Optimism runs high as U men’s hoops team opens summer practice

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Mostly new faces will again fill the court when Ben Johnson and his coaching staff watch their first summer practice Monday. But the additions bring more optimism.

Out of the seven newcomers joining the Gophers men's basketball team for 2022-23, Johnson expects all of them to be on campus this summer, including his Minnesota-laden freshman class and high-profile transfer Dawson Garcia.

The only returning starter is sharpshooting forward Jamison Battle, but the Gophers have the depth to potentially make a big jump from last season's last-place conference finish.

"When you finally have 11 solid scholarship guys and a couple of competitive walk-ons, we feel like every day is going to be a battle," Johnson said. "Getting yourself better and getting your teammates better, from that standpoint it should be fun. Some guys are even more versatile than they're thinking about right now, which is great."

Johnson returned four players and signed seven newcomers for the 2022-23 season.

Returning players

Jamison Battle, junior forward (Robbinsdale)

One of the most productive transfers in the country last season, the 6-7 former DeLaSalle star led the Gophers in scoring (17.5 average), rebounding (6.3) and three-pointers (75). Battle, who scored a career-high 39 points at Maryland, could be a candidate for Big Ten player of the year, but he'll finally have more help in the frontcourt.

Isaiah Ihnen, junior forward (Boeblingen, Germany)

There was talk about a breakout year before he tore his ACL last summer. The now 6-10, 220-pound Ihnen was recently cleared for full contact. Ben Johnson envisions him playing four positions and being one of the conference's most versatile defenders.

Parker Fox, junior forward (Mahtomedi)

The 6-8 former All-America at Northern State (S.D.) suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee last spring, but he recovered to participate in practice in March. Fox, who will compete for a starting frontcourt spot, led Division II in blocks (80) and dunks (74) in 2020-21.

Treyton Thompson, center (Glenwood, Minn.)

The Gophers' tallest player at 7-feet, he averaged 8.1 minutes in 19 games last season. In his lone start, Thompson had a season-high 10 points and six rebounds in a win against Rutgers. Proved he could stretch the floor (6-for-15 from three) for his size.

Transfers

Dawson Garcia, junior forward, North Carolina (Savage)

The 6-11 former McDonald's All-America at Prior Lake arrived as one of the nation's most coveted transfers. Averaged 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and shot 37% from three in 16 games (12 starts) last season. Gophers are optimistic the NCAA will approve Garcia's hardship waiver to play immediately after he had to return home in January to be with his struggling family.

Ta'Lon Cooper, junior guard, Morehead State (Detroit)

Seventh in NCAA Division I with 5.9 assists last season, Cooper had 14 games with at least seven assists, including four double-digit assist games. The All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team performer is likely to be the U's starting point guard to replace Payton Willis, who graduated.

Taurus Samuels, senior guard, Dartmouth (Oceanside, Calif.)

Samuels averaged 9.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists while starting 23 games last season. He scored 22 points against Stanford and 23 against Georgetown in nonconference play for the Big Green.

Freshman class

Pharrel Payne, center/forward, Park (Cottage Grove )

State of Minnesota's top senior big man last season, the 6-9, 230-pound Payne averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks after missing his first eight games with a hip injury. Will compete for a starting spot in the frontcourt with Garcia and Fox.

Braeden Carrington, guard, Park Center (Brooklyn Park)

The first incoming freshman from Minnesota to win Mr. Basketball and a state title since Amir Coffey in 2016. The 6-4 Carrington averaged nearly 18 points and led the Pirates to the school's first ever state championship in March.

Joshua Ola-Joseph, forward, AZ Compass Prep (Osseo)

The 6-7, 215-pound Minnesota native finished his senior season at a prep school in Arizona. An explosive dunker and leaper, Ola-Joseph played just 10 games for a 25-win team last season, but worked on expanding his game.

Jaden Henley, guard/forward, Colony High (Ontario, Calif.)

Two years ago, Henley was playing on the junior varsity, but a growth spurt made him 6-7. Johnson and his staff are intrigued by his combination of size and skill to play anywhere from point guard to small forward.

Walk-ons

Will Ramberg, junior forward, (Grand Marais, Minn.)

The 6-5 Ramberg transferred home from McGill University in Canada. He averaged 3.7 minutes in 13 games last season, which included a season-high 14 minutes against Illinois.

Jackson Purcell, redshirt freshman guard/forward, (Apple Valley)

Purcell sat out last season with an undisclosed injury. The former Eastview standout was admitted into the U's Carlson School of Management.