MADISON - The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team prefers to get most of its recruiting done by the November early signing period but are always willing to make exceptions on that rare occasion that a prospect either slips through the cracks or improves his game by leaps and bounds.
Delaware (OH) Hayes forward Khalil Iverson is one of those players.
Becoming the first spring basketball signee by Wisconsin since Ryan Evans in 2008, Iverson officially became the fourth member of the Badgers’ 2015 recruiting class after signing his letter of intent on the first day of the spring signing period Wednesday.
“We’ve always tried to take a diligent approach when evaluating potential student-athletes to make sure we find the right fit for our program and university,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said in a statement. “Khalil’s willingness to keep improving and working towards his goals were very revealing about him and his character. He stayed the course and has developed into a terrific young man who I’m positive will represent the University of Wisconsin in all the right ways in the future.”
Having little scholarship interest and few options in November, Iverson decided to gamble that the hard work he had put into his game over the summer would pay off in his senior season, which in turn would likely yield some high-major scholarship offers.
Even after his 43-year-old father died of a heart attack Nov.9, Iverson averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, 2.8 blocks and two assists per game his senior season. He registered three triple-doubles throughout the season, including one in his first game after committing to UW February 12, and earned first-team All-Ohio selection. Iverson also set school records with games started (88), games played (93) and rebounds (897), not to mention second all-time for points scored (1,222) and fourth all-time in assists (416).“One look at Khalil and you see all the physical attributes of a phenomenal athlete that can impact the game in so many ways," said Ryan. "But, perhaps the most intriguing and overlooked qualities of Khalil’s game are his unselfishness and passing ability. He’s an exceptional talent that could dominate games at any point but he was always most concerned about involving his teammates, playing unselfishly and winning. Those are qualities that have been cornerstones of our program’s success.”
Wisconsin already knew of Iverson from him attending the Badgers Elite Camp. It was there that associate head coach Greg Gard told Iverson that if he improved his perimeter shooting, ball handling and got a little stronger, he could be in line for a scholarship.
When Gard came down for a practice in early February, Iverson showed him exactly what he requested.
"The steps he’s taken, he’s just become more of a complete player,” said Gard via phone. “A year ago, he was all athlete and less basketball player. He started to fine tune some of those skills and started understanding the game. I pretty much had my mind made up before I went in (to visit him) with what we were going to do. I just wanted to see and verify it in person and get a chance to talk to him a little bit face to face. He definitely didn’t disappoint when I went in there.”
“I had to work on a few things and just get myself better,” Iverson previously told Scout.com of his initial conversation with the UW coaches. “After that, that’s exactly what I did. At the next level, you have to have a tighter handle (on the ball) because the defenders get better and everybody else gets faster. Every day in the gym I work on those things.
“I knew I had been working pretty hard, and I was just waiting for that moment. I’ve been wanting them to come down so they could see that I’ve been actually working on my game and getting a lot better. After (Coach Gard) came, I just went out, practice my hardest and things just went well after that.”
Iverson gives a lot of credit to his older brother, a former high school basketball player who chose to earn three degrees from Bowling Green instead of playing in college, and his coaches for sending out game film and getting the word out. He also had a scholarship offer from Tennessee and was getting interest from Indiana.
UW will be hopeful that Iverson and some of the other incoming freshman can contribute early. Wisconsin lost four starters and its top reserve off its conference-opening roster and will need to replace 65.7 percent scoring, 60.1 percent rebounding, 59.5 percent assists, 70.1 percent blocks and 63.8 percent steals off last year’s national runner-up.
"I think my ability to put the ball on the floor, attack the rim really hard and finishing through contact (impressed them)," said Iverson. "I'm also very physical. I can get around the rim and finish. I rebound the ball pretty well, and I'm a pretty good passer. Just being able to play on the perimeter and slash to the hoop and get other people open (is a strength)."Added Gard: “I'm think he's just scratching the surface of how good he can be. He could have been so dominant in high school, but he's so unselfish and so concerned about his teammates that he made sure he was including them. He could have scored a lot more than what he did ... He's only beginning to write his story. Just a great kid, phenomenal talent, phenomenal athlete that keeps getting better and better. He's hungry. He was told he wasn't good enough a long time ago. He always comes with that chip on his shoulder that he's going to show you. He's grown by leaps and bounds.” Wisconsin is expected to have two scholarships available for the 2016 class