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Ben Johnson was hired by the Gophers last year to slow the exodus of the state's top basketball talent, but it wasn't realistic to recruit entirely from Minnesota.

The Gophers had to establish a pipeline not only with local prospects but from other areas as well. And that's where the potential impact of freshman Jaden Henley comes into play.

The 6-7, 210-pound Ontario, Calif., native competed in drills and carried himself in Tuesday's practice with the confidence of a player expecting to make an immediate impact this season.

Henley and other freshmen like Minnesota natives Braeden Carrington and Pharrel Payne could be competing for starting spots with the first official week of preparation underway for the 2022-23 season.

"Jaden's been great," Johnson said. "That's one thing I like about our young guys, their willingness to be coached and willingness to get better. He's gained 10-12 pounds of muscle, which was huge for him. We can play him on and off the ball with his size and versatility and his athleticism; he's able to do a lot of things."

The presence of Henley not only provides a big-time talent in a position of need this season, but it also plays an important role in the recruitment of five-star center Dennis Evans.

Evans, a 7-footer from Riverside, Calif., who is visiting campus Thursday, would be the highest rated recruit for the Gophers in 20 years. Evans and Henley are close friends and played AAU basketball for Team Inland in California.

"It does help me to get to know a little bit more because I get to ask him questions," said Evans, who also has a Kansas offer. "I think he can be really good. He's a hard worker and someone I've grown up with for a while. Someone I've got to see blossom."

Evans, who is strongly considering Minnesota, could be the future center for the Gophers. He was spotted by Johnson and assistant Marcus Jenkins when he played against Henley as a junior last year.

Both Henley and Evans were barely recruited by Division I programs when the Gophers showed interest. Johnson and his staff know being able to find under-the-radar talent is critical in rebuilding a program.

The U's freshman class includes several players who were not consensus top 100 players when the Gophers offered them scholarships, but they all could end up contributing this season.

Payne, Carrington and fellow Minnesotan Joshua Ola-Joseph are also likely to see their roles increase with season-ending knee injuries to veterans Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen this summer. Even freshman Kadyn Betts, who graduated from high school early, will get a serious look before the Gophers decide if he redshirts.

Johnson talked about the leadership of older players such as Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia being key, but the freshman talent was already on display in early practices.

"It's an opportunity for the young guys," Johnson said. "They all came into my office and said they want to play. They all want shots and all want minutes. OK, now you've got a chance to get them."