South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston has built an empire

South Dakota State played the 2004-2005 women’s college basketball season as an independent Division I program, part of its transition from Division II. Aaron Johnston led the Jackrabbits through that transition, coaching for three seasons as an indie before finding a conference home in the Summit League in 2007. The program still competes in that conference today.

South Dakota State was immensely successful in Division II, but if the change to Division I ball might have been imposing or overwhelming for other programs making the jump to a higher level of competition, it wasn’t smothering or stifling for SDSU.

Johnston won 21, 19, and 25 games in those first three independent seasons. When he went to the Summit League in the fourth year of the Jackrabbits’ Division I journey, he won 23 games. In the 2008-2009 season — Year 5 of Division I play — Johnston and the Jackrabbits won 32 games.

That year marked SDSU’s first Division I NCAA Tournament appearance. In the subsequent 14 years since that journey, the program has missed the Big Dance only four times. In each of those four seasons, the team still won at least 23 games.

In 19 seasons of Division I competition, Johnston has never won fewer than 19 games. He has 465 Division I wins and a winning percentage higher than .750. That’s right: Aaron Johnston has won over three-fourths of his games as a Division I head coach at South Dakota State.

USC is facing a proven winner in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire