he would be joining Miles' staff at Nebraska last spring, Miles said Johnson's knowledge of the game and recruiting ties in the upper-Midwest would make him a valuable asset to the Huskers' program.
"I think Ben is a rising star in this business," Miles said following Johnson's hiring at NU. "He's well-organized, hard-working and great with the players. He can do it all, whether it is game planning or working guys out. I thought it was important to have a guy who's been in the Big Ten and understands the environments and understands how to win.
"I think that's a huge relationship builder with the players, and Ben will provide that and then some for our program."