Gophers’ Dawson Garcia: ‘I’ve got All-American aspirations’

Dawson Garcia, Parker Fox and Mike Mitchell Jr. shed some light on the landscape of name, image and likeness in college sports on Monday as the Gophers’ men’s basketball team gathered for its second week of summer workouts.

Despite NIL package offers from multiple schools that were likely bigger than what Minnesota could give, Garcia kept his commitment to the Gophers to return for one more season. To put it in perspective, former Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins, a player comparable to Garcia, got a reported $2 million to transfer to Kansas State.

Garcia will enter his third year at Minnesota after one season at Marquette and a half season at North Carolina. He said his decision came down to faith and prayer.

"I seen that, I definitely was like damn. At the same time, you’ve got to worry about what you can control," Garcia said. "Very tough decision, you get things thrown at you all the time that are very tempting, but at the end of the day you’ve got to stay true to your roots," Garcia said.

His decision, and the pressures that came with it, were not lost on his teammates and coaches.

"I don’t think it’s a surprise of what Dawson probably would’ve got out there. If you put it into a professional working environment for a normal person, would you take that kind of money to move somewhere else and work your job? Probably," Fox said. "But Dawson is a Minnesota kid through and through. You can’t really put into words what he has done for this program. He’s a major brick in the foundation of where we want this program to go."

"Dawson had some major options, and I hope people understand that," Gophers’ coach Ben Johnson said. "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."

Garcia was an All-Big Ten pick last year after leading Minnesota in scoring (17.6) and rebounding (6.7). He, Fox and Mitchell are now the veterans on a revamped roster. Garcia said Monday he has aspirations to be an All-American, and Big Ten Player of the Year in his final season.

"I’m not coming back to just play around. I don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t shoot for that honestly," Garcia said.

Ben Johnson and the Gophers lost six players to the NCAA transfer portal after the season. The biggest names were Pharrel Payne and Elijah Hawkins, who twice said he was returning before transferring to Texas Tech.

It’s a new world in NIL where Johnson has conversations with each player during and after the season, not knowing who is staying and who is leaving. That's also because college athletes can change schools every year, without penalty.

"It is what it is, you don’t get bent out of shape about it. Some of these guys had some significant financial opportunities and I can’t necessary fault them for pursuing something like that," Johnson said. "I’m never going to hold somebody back from a financial decision."

Mitchell said after the Gophers went 19-15 and got knocked out in the second round of the NIT, his phone started ringing. NIL agents reached out to him, trying to lure him to another school for a pay day. He said he was getting 5-6 calls a week about leaving the Gophers, all the way until the transfer portal closed. In 34 games and 24 starts, Mitchell averaged 10.2 points per game and shot nearly 40 percent from the perimeter.

He said his decision to return to Minnesota came down to prayer.

"It’s tough, when there’s a lot of money thrown at you and a lot of different decisions you could do or friends telling you to do different things, it’s tough. I just rely on family and God," Mitchell said.