Summer practice is a month away, but Gophers coach Ben Johnson is already beaming about newcomers joining his basketball team soon, especially a certain former local star.
The excitement surrounding the signing of North Carolina transfer and ex-Prior Lake star Dawson Garcia this spring is palpable for both Minnesota fans and the Gophers.
"He has the talent piece," Johnson said Thursday. "It's what you need in this league at this level. You've got to have guys who have that caliber of talent. But at the same time it's going to be a collective effort. And he wants to be a part of that."
The 6-11 former McDonald's All-American has the potential to be one of the Big Ten's top big men if he can play in 2022-23. He would have to sit out the season if the NCAA doesn't approve a waiver for immediate eligibility.
Garcia, who averaged 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and shot 37.5% from three-point range in 16 games for North Carolina this year, hasn't submitted a waiver yet, but the Gophers are in the process of navigating the situation.
After starting his career at Marquette, Garcia already took advantage of the NCAA's one-time transfer rule to play immediately for the Tar Heels.
Johnson didn't get into details Thursday, but he expressed confidence in Garcia's situation being favorable for a possible hardship waiver.
"I'm not going to get into depth about it, but he's got some pretty legitimate, hard-hitting stuff." Johnson said. "You kind of never know. We'll go through that process and see where it takes us. If you [need a waiver or not] all our guys are going to prepare the same way. Hopefully, it turns out the right way for him and for us."
Garcia's last game with North Carolina was Jan. 22 at Wake Forest. He left North Carolina shortly after to support his family while it struggled with COVID-19, which eventually led to losing family members.
First-year UNC coach Hubert Davis eventually led the Tar Heels to the NCAA title game. Meanwhile, Garcia told the Star Tribune last month, he was going through a "low point."
"It was a very tough situation," Garcia said. "That's why I can't thank enough the people who were there for my family and had our back during that time. I'll never be able to truly repay them."
In 2020-21, Garcia averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds for Marquette to earn All-Big East freshman honors. In his first 10 games with the Tar Heels, he averaged 12.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, shot 47.8% from three and 49.4% from the field. He had a season-high 26 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc in a Nov. 20 loss vs. Purdue.
Garcia, who signed this spring with Morehead State transfer Ta'Lon Cooper and California high school senior Jaden Henley, has noticed how the Gophers under Johnson are changing the perception of the program.
"Ben's done an unbelievable job to establish a culture in one year," Garcia said last month. "I'm excited to put on the uniform, but also when the time comes to be a proud alum and say I was part of the process of getting Minnesota basketball back."
Resembling a near 7-foot guard at times with his shooting range and ball handling, Garcia is likely be an inside and outside force for the Gophers. So will 6-7 sophomore Jamison Battle, who returns after leading the team in scoring (17.5) and rebounding (6.3) this season.
Junior forwards Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen, who recovered from season-ending knee injuries, are versatile frontcourt threats as well. The Gophers also have young post talent with 6-9 incoming recruit Pharrel Payne and 7-foot freshman Treyton Thompson.
"Having Parker and Isaiah back adds depth," Johnson said. "So now when we do go up and down, we've got Big Ten-caliber bodies. And that will be fun to see."
The Gophers, who have two scholarships available, have a chance to make a big jump from a last-place finish in Johnson's first year, especially if Garcia can make an immediate impact. But it's not a one-man show.
"Obviously excited when you can get a guy that has that talent level," Johnson said Thursday. "I don't want him to feel like it's a one-man show and he's got to put everything on his back, and he's got the weight of the world. Just knowing Dawson, he's not the type of kid that expects that, either. He's literally the type of kid who wants to just come in here and work."