Showing off an all-Gophers fashion ensemble with a maroon hat, hoodie and shorts, Dawson Garcia proudly represented the U during his first-ever summer basketball camp at Prior Lake.

Players wore T-shirts with his likeness on the front. Autograph lines formed, following the three-hour session that raised money for the Prior Lake youth program that produced Garcia.

"He is awesome with the young guys," Prior Lake coach Jon Miller said. "He loves giving back and representing [Prior Lake] and the Gophers."

This wasn't just any college basketball player showing up at his high school alma mater. Garcia is the face of the Gophers. And he's much more comfortable being their leader now in his second summer in Ben Johnson's program.

"My second year at Minnesota, I just want to leave my handprint on every aspect of the game," Garcia said, as summer practice wrapped up last week.

Not since his days at Prior Lake had Garcia spent two summers with the same team. In three years since, he's been with three different college programs.

“I just want my handprints on every aspect of the game. I just don't want to be labeled as a scorer or whatnot.”
Dawson Garcia

The versatile 6-11, 230-pound from Savage started his college career with Marquette before transferring to North Carolina and then to Minnesota. Being with the Gophers this summer again felt different — it felt refreshing for one of the Big Ten's top talents.

"I know if we want to be really good and be where we want to be, I have to step up and take my game to another level," Garcia said.

The 9-22 record in Garcia's first season with the Gophers frustrated him, including 14 losses in the last 16 games. But the way Garcia finished the season provided a glimpse of how he could blossom with another year in Johnson's system.

"I think now his confidence is through the roof," Johnson said. "He had an unbelievable [spring and summer], and he's itching to get back competing."

After missing five games because of a foot injury, Garcia returned to average 17 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists during an eight-game stretch at the end of last season. It also took him time to get used to the Big Ten's physical and rugged play.

"Now that he's comfortable in this space, it's how consistent can you be every day, every rep, every practice, every game?" Johnson said. "I think that could take him to that next level."

At Marquette and North Carolina, Garcia was used primarily as a pick-and-pop power forward, scoring both down low and spotting up for jumpers beyond the arc. The Gophers needed him to do more inside because they lacked an established post presence, especially earlier in the season.

But the development of freshman Pharrel Payne at the end of Big Ten play allowed Garcia to show off his versatility even more as a playmaker — almost like a 6-11 guard. He had at least three assists seven times in the last 12 games. He also shot 43% (13-for-30) from three-point range in the last eight games. Along with his rebounding numbers improving, he also made strides battling defensively in the paint.

"I just don't want to be labeled as a scorer or whatnot," Garcia said. "That's one thing I'm striving for this year is turning up my level on defense, my activity with my hands and just being a sponge to the ball."

The Gophers might not take Garcia off the floor much this season, especially after the way he's attacked offseason workouts.

"Nobody's working harder on their conditioning going into next season," Garcia said. "I want to take my conditioning to another level, to the point where I don't get tired."

Garcia's competitiveness already stood out in practices this summer, but coaches challenged him to be more vocal, because "I'm more comfortable leading by example," he said.

His leadership as a returning player, starter and upperclassman is expected. But it's a new role for Garcia — one he's more prepared for entering Year 2 with the Gophers.

"It's a lot of fun," Garcia said. "A lot of work goes into it. Getting Minnesota back to where it needs to be is something we're all super motivated to do."