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    HomePoliticsJack Wilson looks forward to physical battles vs. Gophers’ Pharrel Payne

    Jack Wilson looks forward to physical battles vs. Gophers’ Pharrel Payne


    During spring workouts, Ben Johnson’s Gophers basketball team has no other physical presence like freshman Pharrel Payne, whose 6-9, 255-pound frame is a load in the paint for anyone in the Big Ten.

    Payne, the Gophers likely starting center next season, won’t be the heaviest player on the roster when Washington State transfer and former two-sport athlete Jack Wilson arrives this summer.

    The 6-11 Wilson said he showed up at his first basketball workout last year weighing an eye-popping 345 pounds for the Cougars, who used him in 14 games as a backup center. The tallest player in college football the past two years played 25 games as a reserve offensive lineman at Washington State as well.

    Wilson said he fluctuates now between 295 and 315 pounds. That significantly outweighs Payne and just about every other Big Ten center last season not named Purdue’s 7-4 man mountain Zach Edey.

    Wilson’s looking forward to the physical battles with Payne in practice this summer.

    “He’s a beast,” said Wilson, who signed with the Gophers last month. “In high school, I played in the [Nike] EYBL and you wouldn’t see many taller guys like that. They were tall and gangly, but he’s solid man. I’m excited to be working with him for sure. He’s already a good player, but he’s only going to be getting better.”

    Not that Gophers coach P.J. Fleck would be curious, but Wilson’s football eligibility is up. He does still recall some of his pro combine-type numbers. He benched 225 pounds 30 times in a row, has a 7-1 wingspan and a 30-inch vertical jump.

    “I wanted to be a strength coach, so naturally in my free time I lifted,” said Wilson. “But then football, it got taken to another level. As an offensive lineman I ended up just putting weight on my frame. With that I got really strong, I got into a very different type of shape than I ever was in, but I developed underneath [the bulk] a lot more fast twitch and explosive muscle and ability. So coming back to basketball I just had to slowly cut a little bit of unnecessary weight from football.”

    Last season, Wilson weighed 325 pounds and played sparingly inside for the Cougars, who finished 17-17 after losing in the NIT first round. Their starting center was Mouhamed Gueye, who declared for this summer’s NBA draft.

    Wilson wanted a bigger role, but he also entered the transfer portal with the goal of pursuing a one-year master’s degree in exercise science. While developing a relationship with Gophers assistant Marcus Jenkins in the recruiting process, he eventually saw the U would be a great fit.

    “It’s undeniable this is a great opportunity,” Wilson said. “They have a great fanbase and community. Obviously, it’s extremely high-level basketball and it fits my style of play the way I am today. It might not have worked when I was 235 pounds, but being 300 pounds I can have an impact in the Big Ten against other teams who have big more traditional centers.”

    The Montara, Calif., native was a four-star recruit at Junipero Serra when he signed with Oregon State out of high school in 2018. He played seven games for the Beavers before transferring to Idaho State during the 2018-19 season. He then averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds for the Vandals playing 18 games in 2019-20.

    Three years ago, Wilson transferred to Washington State to work for the Cougars as a strength coach intern, but he was convinced by a staff member to join the football team. He played primarily on special teams in 2021 and 2022 before transitioning back to basketball. He still has a COVID year of eligibility remaining but only for hoops since he was playing the sport when the virus hit.

    “It’s just kind of been a wild journey,” Wilson said. “I’m all for resiliency and toughness. When it was time for me to be done with basketball [previously], I relied in faith in God to guide me with what I had to do next. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but to come back to basketball has been a lot of fun.”

    An earlier roster breakdown this spring revealed the U’s frontcourt badly needed to add depth at center behind Payne. Scoring and rebounding leader Dawson Garcia is more natural playing at power forward. The rest of the returning frontcourt players (Kadyn Betts, Joshua Ola-Joseph, Parker Fox, and Isaiah Ihnen) are forwards as well.

    — The Gophers are expected to host Howard transfer guard Elijah Hawkins on an official visit Friday through the weekend. Hawkins, who played in the NCAA tournament this year, led the Bison in points, assists and steals last season.



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