NSD: UW Assistants Break Down '15 Class

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan made close the deal, but his talented group of assistants do most of the leg work to get the Badgers in the door. BadgerNation had Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard and assistant coaches Gary Close and Lamont Paris break down the three members of the 2015 recruiting class.

Alex Illikainen

When did you first see him and what your initial impressions when you watched him?

”We initially saw him at our advanced camp a couple years ago and liked him right away. I felt like he had a chance to be a player. We’ve been monitoring him since then, and he’s on a great team this year with a lot of competition. He’s gotten better and has a lot of the skills we like in big guys in terms of being versatile, score inside and score outside. The other thing is he really wants to be here. He really liked the guys, the whole atmosphere, and it was an easy decision for him. You like guys that want to be here, and he definitely wanted to be here.” – Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close

The Big Ten, like every other conference, loves big guys with size, and Illikainen has that being 6-9. How much will him playing at Brewster Academy with six other division 1 guys help him develop?

“That’s part of the next step for him, competing against high level talent on a day to day basis. I think that’s part of the reason why he decided to go to Brewster because he wasn’t getting that on a day to day basis in Minnesota. I think it was a good move for him and will even help more in his development. It’s easy to fall into a comfort zone in your normal high school surroundings. There are certain guys you know that you are better then and maybe you don’t try as hard in practice, even if you intentionally wouldn’t try as hard. It’s a natural thing in teenage kids. To know where you really stand, give yourself something to shoot for and compete every day is something most kids in high schools don’t get.” – UW assistant coach Lamont Paris

Where do you like Alex’s game with where it’s at right now?

“I think he’s transformed himself from just a rebounder, which is where he was his first couple years of high school, to a complete player. Now he can pick-and-pop, play as a stretch four, play with his back to the basket and play physical inside. We’ve seen him in both scenarios. With his high school team at Grand Rapids (MN) he mostly played with his back to the basket because he had to. He was the biggest guy on his team by a foot. He was in that position there, but as he got into the AAU and got against some better competition you saw some of the other things he can do. He could put the ball on the floor, he sees the floor very well and his passing jumps out.

“He’s physically gotten better and this move to Brewster is great for him from a competition standpoint. Watching him there in workouts, he’s going to have to play at a high level to compete there, which will make him better for when he gets here.” – UW associate head coach Greg Gard

Brevin Pritzl

When did you first notice Brevin and when did things start to fall into place in terms of him being a guy who can help this program?

“Where he really caught my attention was the summer going into his junior year. I saw him do a few things that if he continued to evolve and take steps in the right direction physically he would have a chance, because he shot the ball exceptionally well. If he grew a little bit, got a little stronger, added a little more diversity to his game, there was going to be a chance that he could play at this level. When he caught my eye, I knew we needed to focus in a little bit more here through the fall and into next season.

“Entering this spring, he showed it on a national stage where everybody was watching him. Our decision was already made with what we were going to do. For him to do it in that venue with a lot of people watching and a lot of people in decision mode with what they were going to do, we had seen some things that other people hadn’t seen. He became more and more consistent in the spring and exploded from there.” - Gard

You’ve been watching Brevin a long time. Each year you see him, how has he gotten better with his game and with his confidence, especially after his super AAU season?

“Great AAU season. I think he’s gotten stronger. He’s physical matured. He’s added different aspects to his game. He can score in a lot of ways; he’s not just a shooter. He can put in on the floor a little bit, he can rebound, he can post up (and) he’s got a toughness to him. He reminds us of Josh Gasser and Ben Brust, guards who have been real good in this program. A real good edition.” - Close

Is Brevin’s biggest strength is ability to make shots off the dribble or is there something else in his game you would consider a strength?

“I think his ability to make baskets is his strongest attribute, from 3-point range particularly, but he can also make baskets from other places. I think that’s the thing that catches you. He’s got pretty good size and athleticism. His ability to get a shot off and make it is probably his strongest attribute.” – Paris.

Charlie Thomas (pictured)

How did you find Charlie, and how important is it for this program to have some presence on the East Coast with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten?

“Charlie was a guy that a good friend of mine had told me about who coached him some before. That was the first time I caught any wind of Charlie, under-the-radar kind of guy. I made all these attempts to try and go see him but had some bad luck with the weather. I developed a relationship with him, and I’d seen some things that I knew what he was about physically. In the Big Ten that immediately gave him a chance. The more and more I found about him, his family and the type of people they were, I knew they were the perfect fit from that standpoint.

“I saw him play during the summer, and I saw him do some things we thought could really help us. I think a big part of Maryland and Rutgers joining the league, and Penn State being an East Coast team, the Big Ten is growing in is visibility in that area. That’s a big part of being able to recruit. It’s hard to go somewhere where they don’t see the teams play very often and sneak in there to get a kid. To get a kid like that who will eventually help, then you go back in that area and try to broaden your horizons a little bit for the right kid.” – Paris

When Charlie came on his official visit in late September, what jumped out at you?

“What jumped out at me was how big he was. I watched on tape because Lamont and Gary got a chance to see him this summer and I couldn’t. When meeting him face to face I saw how big and physical he looked. We don’t always like to compare players, but he reminded me right away of Marcus Landry. Biologically he should be a junior in terms of his age, but he’s a year ahead in terms of his grade. He’s only 16. Him mulling a year of post grad prep school was something he talked about, but once we were in a position where we were going to offer, he knew it was going to be a great situation for him.

”I think our track record with guys like that in terms of player development was really a huge selling point. With what the program has been able to do here the last dozen years was very helpful. He knew a lot about us before he got here. Those things really help. Where he’s going to be two, three, four years from now, the sky is the limit because of how big and physical he is. Pedigree bloodlines are pretty good with his dad playing at Wake Forest. It’s something we’re really excited about to get our hands on and mold as he goes through the next phase.” – Gard

I look at Charlie as a guy who is really good 15 feet in and has some raw skills that can be developed. These are the kind of players this program has made its living off of the last couple years, isn’t it?

“Terrific kid. When he came on his visit, all the people that met him said he was a guy who was going to accomplish a lot of things. Another guy who really wanted to be here. Maybe somewhat of a late bloomer but that’s OK. He’s willing to work, he’s willing to listen and he’s got some physical attributes that you can’t teach. With some work he can be a real good player.” - Close

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