Tom Crean, it turns out, helped paint a picture in Travis Beckum's mind that had been forming for a few months. The versatile Oak Creek star and consensus Wisconsin state player of the year verbally committed to Wisconsin Friday and made his intentions public in a press conference Monday afternoon.
At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Beckum will first don a Badger uniform as an outside linebacker, but he could play receiver, cornerback or safety, possibly playing on each side of the ball simultaneously before his career is complete. It is that versatility, and his freakish athletic ability, that had college coaches beating down his door.
"Barry Alvarez told me to my face that he's the No. 1 kid that they have on their board, regardless of position, regardless of state, he's the No. 1 guy in the whole country," Oak Creek coach Joe Koch said.
The Badgers, however, were far from Beckum's No. 1 in the early going. He felt slighted that his friend and teammate, highly recruited defensive end Raymond Henderson, was not offered a scholarship to Wisconsin.
"I think they were dead last," Koch said. "He was close to Raymond Henderson, Raymond wasn't offered by them. I think there was a little bit of hurt."
"We liked the same schools and we thought about going to the same school but he's on another page," Beckum said. "He doesn't like Wisconsin but if it comes down to it we're always going to be there. It doesn't matter where he goes, we're still going to be in contact."
Wisconsin climbed Beckum's recruiting ladder bit by bit. He was impressed with their style of defense and he enjoyed the unofficial trips he made to Madison. He got along well with his Badger recruiting coach, co-linebackers coach Brian Murphy. Above all else, he wanted to stay close to home and be near his mother, Sandy Dial, who sat to Beckum's left during Monday's press conference and received a kiss on the cheek when it concluded.
"I always had Wisconsin in my head no matter who I liked, no matter what happened, I always liked Wisconsin," Beckum said. "That's pretty much the main reason is my mother and probably how good of a job that Coach Murphy did recruiting me."
Dial said she wanted to leave the decision up to her son but was obviously happy he was staying close to their Milwaukee home. She even joked that she might still end up doing his laundry.
"I just wanted to make sure he was very happy with staying in Wisconsin. Of course, mom wanted him here," Dial said.
An important contributing factor, though, was Beckum's standing as Wisconsin's No. 1 recruit and a recent conversation with Crean.
"Maybe Travis won't admit it but I thought that the key turning point….was we were in the playoffs and…We had Coach Tom Crean from Marquette come down and talk to our team," Koch said. "He ran into Travis and said, ‘Hey, I've gotten to know Coach Alvarez really well….Travis, do you know that you are their No. 1 guy they want, in the country? Take it from me, a Division I coach, it means a lot more when you're the top guy. When you come in there, they're going to take care of you.'
"They've got to. They basically banked their reputation that you're the guy. He goes, ‘It means a lot…Consider that.'"
"He wasn't trying to work him," Koch said. "He was just letting him know from his perspective how much that means and taking that into consideration. And Travis, from there on out everything, all of a sudden everything started to turn quickly."
Prior to this year, Beckum rarely watched college football. This season, though, he had some scouting to do.
"I wanted to see how effective they were and how their linebackers played and just how good the teams were, so I can make my decision a little bit easier," Beckum said.
He did not grow up a Badger fan.
"I grew up a Miami fan but Wisconsin was always there," Beckum said.
Beckum did a little bit of everything at Oak Creek, playing linebacker, defensive end, cornerback, safety, tight end, receiver and punter. He could play multiple positions at Wisconsin as well. He said the Badgers want to try him at outside linebacker initially but will also give him a look as a slot receiver or H-back offensively. He could move back to corner or safety as well.
Beckum said it would be fun to play both ways.
"The Badger coaches said they will definitely give him a look," Koch said. "He's that talented. He's got incredible hands, he' s fearless and he's got confidence that he believes he's the best out there. But he kind of backs it up. Realistically, they are going to have him on one side because that's a lot to learn.
"I would say by his junior or senior year I think [playing two ways] would be realistic."
Beckum, who played football at 225 pounds, has lost 10 pounds while playing forward on the Knights' basketball team. He said he runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
"He's in basketball right now," Koch said. "I mean he takes off his shirt and he is cut. He is 215 and he will get on that bench and bench over 300 pounds like it is nothing. He is a freak."
Ready to exhale
Beckum is not your typical four- or five-star recruit. A naturally soft spoken individual, he shuns the limelight, a difficult thing to do when you are widely considered one of the nation's top prospects and, as such, your phone is ringing off the hook.
"He's very stressed out by it," Dial said. "He doesn't like too much attention. It drives him crazy. But he handled it well."
Dial was pleased her son finally had the decision out of the way.
"I'm very, very happy that it's over with," she said. "You could just see the weight lifted off his shoulder. I had my son back."
The attention did not change Beckum's demeanor on the football field, however.
"He is the only major Division I recruit I've ever had that did not change from their junior to senior year with all the hype," Koch said.
As such a high profile recruit staying in state Beckum will certainly have a spotlight thrust on him in Madison.
"I want to stay close to home anyways," Beckum said. "It helps but it's not where I'm going to be all upset about it or anything."
"Basically I've seen what I want and I don't think there's a need to take any more official visits. Wisconsin will be my last one," Beckum said.
Beckum will be united with two former Oak Creek stars when he arrives at Wisconsin: tailback Brian Calhoun, a transfer from Colorado, and receiver David Mortensen, who was an option quarterback in high school.
Former Wisconsin defensive end Jake Sprague was also an Oak Creek product.
Beckum and Henderson are the latest of a line of more than 30 Division I recruits Koch has produced in 13 years at Oak Creek. Koch said Henderson's decision would come down to LSU, Tennessee, Iowa, UCLA and Nebraska. Henderson plans to announce his decision at the Army All-American Bowl Jan. 15. Beckum said he will re-announce his Wisconsin commitment at that event.