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Minnesota Basketball Player Previews: Payton Willis

The guard’s wild college basketball journey looks to end on a high note via a circuitous route

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

With the Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball season kicking off on November 9th, we will be previewing all members of the roster. Willis returns to the Minnesota roster thanks in part to the unusual circumstances of COVID as well as the change in coaching staff.






Height: 6’ 4”

Weight: 200 lbs


On a journey that would even make Odysseus blush, Willis has played two season in SEC at Vanderbilt, two seasons in the Big Ten at Minnesota, and one season in the Big South at the College of Charleston. Thanks to the extra availability provided by the NCAA due to the COVID-impacted season, Willis returns to one of his former stops in the final year of his collegiate career.

Brief Breakdown

Gopher fans may recall that Willis was a part of the 2019-2020 Minnesota team that finished at 15-16 overall and 8-12 in Big Ten play. Payton started 25 games and played in 28 of 31 total games. The guard out of Fayetteville was a decent complementary piece and capable shooter, averaging 8.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. Notably, Willis shot 35.6% from three-point land on 5.7 attempts per game. His 75.0% free throw rate also indicated he was a college-level shooter when not asked to initiate an offense.

Projected Role

Due to a dearth of options, Willis, traditionally a shooting guard, will likely start for the Golden Gophers at point guard. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him average 32+ minutes, five three-point attempts and 10 total field goal attempts per game. After averaging 40.0% from three during his one year at College of Charleston, his track record suggests he will be a decent high-volume shooter from distance. It will be interesting to track him as the likely initiator of the Gophers’ offense. Additionally, despite knowing the roster turnover and the situation he was transferring into, Willis appeared to be willing to accept the challenge. Hopefully he can be a vocal leader on the court which would mesh well with his assumed position and role.