Gophers finally get their (point) man

New Jersey high schooler Kevin Payton said coaches want him to be a point guard.

Kent Erdahl

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innesota’s men’s basketball team might have waited until its last opportunity, but it finally appears to have what it has been searching for.

The one position coach Dan Monson pointed to as a priority during recruiting was point guard, and as the Gophers likely filled their last available scholarship over the weekend, they finally got their man.

Kevin Payton, a 6-foot-5-inch guard from Camden, N.J., verbally committed to Minnesota over the weekend, making him the fourth recruit to have committed for next season.

Payton, who lived in Austria before attending Camden High School last year, joins Damian Johnson, a forward from Thibodaux, La., Brandon Smith, a wing at Minneapolis Henry and James Davis, a junior college transfer who once played for Minneapolis North, in next year’s class.

Payton said he came to his decision over schools such as Pittsburgh, Penn State, LaSalle and Binghamton after visiting the University of Minnesota campus two weeks ago.

“I got to know the coaches better when I visited, and they’re just awesome people,” Payton said. “I also got a chance to play with the team. They’re great people and exceptional players.”

Payton said his decision also came after the coaches told him the position he could play.

“Coach Monson told me he wanted to use me as a versatile point. That’s a challenge I wanted to step up to,” Payton said. “I’m very comfortable with playing against people smaller than me. I worked on playing the point all summer with (Cleveland Cavaliers guard) Dajuan Wagner.”

As important as the position was to Payton’s decision, it might have been even more important for a Gophers team that looked to be thin at the point next season.

Besides preparing him for playing after high school, Payton said, his summer workouts were also focused on helping Camden compete for a state title.

Last season, he was forced to sit out because of a mix-up in his playing status as a result of his move from Austria.

“I’m so ready it’s unbelievable,” Payton said. “I worked my butt off this summer for this.”

After the season, Payton will be able to focus all of his attention on playing for the Gophers – something, he said, he is already excited about.

“I’m really looking forward to going there and helping the team get to the tournament and to the Final Four,” he said.

The Gophers will likely have just four scholarships, or perhaps one less, to give next season in order to stay under the NCAA limit of 13.

Minnesota does not yet know if Adam Boone, who recently underwent surgery for a torn bicep, will be granted a sixth year of eligibility.