When it came to recruiting local prospects this summer, the Gophers made it a priority to be in attendance often when big man Pharrel Payne dominated the paint.
Now that coach Ben Johnson received his first commitment in the 2022 class Wednesday from Park Center guard Braeden Carrington, Payne is one of the in-state targets getting the most attention from the U.
The 6-9, 230-pound senior at Park of Cottage Grove has growing interest from high major schools. It's early in the process, but Payne knows so far that he plans on scheduling an official visit with Minnesota this fall.
"For me it's still going and picking up," Payne said about his recruiting. "Definitely, I'll take an official visit to the U."
Payne has scholarship offers from Texas A&M, Saint Louis, and Loyola-Chicago among others. He's also hearing from Purdue, but he received his first major conference offer in June from the Gophers.
After visiting Minnesota's campus unofficially in late June, Payne was impressed with the facilities and infectious energy of Johnson and his Gophers assistants, especially ex-DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson.
"What I noticed is the high energy from Coach Thorson," Payne said. "He's all over the place and he's super energetic, which I like. Ben Johnson, I feel like he handles his team very well. I feel like all that combined they can have a pretty successful [program]. Great school, great academics and they're Athletic village is super nice, super nice facilities."
Payne wasn't recruited much at all by former Gophers coach Richard Pitino and his staff last year, but he understands they would've been watching a completely different player.
Physically, Payne checks the boxes for a Division I big man prospect with his length and athleticism to block shots and control the boards. He's added skills to his game, though.
"I'm able to stretch the floor now," Payne said. "Come off a pick and pop. Shoot the ball and shooting the three. I can also put the ball on the floor much better than I could last year. And obviously my play in the post has improved as well."
Although he was already 6-7 as a sophomore in 2019-20, Payne developed most of his confidence and consistency as a formidable post presence last season. He was one of the biggest surprises in the state's spring and summer AAU scene with ex-Gopher Mitch Ohnstad's Minnesota Select 17U squad.
"It was super exciting," Payne said. "Realistically, I felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I could really run with the tough kids in our grade. This year I got a really good opportunity to put my name out there playing in some good tournaments. Being one of the best post prospects."
Payne said his breakout AAU tournament was at Prep Hoops Live in Kansas City in late April when Minnesota Select finished with a 4-0 record. Prep Hoops national recruiting expert Ryan James even called Payne the best big man at the loaded event.
"I had one of the best tournaments probably that I ever played," Payne said about KC. "I felt like I could really explode basketball wise over that time. I kept on playing better and better in every single tournament."
The Gophers, who only have 6-11 freshman Treyton Thompson from Alexandria as a young center on the roster, are thin in the frontcourt for the future. Could Payne be the next in-state target to stay home after Carrington?
Payne's potential as a physical force in the paint is as intriguing as any frontcourt prospect in the state. He's starting to believe in his ability, too, which could be scary for Park's opponents this season.