Ben Johnson found himself alongside hundreds of fellow college basketball coaches from Shaka Smart to Fran McCaffery during his first in-person recruiting event as Gophers coach last week in Woodbury.
The games being in the U's backyard meant Johnson had to make his presence known.
The Gophers staff took advantage of every opportunity they could to be in front of the state's top prospects at the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association (MBCA) Showcase at East Ridge High.
Summer recruiting as usual kicked off last Friday through Saturday with the Gophers impressed enough after viewing a pair of Class of 2022 standouts to offer scholarships to Park of Cottage Grove big man Pharrel Payne and Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln (IA) guard Josh Dix.
"Ben stayed the whole time, too," MBCA executive director and Big Lake varsity coach Tom Critchley said. "[The Gophers] asked me what time they could come Friday, because they wanted to be there as soon as possible. They stayed the whole time. It was really neat that they got offers after the event"
Payne, a powerfully built and athletic 6-9 senior, said "it was pretty cool" to play in front of college coaches for the first time this year. The NCAA finally lifted the dead period on June 1 after COVID-19 concerns tabled in-person recruiting for more than a year.
Critchley, who put together the MBCA Showcase rosters and schedule, said he had 144 players seen by 85 colleges at the all-star series, including 50 Division I schools. At least one program from all six major conferences attended, including Baylor, Villanova, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, Marquette, Iowa State, Stanford, and Vanderbilt.
"I think the coaches like the format we have," he said. "The fact that it was the first live recruiting weekend, so many of them were just chomping at the bit to get in the gym again and see other people. That really had a lot to do with it doing so well."
Dix, a 6-4 shooting guard, is a three-star recruit with an offer from his home state Hawkeyes. Payne, who received his first high major offer from the Gophers over the weekend, also announced new offers from Saint Louis, Appalachian State and Drake since the showcase.
Other top local prospects and Gophers targets also benefitting from the exposure last week included Totino Grace 2022 forward Demarion Watson and Cretin-Derham Hall 2022 point guard Tre Holloman offered by Illinois and Oklahoma State, respectively.
"I was very, very pleased how it went," Critchley said. "One coach said, 'I got 30 days of evaluation work done in 24 hours when came here.'"