Ben Johnson, Gophers excited to add Dawson Garcia for 2022-23 season

Ben Johnson has been the University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach for a little more than a year, and has already experienced the highs and lows of the NCAA transfer portal.

Last year after his hiring, 10 players transferred out of the program. His first commitment was Jamison Battle, who has the looks of a future Big Ten star.

Most recently, Johnson and the Gophers landed their biggest recruit since Amir Coffey and Daniel Oturu. Former Prior Lake star Dawson Garcia, a McDonald’s All-American and top-40 recruit two years ago, transferred to the Gophers from North Carolina.

Johnson said Thursday he’s known Garcia since his freshman year of high school, and watched him play as a freshman at Marquette while an assistant coach at Xavier.

"I know he can fit in and be a good piece to what we’re trying to do. He’s obviously excited to be back, excited to have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family. I think he’s just ready to get to work, hone his craft and get better," Johnson said.

Garcia already used his free one-time transfer to leave Marquette for North Carolina after Steve Wojciechowski was fired. He’ll need a medical hardship waiver to be eligible for the 2022-23 season. That shouldn’t be hard to get, given he left North Carolina to be with family members who were hit hard by COVID-19.

But as Johnson said Thursday, "you never know."

"He’s got some pretty legitimate and hard-hitting stuff, but you never know. We’ll go through that process and see where it takes us," Johnson said.

Garcia’s talent speaks for itself. He played in 16 games and got 12 starts with the Tar Heels last season, averaging nine points, 5.5 rebounds and shooting 40.5 percent from the field. As a freshman at Marquette, Garcia averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds. He led Big East freshmen in scoring and rebounding. 

The Gophers haven’t had a McDonald’s All-American on the roster since Kris Humphries in 2003. He’s a lock to be a starter if eligible, and will join Parker Fox, Isaiah Ihnen and Pharrel Payne in the frontcourt.

"Obviously excited when you can get a guy that has that talent level. At the same time, I don’t want him to feel like it’s a one-man show and he’s got to put everything on his back and he’s got the weight of the world," Johnson said. "He just wants to come in here and work, that was so refreshing to hear him say. He knows it’s going to be a collective effort, and he wants to be a part of that."


The only constant with the NCAA transfer portal is change, and it’s something Johnson has to navigate daily. The deadline for players to enter and be eligible for next season was May 1. One player from last season left the program: Abdoulaye Thiam.

Johnson has multiple staff members who have eyes on the transfer portal daily. They’ll be in team meetings, he’ll be walking around the practice facility when his phone buzzes. It’s a text from a coach, staff member or possibly even the player that’s entered the portal. He says he’s checked the portal, "probably 100,000 times."

"It’s a every five-minute thing. It’s a sickness, it really is. It’s literally every minute," Johnson said.

The newest challenge? Name, image and likeness. College athletes can now profit off themselves through corporate sponsorships. It muddies the waters for recruiting with transfers, who now in addition to wanting playing time, are looking to get paid.

Johnson won’t change his approach or his culture, even if it means a highly-touted prospect won’t come to the Gophers without a NIL deal. Johnson can’t directly be involved, it’s up to local collectives to handle sponsorships with players.

"If there’s a kid we’re recruiting and the first thing he talks about is a large NIL number, then we’ll probably move on right now," Johnson said. "We’ve still got to find a way to get really good players even though right now I don’t have a lot of interest in offering a kid a crazy amount of money."

Johnson added, "I want guys to be able to use (NIL) to their benefit, but I also want guys that that’s not priority No. 1 of why you’re coming here. If it is and you’re all about that and that’s the biggest thing, this probably isn’t the place for you. That’s just the way we’re going to operate."