MADISON – Coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, including playing in the national championship game a season ago, many assumed Wisconsin – a program known for turning under-valued prospects into All-Americans – would start to reap the benefits of four- and five-star players picking up the phone to inquire about the Badgers.
In the past two years, it hasn’t been the case.
Not only are no elite national high school recruit expected to sign with Wisconsin, the Badgers aren’t expected to sign anybody during the one week early signing period, which begins tomorrow. Since Scout began ranking recruiting classes in 2002, UW has signed at least one player every year.
While Wisconsin has had plenty of interest from younger in-state high school basketball prospects, a number of them coming to campus for unofficial visits during the football season, the fact remains is that the Badgers have yet to fill their lone scholarship for the 2016 recruiting cycle.
And it’s not like the Badgers staff hasn’t been trying either.
Wisconsin had offered three four-star point guards and a three-star combo guard but have seen the quartet verbally commit elsewhere. With talent in the ’16 class being down for the most part in the Midwest, the Badgers had to recruit all the way in the Pacific Northwest. Those two prospects, Payton Pritchard and JaQuori McLaughlin, choose to sign with Oregon and Oregon State, respectively.
The UW staff never laments over the prospects they miss on – all part of Bo Ryan’s “Next” philosophy – so the fact that UW keeps swinging and missing isn’t a cause for concern.
“We would like to have filled the spot, it’s a spot that we need, but we have a lot of good young players in the program,” said assistant coach Gary Close. “It’s not going to be the end of the world if we don’t fill that.”
Asked about the supposed recruiting uptick from making the national semifinals in consecutive years, and receiving all the press that comes with it, Close was honest that – Final Four or not – the Badgers weren’t going to change their approach or methods, even though they certainly would have welcomed a five-star player had one shown interest.
“We are who we are and we attract the type of people we attract,” said Close. “I think the only thing is does is it validates what we’re doing. If there’s any questions or any doubts, there’s proof in the pudding.”
Close also downplayed the notion that the uncertainty with Ryan is a recruiting negative. Announcing over the summer his intention to retire after the 2015-16 season, Ryan has distanced himself from that statement over the last several months, leaving it open as when he’ll eventually hand over the reins to the program.
That kind of staff uncertainty can sway recruits on the fence, but Wisconsin has long subscribed to the theory that honesty is the best policy.
“It comes up but you handle it as it comes and you’re open and honest with the people who are asking the questions,” said Close. “There’s really nothing to hide. People are attracted to this place other than just the coaching staff. That’s an important part, but it’s a great academic school, great place to live and playing in a top conference. There are things we can continue to hit and would anyway regardless of the coaching situation.
“It comes down to their decision and how they want to approach it. With only one scholarship in ’16, it hasn’t been as significant as it would have been had we had four or five (open scholarships). That would be a cause for concern.”
There’s no question the Badgers would like to find a talented prospect – likely a guard – to take that scholarship but options at this point are minimal. In fact, it’s believed Wisconsin does not have a committable offer out to any high school senior.
Instead of trying to find someone in the next week, Wisconsin will likely wait until the spring signing period and monitor prospects throughout the high school season to see if anyone emerges. A year ago the Badgers signed Khalil Iverson after he averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists his senior year and discovered Andy Van Vliet in Belgium.
Wisconsin also isn’t opposed to banking the scholarship for the 2017 recruiting cycle, a year where UW already has four scholarships. La Crosse Central four-star shooting guard Kobe King claimed one of those in September.
“We’re not going to take somebody just to take somebody,” said Close. “We’re going to take somebody that’s going to help based on what our needs are.”
Over the last several weeks, Close admits the Badgers’ needs have changed. After watching and working with the young players in program, especially the true freshmen, the Badgers are far from a desperate situation in terms of reloading on talent.
“We’ve got some good young players in the program who can play multiple positions,” said Close. “If we didn’t sign somebody and we had three or four openings, then it would be concerning. With one, I am not that concerned. Hopefully something in the spring something will pop. If not we’ll move on to ’17.”