INDIANAPOLIS — The Gophers lost Marcus Carr, one of the nation's top point guards, to the transfer portal, but Payton Willis is ready to fill his former teammate's role.
Being the team's floor leader is something Willis has handled since high school.
"This role is a big reason why I jumped at the opportunity to play for Coach Johnson," said Willis, who joined new Gophers coach Ben Johnson at Big Ten media days on Friday. "I feel like it's a role I'll succeed in and hopefully lead this team."
At College of Charleston last season, Willis averaged 13.4 points and 3.1 assists, but he mostly played on the wing again.
"I feel like I'm going to [penetrate] more to get guys open shots," Willis said. "I'm not a traditional point guard, but nowadays you have to shoot and get your teammates involved."
In Johnson's mind, the Gophers are still a ways off from establishing a starting lineup. Willis is the only player currently who would definitely be a starter because of his Big Ten backcourt experience.
But Johnson said William & Mary transfer Luke Loewe could also fill primary ballhandling duties.
New Hampshire's Sean Sutherlin and Lafayette's E.J. Stephens are most effective as slashers from the wing, but those senior transfers will be asked to play multiple spots in the guard rotation, too.
"Now it's trying to figure out what are the combinations," Johnson said. "Point guard, that word gets thrown around a lot. For us, we love versatility. We got guys who can handle the ball and play in pick-and-rolls.
"You can say we have multiple point guards with Payton and Luke because both those guys can be a lead guard. But the big thing about Payton if nothing else is he's played in the Big Ten."
Minnesotans at media day
Indiana's Race Thompson and Wisconsin's Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl were representing their respective programs at Big Ten media day.
Davison, a fifth-year senior guard from Maple Grove, had been to the event in years past.
A sophomore from Lakeville, Wahl has embraced more of a leadership role this season. The 6-9 forward could be the next Badgers frontcourt player to have a breakout season.
"I see myself playing into that role this year," Wahl said. "Along with the other [power forwards and centers] on our team like [Eastview's] Steven Crowl and [East Ridge's] Ben Carlson. A lot of those guys worked hard in the offseason."
Thompson, a 6-8 forward who considered transferring back home to play for the Gophers, returned to the Hoosiers for a fifth year.
"It seems like last year, I was just a freshman going through the ropes and redshirting," the former Armstrong standout said. "It goes fast, so you have to take advantage of every moment."