Of the three Minnesota natives who signed with Ben Johnson and the Gophers men's basketball team in November, Joshua Ola-Joseph was the least visible last season.
Ola-Joseph transferred last year from Osseo to Prolific Prep (Calif.) and eventually AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Ariz.
Pharrel Payne and Braeden Carrington had big senior seasons locally for Park of Cottage Grove and Park Center, respectively. Meanwhile, Ola-Joseph found it harder to get consistent playing time but grew tougher at one of the nation's top prep schools.
"I definitely learned a lot of lessons," the springy 6-7, 215-pound senior said. "I felt like I could've competed at a high level, but I wasn't always able to show it. … it taught me how to have tougher skin."
An all-state caliber senior year was possible if he finished his high school career in Minnesota. Ola-Joseph has no regrets about leaving — still improving his game in Arizona.
"I definitely feel like my jump shot got way better," he said. "I have a tighter handle. So I can play multiple positions. I could be a fit in multiple lineups. I can play the 2-4 depending on the lineup."
AZ Compass Prep finished 25-5 and fell to Montverde Academy at the Geico High School Nationals in late March. Ola-Joseph, who had a season-high 15 points in late December, played in 10 games for the Dragons.
Johnson talked to Ola-Joseph about his challenging season away from home. They both have high expectations for the freshmen when the Gophers start practice next month.
"Ben is a real cool guy," Ola-Joseph said. "I talked to him about my situation. He was very straight forward. I told him I'm ready to come in and show what I'm capable of and give him all I've got. Produce at a high level as a freshman."
Carrington, a combo guard, and Payne, a 6-9 post, are likely to have more defined roles as freshmen. Ola-Joseph and California native Jaden Henley, also 6-7, could end up playing and defending several positions with their size, athleticism, and versatility.
"We have a really talented class," Ola-Joseph said about the U's 2022 high school recruits. "As the summer goes and we put on weight and get stronger and stronger, it's going to be even more of a dangerous combo."
There probably won't be a consistent 15-20 minutes a game for all of the freshmen, especially with the roster mostly upperclassmen. But one thing Ola-Joseph learned at prep school is being ready to contribute when he's called upon.
"I'll still find a way to fight through it and play with certain guys and with different lineups," Ola-Joseph said. "Figure out my role. Just have tougher skin and be more flexible."