Gophers' Ben Johnson says Dawson Garcia turned down multiple NIL offers to return

Ben Johnson and the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team gathered for the start of summer workouts last week, and they might have needed some name cards for all the new faces.

Coming off a 19-15 season in Johnson’s third year with the Gophers, seven players with eligibility remaining left the program. Six of them entered the NCAA transfer portal, with the combination of leaving without a penalty and opportunities to get financial benefits through name, image and likeness.

The list is headlined by Pharrel Payne, who is now at Texas A&M. He’s joined by point guard Elijah Hawkins, who announced twice he was coming back to the Gophers. In the final few days of the portal being open, he departed for Texas Tech. Minnesota also lost Braeden Carrington, Joshua Ola-Joseph, Isaiah Ihnen and Kris Keinys.

Johnson said Monday he was prepared for every departure.

"As a coach being in this every day, you don’t have too many surprises. You get a feeling as the year goes on what could potentially happen. You’re prepared for it. It is what it is, you don’t get bent out of shape about it," Johnson said. "Some of these guys had some significant financial opportunities and I can’t necessary fault them for pursuing something like that. I’m never going to hold somebody back from a financial decision. But life can’t always be about a money grab, you’re never going to be satisfied."

Johnson and the Gophers also lost guard Cam Christie to the NBA Draft. He could be a late first round pick later this month. In one season at Minnesota, Christie averaged 11.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and was shooting 39 percent from the perimeter.

Johnson saw his potential recruiting him during high school. He’s been impressing teams in pre-draft workouts.

"I thought Cam was an NBA player… I told him straight up if you have the opportunity, I’m not a coach that’s going to hold any of our guys back if it’s a legit deal," Johnson said. "His is legit. He’s what the NBA looks for."

Johnson will lean on a returning core that is led by Dawson Garcia, Parker Fox and Mike Mitchell Jr. Also back is Kadyn Betts. Johnson said Garcia turned down multiple large NIL offers at other schools to come back to Minnesota for one more season.

Garcia was an All-Big Ten pick who led the Gophers with 17.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

"For those guys, they obviously saw what we did last year and knew that we’re on the right trajectory," Johnson said. "Just appreciate that those guys stuck with it when everybody now has options. Dawson had some major options, and I hope people understand that. He came back for all the right reasons, and it’s our job to build a quality team around him and give him and ourselves the best opportunity to have success."

Johnson brought in six transfers, and has talent in freshmen Isaac Asuma and Grayson Grove, both Minnesota products. The Gophers will use summer workouts to build chemistry and mesh before the season starts in late fall.