Gophers men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson is looking on the bright side on the topic of forward Jamison Battle’s injury.
Minnesota announced Friday that Battle — last season’s leading scorer and the U’s only returning starter — had foot surgery and would be considered week-to-week.
When it comes to surgeries, Battle’s was considered “low-level” in terms of seriousness, Johnson said. The second-year coach is also looking at the timing of it as glass half-full: Battle had the surgery last week, before the season stared, much less during the Big Ten schedule.
Battle will miss the exhibition game against St. Olaf at Williams Arena on Wednesday, and likely the season opener against Western Michigan at the Barn on Monday. Johnson didn’t share an estimate on how long Battle might be sidelined and said it will depend on how long it takes Battle to heal.
“When we did our homework and realized the severity was pretty minimum as far as surgeries and injuries go, it just kind of made sense to do it now and get it out the way,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I know he feels pretty good about it. We’ll be excited to welcome him back sooner than later, hopefully.”
Rather than being hurt by a single event, Battle’s injury was a “progressive thing” that would have affected him all season. In deciding to choose surgery now, the coach added, they looked at what would get Battle healthy for as many games this season as possible.
“A game or two here or there versus having to deal with something for the rest of the year, if he didn’t have (surgery), to me just made no sense,” Johnson said.
The absence of Battle will delay how soon the mostly new team will be able to gel. Minnesota added eight newcomers, three transfers and five freshmen. Who will fill the void left by Battle, a preseason all-Big Ten player who scored 17.5 points per game in 2021-22?
“That is a great question. That is why this exhibition game will be good,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to get a lot of guys experience, which is what we needed.”
Transfer forward Dawson Garcia has the experience after a season each at Marquette and North Carolina. The versatile 6-foot-11 player will be the No. 1option expected to step up in Battle’s stead.
Minnesota will be playing a Division III opponent for the first time since facing Minnesota Crookston in 2015. Those steps down in level of competition should give the Gophers an opportunity to ease into a new season.
“If we can use this exhibition game to get those guys, especially the freshmen, that live action, I hope there is good and bad with that. I really do,” Johnson said. “Because we are going to need that down the line and get those guys experience. As much as you don’t want to have guys out, I think it’s also really good for our younger guys to get minutes, meaningful minutes.”
The Gophers’ game against St. Olaf will be the fans’ first opportunity to see Garcia, a Savage native, in maroon and gold, as well as two key transfer guards Ta’Lon Cooper (Morehead State) and Lauren Samuels (Dartmouth).