Ihnen’s season-ending knee injury sidelines one of Gophers’ two returning players

A Gophers men's basketball frontcourt already razor thin was dealt a significant blow this week after junior forward Isaiah Ihnen suffered a season-ending left knee injury.

New Gophers coach Ben Johnson announced Thursday that Ihnen would undergo surgery and miss the 2021-22 season. The 6-9, 220-pound German native was injured during a non-contact drill in Tuesday's practice, sources told the Star Tribune.

That now makes two post players sidelined with major knee injuries.

Division II All-America transfer Parker Fox, a Mahtomedi native, could miss the season as well after tearing his left ACL and meniscus in the spring.

Ihnen was not available for comment Thursday, but Johnson provided an emailed statement.

"We are obviously disappointed for Isaiah, as he made great strides not only as a player, but also as a leader this summer," he said. "As a valuable member of the team, we will be with him every step of his recovery and can't wait to have him back next year."

One of the team's only returning players from last season, along with senior big man Eric Curry, Ihnen averaged 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game in 2020-21.

Ihnen's athleticism and length with a 7-4 wingspan were apparent when he signed as former Gophers coach Richard Pitino's top recruit in the 2019 class. Most of his teammates bolted after Pitino was fired in March, but Ihnen remained loyal to the program.

"I had to fight to keep him for almost two weeks," Johnson said earlier this summer. "His people were telling him you got all these options."

Without Ihnen and Fox, the Gophers are looking at only two frontcourt players currently on the roster with freshman Treyton Thompson and Curry, who recently decided to return for an extra year allowed by the NCAA because of the pandemic.

Stephen F. Austin transfer and Gophers commit Charlie Daniels was expected to arrive in Minnesota on Thursday night, per sources. The 6-9 Daniels spent the summer finishing up classes to graduate this year.

Daniels was a backup big man last season. Thompson, a 6-11, 190-pound Alexandria, Minn., product, isn't physically ready to start. Curry battled through his own knee injuries to play a reserve role last year after missing two seasons.

The Gophers are still hoping the transfer portal will land them an immediate impact and potential starting post, but so far they've come up empty. Ex-North Carolina 7-footer Sterling Manley and former Boston College forward and Shakopee native Steffon Mitchell both turned pro. Former Marquette big man and Prior Lake native Dawson Garcia committed to North Carolina earlier this month.

After losing a dozen scholarship players from last season's team, Johnson had only 14.9% of the Gophers' minutes returning from last season once Curry opted to come back. Minus Ihnen, that number is now 7.7%, ranking third fewest in Division I, according to barttorvik.com.

Gophers 2021-22 men's basketball roster