Gophers, Ben Johnson get commitment from Osseo standout Joshua Ola-Joseph

Ben Johnson was introduced Tuesday as the newest coach for the University of Minnesota men's basketball program.

When University of Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle hired Ben Johnson as the new men’s basketball coach back in March, the message was clear: The state’s top basketball talent needs to stay home.

In the five months that’s followed, Johnson has delivered on his part of the deal. On Monday, Osseo forward Joshua Ola-Joseph became the third Twin Cities player in the class of 2022 to announce his verbal commitment to the Gophers and Johnson.

Ola-Joseph joins Park Center guard Braeden Carrington and Park of Cottage Grove center Pharrell Payne to make their pledge to Minnesota. Ola-Joseph picked the Gophers over Loyola-Chicago and Clemson, and had interest from several other Division I schools. He made an official visit to campus last week and actually gave his commitment at the end of the visit, but announced the news on local TV Monday night.

Local recruiting has been Johnson’s top priority since taking over as Gophers’ coach, with Minnesota high school basketball now annually putting out some of the top talent in the country. Johnson knew he wouldn’t be able to keep every local top prospect. Cretin-Derham Hall point guard Tre Holloman recently committed to Michigan State, Camden Heide is headed to Purdue and Demarion Watson is committed to Iowa State.

But Johnson made clear in recruiting circles that his top targets were Carrington, Payne and Ola-Joseph. The trio feels similar to the 2018 trio of Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa. Oturu is now in the NBA. Johnson also prioritized local top talent for this season, getting former DeLaSalle standout Jamison Battle to transfer back to Minnesota, and Mahtomedia native and Division-II All-American Parker Fox to come to the Gophers from Northern State. Sean Sutherland, a prep standout at Irondale, also came back to Minnesota from New Hampshire.

Johnson, who played for the Gophers, was a standout at DeLaSalle and is highly-respected in Minnesota basketball, now has three local standouts locked in starting in the fall of 2022 after Richard Pitino missed out on more than a dozen local prep stars. In the last three years, only current freshman Treyton Thompson pledged to stay home.

Johnson isn’t done recruiting for the 2022 cycle, either. Two top prospects, including guard Jayden Pierre, will be on campus this week as the Gophers’ football team hosts Ohio State Thursday night.

As for the class of 2023, Johnson is already well on the local recruiting trail there as well. Nolan Winter, a standout at Lakeville North and the son of former Gophers’ star Trevor Winter, has been offered a scholarship. As has Taison Chatman, a guard at Totino-Grace who’s considered a top-50 prospect nationally.

Carrington, Payne and Ola-Joseph can make their commitments official later this fall during the national signing period.