One of the first orders of business for Ben Johnson as Gophers men's basketball coach was vowing to put a fence around the state of Minnesota and keep as many top high school players from leaving as he could.

In-state recruiting was so much of a thorn in Richard Pitino's side that he even joked about it with a tweet after being fired in March.

On Wednesday, Johnson made good on his promise to capture local talent by officially landing an all-Minnesota 2022 early-signing class with Braeden Carrington, Pharrel Payne and Joshua Ola-Joseph inking letters of intent.

"I don't care what school you're at, you want to do a good job with the local talent," Johnson said. "We got to recruit and spread our brand nationally, but to be able to get the three guys who were right here was huge for us."

Johnson beamed about the potential of Payne, the No. 2 senior in the state behind Cretin-Derham Hall point guard and Michigan State recruit Tre Holloman. The 6-9 Park of Cottage Grove big man could be physically ready to make an immediate impact in the Big Ten as a freshman, similar to former U standout Daniel Oturu.

"It means a lot all of us staying home and playing in front of the home crowd," said Payne, who signed in front of friends, family and fellow students after school Wednesday. "I've been working on my body lifting and trying to get even stronger. In the Big Ten you've got to be much stronger."

As much as Payne might be ready for the Big Ten physically, the 6-6, 210-pound Ola-Joseph has the athleticism that should translate quickly to the next level as well. The former Osseo forward said he's a big fan of both Minnesota natives joining him in the class.

"We're all underrated guys," Ola-Joseph said. "We're all hungry and want to work for everything we get. We also can all do different things well. Pharrel's good in the post. Braeden shoots the ball very well. I play good defense and do a variety of things. So we're going to blend very well."

Carrington officially became the first player to sign bright and early Wednesday morning during a ceremony at Park Center's gym. He thanked his mother, Holly, and high school coach James Ware for believing he could reach his goals of earning a high major Division I scholarship.

"I'm definitely excited," Carrington said. "To commit to the hometown school is something really special. Four years ago, I never thought I was even going D-I, but I've seen my improvements and worked hard."

The 6-4 sharpshooting Carrington didn't want to stay home to play college basketball once the offers started coming, including Missouri and Florida. But Johnson replacing Pitino made a difference.

"Before Ben, I don't think I would've committed to the Gophers," he said. "I had a bunch of other schools I thought I'd be there next year. But once Ben came, he really started talking to me every day. He showed me love like no other coach did. I couldn't pass that up."

Johnson helped build relationships with local players once before as Pitino's assistant when he laid the groundwork for the Gophers to sign Oturu, Jarvis Omersa, and Gabe Kalscheur in the 2018 class.

Returning to Minnesota's program following a three-year stint on Xavier's staff, Johnson didn't recruit any of his current class previously, but he understood the frustration with struggles with in-state recruiting from fans and the U administration.

Johnson, who received constant help from assistants Dave Thorson, Jason Kemp and Marcus Jenkins, was grateful to Carrington for becoming the first local player to commit to his program in the summer.

"Braeden was the first guy to be two feet in," Johnson said. "And we don't take that lightly. He got the ball rolling. It takes one guy to do it. It trickled down with Josh and Pharrel to come behind him. I couldn't be more excited."