The Badgers had just finished signing five prospects in 2015, a large freshman class that saw three players contribute right away. The previous year, UW only signed one. Again armed with only one scholarship in the fall, the staff felt pushing that scholarship back a year for some upcoming talent-rich years would be beneficial.
But on a recruiting trip to see point guard D'Mitrik Trice, the staff found his teammate, small forward Aleem Ford, at IMG Academy down in Florida, and that whole thought process was thrown out the window.
“It really had to do with Aleem specifically,” said associate head coach Lamont Paris, the point man in the recruitment. “With what we thought about him and what his potential was, as he we got to know him and what kind of guy he was, if we could get a guy like that right now that would trump anything that you had been thinking about doing.”
Wisconsin made it official yesterday with the signing of Trice and Ford to complete its 2016 class. After years of signing all its prospects in the fall, Wisconsin has added four prospects the last two years (Khalil Iverson and Andy Van Vliet in 2015).
“It’s more challenging because a lot of players are signing early,” Paris said. “In the late period, there can be a lot more competition because teams have roster changes, scholarships become available and there aren’t that many kids normally at that time. We’re very fortunate that we found two kids that fit our profile and our needs.”
Gard has recruited several of Wisconsin’s point guards during his tenure, namely Bronson Koenig, Jordan Taylor, Kammron Taylor, and puts Trice’s skills and abilities in the same conversation.
“He’s a leader, was a high school quarterback and a very good one,” Gard said of Trice, who was 25-3 as a two-year starter. “The personality and the ability to get people to follow him, that persona that he exudes reminded me a lot when I watched him on film, talked to on the phone and watched him in Florida a couple weeks ago of Jordan Taylor … just (with) his personality, how he played and how he interacted."
As a senior at Huber Heights HS in Dayton, OH, Trice averaged 10.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, leading his team to the 2015 state championship. At IMG, Trice averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. Trice ended his high school career with a 3.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and finished as the school's all-time assist leader (499).
“To get somebody of that quality, especially in the time we’re at, is a very good thing," Gard said. "He’ll help us immediately in terms of what he brings to practice. We’ll see with how the minutes are dispersed next year.”
While Trice picked Wisconsin over an offer from Vanderbilt and other power-five conference interest, Ford’s offer list was littered with small mid-major schools and an offer from Rutgers. Ford averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season. The year prior, Ford earned All-Region 8-AAAAAA honors after averaging 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks as a senior at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
As they watched Ford, Wisconsin became impressed with his athleticism. They also saw a young 18-year old athlete going through a growth spurt, having grown two inches up to 6-8, and thinking his best years are ahead of him.
“He’s not the type of guy who is going to go out and try to score 40,” Paris said. “We’ve had some success with guys that may need to make some physical improvements or improvements in other areas. Sometimes that happens immediately and sometimes it takes a little bit. We never go into anything with any preconceived notions.”
Wisconsin has four scholarship available for the 2017 class and already have a commitment from La Crosse (WI) Central four-star shooting guard Kobe King. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see UW bank one of those scholarships for 2018 since the Badgers have one scholarship available for that year and the in-state class is strong.
Wrapping up team workouts on Wednesday, Wisconsin will reconvene in June for summer workouts, knowing the two scholarship players joining the program are already on the same page.
“We feel great about the fact that they know each other and like each other,” Paris said. “In preparation to come up here, they will be pushing each other, competing with each other and working with each other on the basketball court and in the weight room. In every class you’re trying to get the members of that class to bond as quickly as you can and form relationships, and obviously these guys are ahead of the game with that.”