One of Ben Johnson’s first orders as Gophers men’s basketball coach was to pledge to put up a fence around Minnesota and prevent as many high school players as possible from leaving.
Conscription within the state was such a thorn in Richard Pettino’s side that he joked about it in a tweet after he was fired in March.
On Wednesday, Johnson made good on his promise of acquiring homegrown talent by officially landing an early signing tournament in Minnesota 2022 with Bryden Carrington, Pharrell Payne and Joshua O. Joseph letters of intent.
“I don’t care what school you’re in, you want to do well with local talent,” Johnson said. “We’ve recruited and popularized our brand nationally, but being able to get the three guys out here was a huge thing for us.”
Johnson was delighted with the potential of Payne, the second man in the state behind Cretin-Derham Hall point guard and Michigan State recruit Trey Holloman. The big guy from 6-9 Park of Cottage Grove could be physically ready to make an immediate impact in the Big Ten as a freshman, similar to former U star Daniel Oturu.
“It means a lot of us staying at home and playing in front of the home crowd,” said Payne, who signed in front of friends, family and fellow students after school on Wednesday. “I’ve been working on lifting my body and trying to get stronger. In the Big Ten you have to be a lot stronger.”
As much as Pine might be ready for the big ten physically, the 6-6, 210-pound Ola-Joseph has the sportsmanship that should quickly translate to the next level, too. The former Osseo striker said he is a huge fan of all of the Minnesota natives who join him in class.
“We are all underrated guys,” Ola Joseph said. “We are all hungry and want to work for everything we get. We can also do different things well. Farrell does well at the post. Brayden hits the ball very well. I play good defense and do a variety of things. So we will mix well.”
Carrington officially became the first player to sign early Wednesday morning during a party at the Park Center gym. He thanked his mother, Holly, and high school coach James Weir for believing he could achieve his goals for a high-level Division I scholarship.
“I’m definitely excited,” Carrington said. “Being committed to his hometown school is something really special. Four years ago, I never thought I’d go to DI, but I saw the improvements I made and worked hard.”
The 6-4 shooting Carrington didn’t want to stay home to play college basketball once performances started, including Missouri and Florida. But Johnson, who replaced Petino, made a difference.
“Before Ben, I don’t think I would have stuck with a gopher,” he said. “I had a bunch of other schools I thought I’d be there next year. But as soon as Ben came, he started talking to me every day. He showed me love like no other coach did. I couldn’t miss it.”
Johnson helped build relationships with local players once before as an assistant to Betino when he laid the groundwork for Jeffers to sign Otoro, Jarvis Omersa and Gabi Kalchore in the 2018 season.
Returning to the Minnesota show after three years on the Xavier crew, Johnson had never recruited from his current class before, but he understood the frustration of struggling with in-state recruiting from fans and the Yu management.
Johnson, who received constant help from assistants Dave Thorson, Jason Kemp and Marcus Jenkins, was grateful to Carrington for becoming the first homegrown player to commit to his program in the summer.
“Bryden was the guy who was two feet away,” Johnson said. “And we don’t take it lightly. He made the ball roll. It only takes one man to do it. It flowed with Josh and Farrell to come after him. I couldn’t be more excited.”
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