Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson had a feeling newcomers would be the hot topic when he spoke to fans at Monday's Coaches Caravan event in downtown Stillwater.
"I know you're probably going to read a lot about Dawson Garcia," Johnson said on the former Prior Lake star and McDonald's All-American who transferred home from North Carolina.
Nothing could give Gophers faithful more of a sense of Johnson's program potentially being on the rise than the arrival of new talent, but Garcia isn't alone.
Both Johnson and women's basketball coach Lindsay Whalen were excited to announce their highly anticipated freshman classes and transfers were on campus this week ready to get started with official workouts, which begin June 13. Summer school started Monday.
"Whether it's Dawson or some of the freshmen, I think they love kind of the vibe and energy surrounding the program," Johnson said. "It's only been a short time, but it's encouraging as a coach to know there's been carry-over from last year. That's so important."
Following a 13-17 finish in his inaugural season, Johnson welcomes seven newcomers, including backcourt transfers Ta'Lon Cooper (Morehead State) and Taurus Samuels (Dartmouth). Samuels will join the team later this month after his graduation, but Cooper and Garcia have settled in.
Johnson and his staff can't join players on the court until next week, but freshmen Braeden Carrington, Pharrel Payne, Jaden Henley and Joshua Ola-Joseph moved in this weekend as well. They've been quick to spend time bonding at the U's basketball facility with the older players – whether it's in the weight room or during pickup games.
The Gophers men's team returns leading scorer Jamison Battle, reserve big man Treyton Thompson and forwards Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen coming off injuries. Fox and Ihnen are both cleared for full contact, Johnson said.
Figuring out how that returning frontcourt nucleus fits with the newcomers in the mix will make summer practices competitive and intriguing. How quickly does the 6-9, 230-pound Payne develop into a Big Ten-ready freshman?
"That's the great thing with the position [Payne] is in because he's going to get better because he's going against Jamison, Parker, Dawson every single day," Johnson said. "He's going against Treyton who is a different guy to guard for [7 feet]. With his work ethic and drive to get better it's only going to enhance his growth and make it that much quicker."
Whalen received a loud cheer from the Stillwater caravan crowd when she mentioned her top-10 nationally ranked freshman class of Minnesotans Amaya Battle, Mara Braun, Nia Holloway and Mallory Heyer.
With heavy losses to graduation and transfer, Whalen's young class will be relied on as much as her veterans. Battle, the sister of Johnson's top player last season, is likely to step in at point guard early. The Gophers women's coaches hope she and Braun can pick up the system quickly from returners such as sophomore Katie Borowicz, who missed last season with a back injury.
"Amaya and Mara will be able to play multiple positions," Whalen said. "I like having two ballhandlers on the floor. There will be some fun lineups we can put out there."
With the caravan's third stop Monday after Chaska and Rochester last month, Whalen was excited to chat with fans about impact transfers such as Burnsville's Destinee Oberg from Arkansas. But she's still waiting on junior college post Aminata Zie from France.
"This first week is appointments and physicals and everybody getting acclimated with new faces," she said. "Next week is workouts, so we'll be ready to get things going then."