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Dawson Garcia's eyes widened when he saw reports about former Illinois men's basketball center Coleman Hawkins' $2 million name, image and likeness (NIL) deal to sign at Kansas State.

Garcia is back with the Gophers to chase major accolades and postseason success with his home state Big Ten program. But it was difficult to turn down deals worth hundreds of thousands more through the transfer portal.

"It's definitely hard when there's temptations all around," the 6-11 senior from Savage said after Monday's practice. "You get into a thing mentally with comparisons that I'm way better than a kid who is getting way more money than me. That's just natural and human nature."

The return of Garcia and fellow seniors Mike Mitchell Jr. and Parker Fox provides some comfort this summer for fourth-year coach Ben Johnson after several players left to chase more lucrative NIL opportunities elsewhere.

The Gophers, who finished 19-15 and reached the NIT second round last season, welcome eight scholarship newcomers, but they lost six players, including starters Pharrel Payne (Texas A&M) and Elijah Hawkins (Texas Tech) to the portal and Cam Christie to the NBA draft.

"You don't get bent out of shape about it," Johnson said. "Some of these guys had some significant financial opportunities. I can't necessarily fault them for pursuing something like that they were able to potentially get. It's our job to adapt and figure out how to find the next best piece."

So far this summer, Garcia has been impressed with newcomers such as Minneapolis native and Charlotte transfer Lu'Cye Patterson and others, including big men Frank Mitchell and Trey Edmonds.

Garcia, Mitchell, and Fox, though, mentioned a deep relationship with Johnson and the coaching staff as being a significant factor in sticking with the Gophers. They relied a great deal on prayer and their faith to guide them in making the right choice, but they also have big personal goals.

"I've got All-American aspirations, Big Ten player of the year aspirations," said Garcia, who averaged a team-best 17.6 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. "I'm not coming back to just play around. I'm excited about pushing the ball up the floor and becoming more of a playmaker. [Rebounding] more aggressively. That's what I want to do."

Following his first season playing for the Gophers after two major knee injuries, Fox hopes to be closer to the impact player who was a Division II All-America at Northern State (S.D.) a few years ago.

The 25-year-old Mahtomedi native joined the Senior Day ceremony last season, so it took some convincing from Johnson for Fox to be back for a seventh year in college.

"It's wild, man," said the 6-8 Fox, a sixth man for the Gophers last season. "When I was in the transfer portal as a grad transfer [in 2021], I had two years of eligibility. But I was only going to probably use one and try to go to the NBA or overseas. That's changed a lot, but I wouldn't change anything. It made me into who I am."

Mitchell has no ties to Minnesota, but he felt as strongly about staying as Fox and Garcia. The former Pepperdine guard's feeling of loyalty to Johnson superseded any opportunity to have a bigger NIL payday in the portal.

Still, there was more than a half-dozen schools calling the Gophers' top three-point shooter weekly about transferring again this spring.

"Nonstop calls until that last day when the portal closes [on May 1]," Mitchell said. "It's real tough because you have a lot of stuff thrown at you. But in the end, I think I made the right decision because I trust Coach Johnson and the rest of the staff. I believe in what we can do this year."

New walk-ons

The Gophers basketball team has two new walk-ons with former Minnesota-Duluth forward and 6-9 graduate transfer Lincoln Meister from Rochester and sophomore guard Max Sheridan, a former U team manager.