Payton Willis commits to Minnesota… again?

April 16, 2021: College of Charleston guard Payton Willis committed to the Gophers Friday, after a one-year stint with the team in 2019-20.

–> By: Tony Liebert


The Gophers are continuing to ride the roller coaster that is the college basketball offseason in 2021. Former College of Charleston guard Payton Willis is now the sixth transfer that new head coach Ben Johnson has added. Willis, a 6-foot-4 guard has had a roller coaster of a college basketball career in his own right, having played for three schools already, one being the Gophers in 2019-20. He seemed to enjoy his time in the Twin Cities, opting to return for his final season of college basketball.

Who is Payton Willis:

Payton Willis graduated from Fayetteville High School in 2016. The 6-foot-4-inch guard left as the No. 2 player in the state of Arkansas and the 22nd-best point guard in the country by He finished his high school career as a two-time all-conference and two-time all-state selection, averaging 15.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game as a junior. He would decide to commit to Vanderbilt over an offer from the Gophers and other schools such as Dayton, Belmont and Western Kentucky.

In his freshman season with the Commodores, Willis appeared in all 35 games, starting 12. He would average 5.2 points, 1.9 assists, and 1.8 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game. He then would have a very similar role in his sophomore season, averaging 5.1 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 18.5 minutes.

Willis would then decide to transfer to Minnesota. He would sit for the entire 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. In 2019-20 he would finish fourth on the team in scoring at 8.9 per contest. He played in 27 games, starting all but two en-route to a productive campaign for the Maroon & Gold.

A regular in the transfer portal, Willis would go back for more, deciding to head to the College of Charleston for the 2020-21 season. He would have his most productive collegiate season competing in the CAA. He averaged 13.4 PPG, 3.1 APG and 3.2 RPG, shooting 40% from three-point range.

Initial reaction:

The day started, with the Gophers having four open scholarships. 2021 recruit Kenny Pohto decided to de-commit from the program bringing the total to five. At some point, the Gophers would obviously like to get closer to their full roster. Most fans of Minnesota hoops are familiar with Willis and his game. He is a productive college basketball player. You’re not going to always get the five-star recruit with 100+ offers in the transfer portal. Willis will come in and contribute right away for the Gophers. This move gives them depth and experience at the guard position. My only concern would be that there are now four players with very similar games on the roster. Both Gach, E.J. Stephens, Luke Loewe and Willis all have a combo-guard game, raising the question of who will exactly run the point?

What is next?:

Ben Johnson’s first offseason as head coach continues to be busy and action-packed. His first roster continues to take shape, as four open scholarships remain as the roster stands now.

PG: Payton Willis/E.J. Stephens
SG: Both Gach/Luke Loewe
SF: Jamison Battle/Sean Sutherlin
PF: Parker Fox/Isaiah Ihnen
C: Treyton Thompson

Much like last night Ben Johnson’s and the Gophers’ biggest need is now frontcourt depth, as Kenny Pohto is officially gone leaving their only real post player as an 18-year-old freshman Treyton Thompson. North Dakota forward Filip Rebraca will likely be Johnson’s main target. Another guard name to watch out for will be Western Carolina graduate-senior Mason Faulkner who can fit the role of a more traditional point guard. Cashius McNeilly is also a name to keep an eye on, as he is the nephew of former Texas A&M assistant Jamie McNeilly who is expected to join Gophers’ staff in the same role. We clearly have learned how quickly Johnson works, and his first offseason is far from over.

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