Gophers basketball sees old faces leave, new faces come in and familiar faces return

There have been a number of departures since Richard Pitino was let go, but new Gophers coach Ben Johnson has started to fill out his roster for next season.

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Photo by Kelly Hagenson / Courtesy of Gophers Athletics

Men’s head basketball coach Ben Johnson.

AJ Condon

Seven Gophers men’s basketball team players have entered the transfer portal since the team parted ways with former coach Richard Pitino in March.

Though Pitino’s firing and the ensuing turnover didn’t come as any surprise, it left new head coach Ben Johnson with a sparse roster that needed some putting together. Johnson has already started to fill many of those voids.

Who left and where are they now?

Starting with Minnesota’s top dog from last season, redshirt junior Marcus Carr entered the portal in the middle of March. The standout guard had a career year, averaging 19.4 points per game last season.

Carr has entered his name into the NBA draft for the second year in a row, but he’s listed as the No. 1 player in the transfer portal, according to CBS.

Another key component to the team’s success last season — before the downfall — was junior Liam Robbins. Robbins was in his first season with the Gophers after transferring from Drake to join his uncle, associate head coach Ed Conroy, and cousin, senior Hunt Conroy.

Robbins averaged 11.7 points per game along with 6.6 boards and 2.7 blocks, which led the Big Ten. Following the departure of Pitino, Robbins also entered the transfer portal. Robbins quickly found a new home with Vanderbilt, where Ed Conroy signed on as an assistant coach.

Freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. was an upcoming star for Minnesota and was the second Gopher to depart from the team following Pitino’s dismissal. The 6-foot-2 guard saw an uptick in playing time following injuries to other members of the team and made the most of it. He finished the season scoring in double-digit figures in eight of the final nine games.

Mashburn was brought to the University by Pitino, and it came as no surprise he followed him for next season. Pitino and Mashburn will be reunited next season at the University of New Mexico.

Sophomore Tre’ Williams decided he wanted a new home for next season after an up-and-down career with Minnesota. The 6-foot-5 guard never really found his footing with the Gophers but definitely helped them down the stretch last season.

Similarly to Mashburn, Williams saw an increase in playing time following injuries, and he eclipsed double-digits in his final four games for the Maroon and Gold, including a career-high 17 against Penn State. Saturday, Williams commited to play for Oregon State next season.

The final headliner to depart from the team was junior Gabe Kalscheur, who ended his time with Minnesota on the bench with a hand injury. It wasn’t an April fools joke when Kalscheur entered the portal on April 1.

Kalscheur had been struggling the last two years after a stellar freshman season. Though he was the team’s best defender, as Pitino would always allude to, he couldn’t seem to find his stroke on the offensive end. He didn’t spend much time in the portal, and he will travel just south of Minnesota to join Iowa State.

Freshman Martice Mitchell and sophomore Sam Freeman are the two latest transfers. The two big men didn’t get much playing time this past season and decided to test the waters to see what other options they have. Freeman announced his commitment to University of the Pacific last week, while Mitchell committed to Northern Illinois for the 2021 season.

New faces for the Maroon and Gold

There were a lot of open spots that needed to be filled ahead of the 2021-22 season for Minnesota. Upon being hired, Johnson quickly began his work to bring in new talent.

Johnson has brought in five new transfers along with two assistant coaches to help transition these players into the Big Ten.

Former DeLaSalle High School graduate Jamison Battle marked Johnson’s first hit on the transfer portal. Battle averaged 17.3 points per game while shooting 47.5% from the field. Not long after, Wisconsin native Luke Loewe came to Minnesota along with a reliable shooter in E.J. Stephens. Both players transferred to Minnesota on April 2 and were the first two guards Johnson landed.

Mahtomedi High School alum Parker Fox marked Johnson’s second Minnesota-native hit in the transfer portal after three seasons at Northern State University. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 22.3 points for 2020-21 while shooting 62% from the field.

Guard Payton Willis will have his homecoming in 2021 after transferring away from Minnesota following the 2019-20 season. Willis averaged a career-best 13.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 40% from deep for the Charleston Cougars.

Alongside the five new players, Johnson brought in two reliable assistant coaches. Johnson has reunited with familiar faces in Dave Thorson, who Johnson goes way back with, dating back to his high school days at DeLaSalle, and Jason Kemp.

There is sure to be more pieces moving around in the coming months before the Gophers get next season kicked off. But as of now, Johnson has gotten off to a great start in his Gophers tenure.