Pharrel Payne, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior center/power forward from Park of Cottage Grove, committed to Minnesota in August and signed with the Gophers in the early signing period. Payne was the second commitment from the Class of 2022 for new Gopher head coach Ben Johnson.
Payne, who is considered one of the top big men in Minnesota in the Class of 2022, had 36 points, ten rebounds and six blocked shots in the Wolfpack’s 67-46 win over Irondale Wednesday.
Payne averaged 14.8 points per game as a junior. He scored in double figures in 16 of 20 games, including a season-high 26 points versus Stillwater in the season opener.
Payne helped lead the Wolfpack to an 11-10 mark, losing to Rosemount 66-41 in the Class AAAA Section 3 title game.
GopherHole caught up with Payne Wednesday to learn the more about his senior season and future at Minnesota.
GopherHole: You had a career-high 36 points tonight. How pleased were you with how well you played today?
Pharrel Payne: I’m obviously happy with it. We played some good defense. We played some good team basketball. I was able to get off very early. I was very happy with the game.
GopherHole: You had six blocks, too. What do you take more pride in, offense or defense?
Pharrel Payne: Defense, definitely. We are a big defensive team. Our goal is to come out here and hold them under 50 and we did it.
GopherHole: I know that you are a competitive kid. How hard was it not to be able to be out on the court at the beginning of the season?
Pharrel Payne: It was very hard. It sucked, but I knew my time was coming. I just had to wait and now I’m back.
GopherHole: What was the exact injury with the hip?
Pharrel Payne: It was a hip injury from lifting.
GopherHole: Are you 100%?
Pharrel Payne: Yes.
GopherHole: Being a senior, that probably made it even tougher because this is your last year playing high school basketball. What did you try to do, while watching the team to support them on the bench?
Pharrel Payne: I was just trying to be their number one supporter during games. Being loud on the bench. Talking. Helping them out on the court.
GopherHole: You signed with the Gophers in the fall. How much of a weight is that off your shoulders, knowing that you have your college choice out of the way?
Pharrel Payne: It took all the weight off my shoulders. Knowing that I made a good decision makes it much easier to go into my high school season.
GopherHole: I’ve been very impressed with your offensive game. You showed some nice moves inside. Kept the ball up high. How much do you think that your offensive games has changed since last year at this time?
Pharrel Payne: A ton. I’m more disciplined this year in the post. Keeping the ball up high, like you said and finishing.
GopherHole: What things have you really been working on to continue to improve yourself as a player and have a big senior season?
Pharrel Payne: One major thing is post moves. At least 15 minutes of post moves, before and after practice.
GopherHole: What are the expectations for Park? I know that they played well without you, but they are a different team with you in the lineup. What are the expectations for you guys this year?
Pharrel Payne: Expectations is to make it to the state championship.
GopherHole: How about the Gophers? Obviously, they have surprised a lot of people with how well they have played so far this year. What has your impression of the team been so far?
Pharrel Payne: I’ve been to three games. I’ve watched them practice. I knew that they were a good team coming into the season. My expectation is that they are definitely going to make it far.
GopherHole: There are a lot of fans who say that they have done better than what they thought. Is that the way that you have looked at it, that you thought that they might be good, but have played even better?
Pharrel Payne: I knew that they were going to be this good. For sure.
GopherHole: What is the expectation for you guys next year. You have three Minnesota kids coming in with you, Josh (Ola-Joseph) and Braeden (Carrington). Have you talked to those two about the expectations for next year?
Pharrel Payne: The expectation is for us to get in and go.
GopherHole: What is it going to mean to you when you walk on the court your first college game as a freshman?
Pharrel Payne: It’s going to mean everything to me. That was my dream as a kid, going to the “U” and playing in front of that big crowd on that court.