Gophers basketball roster turnover hits overdrive with center Liam Robbins in transfer portal
Minnesota center Liam Robbins (0) goes up for a dunk over Purdue forward Trevion Williams (50) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
By ANDY GREDER | email@example.com | Pioneer Press
PUBLISHED: April 6, 2021 at 10:56 a.m. | UPDATED: April 6, 2021 at 1:16 p.m.
A revolving door has led into and out of the Gophers men’s basketball roster in the three weeks since the end of head coach Richard Pitino’s era and in the opening two weeks of Ben Johnson’s tenure.
The latest turn came Tuesday when the Gophers’ 7-foot starting center Liam Robbins entered the NCAA transfer portal, a source confirmed to the Pioneer Press.
Robbins, the Gophers’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer in the 2020-21 season, became the seventh U player to enter the portal since March 17. Add two players that left the team during last season and one retiring after the year means the U could — as of now — see up to 10 of the 13 scholarship players exit.
Only one player from last year’s team, sophomore forward Isaiah Ihnen, has reestablished his commitment to the U. The one-time four-star prospect from Germany tweeted Thursday he’s “excited for what’s to come” with Johnson, and the new head coach replied, “Welcome aboard my man.” Forward Brandon Johnson and guard Both Gach, two players who arrived as transfers before last season, have not revealed their intentions publicly.
Meanwhile, Ben Johnson’s rebuilding began via the portal with three players committing to the U last week: forward Jamison Battle (George Washington), and guards Luke Loewe (William and Mary) and E.J. Stephens (Lafayette).
Johnson acknowledged in an hour-long KFAN appearance Monday that coaching changes can have a “big-time” effect a college basketball roster nowadays. More than 1,200 names were reportedly in the portal as of Monday.
“It definitely is unchartered waters for everybody,” Johnson said on the radio. “If any coach told you, ‘Oh, we got it figured out,’ they are lying because you don’t. And it changes your roster minute by minute because all of sudden one kid one day could tell you they are happy and, boom, in 10 hours (he says), ‘Hey, coach, I changed my mind. I’m going to end up going in the portal.’
“It could be for a number of reasons,” he added.
Robbins joined the Gophers last year as a transfer from Drake. He was a highly-sought-after player for prominent programs across the country; he picked Minnesota to play in the Big Ten and under his uncle, assistant coach Ed Conroy, and with his cousin, senior walk-on Hunt Conroy.
The Davenport, Iowa, native averaged 11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and a Big Ten-best 2.7 blocks in 23 games last year. Robbins tried to play through a late-season severely sprained ankle and had limited playing time in February before missing the final six games of the season.
Johnson has yet to make announcements about his coaching staff, and Conroy was considered a contender for the Utah State head coaching job before it went to Maryland-Baltimore County head coach Ryan Odom on Monday.
“It hasn’t really slowed down. I didn’t expect it to slow down,” Johnson said of the pace of his new job. “Obviously, (I) continue to recruit, put a staff together, figure out this roster and what I have coming back, so (in) that recruiting you fit the puzzle pieces together.”
Under Pitino, the Gophers averaged 5.8 new players each season, which is nearly 50 percent turnover each year. Johnson’s first team at Minnesota will exceed that rate.