Inside the Wisconsin Playground Warriors

Spearheading the best AAU program in the state of Wisconsin, Ritchie Davis, Executive Director and Recruiting Coordinator for the Wisconsin Playground Warriors has coached UW athletes Brian Butch, Marcus Landry, Trevon Hughes, J.P. Gavinski, Tim Jarmusz and Keaton Nankivil. Mr. Davis opens up his doors to Badger Nation about the inner workings of his program in this two part series.

MADISON - Under the guidance of executive director Ritchie Davis, The Wisconsin Playground Warriors, Ltd. have become one of the premier boys AAU basketball programs in the Midwest. The Playground Warriors compete in tournaments throughout the country and are currently the only REEBOK sponsored AAU program in Wisconsin. The Playground Warriors boast an impressive alumni list that includes Travis Diener, Carl Landry, Brian Butch, Marcus Landry, Jerry Smith, Cole Aldrich, Jamil Wilson and current Badgers Trevon Hughes, J.P. Gavinski, Tim Jarmusz and Keaton Nankivil.

The future continues to look bright for the Playground Warriors as they currently have a number of Division 1 players in the program, including current 2010 center and Badger verbal commit Evan Anderson. Davis shed light on the inner workings of his AAU program and discussed a number of his top players in an email interview with Badger Nation.

The first part of the interview details the ins and outs of The Wisconsin Playground Warrior program, while the second part will emphasis individual players within the Warriors organization and topics concerning the Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team.

Part One

Badger Nation: What goes into the decision making process when selecting local and national AAU tournaments for your team during the summer?

Ritchie Davis: Our schedule for the most part is a national schedule. Our coaching and support staff values competing against the very best teams and players in the entire country while also playing in events that give our players the maximum amount of exposure available.

Our schedule is certainly very ambitious and it challenges us throughout the entire spring and summer to improve as a team and program. We believe that we play the toughest schedule in the state of Wisconsin. This past year we traveled to prestigious events in Knoxville (Tenn), Little Rock (Ark), Akron (OH), Lawrence (KS), Fort Wayne (Ind), Research Triangle, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Louisville (KY), Orlando and Las Vegas.

Badger Nation: How does your REEBOK sponsorship impact the tournaments you play in and the exposure that your players receive?

Ritchie Davis: Our affiliation with Reebok has been a positive relationship for over eight years now. The grassroots basketball staff at Reebok has treated us very well and with the utmost respect. We have most certainly been able to attract some talented players while offering the opportunity to play in some of the nation's most prestigious events along with the chances of playing in select camps, etc. There are many other obvious benefits to being sponsored by a prominent shoe company that go without saying.

I believe that we have represented both Reebok and the state of Wisconsin very well over the years and that is a credit to the type of kids we have involved in our program.

Badger Nation: Keeping with sponsorships, is there a player fee to play on the Warriors or does Reebok pick up the tab for player and travel expenses?

Ritchie Davis: We do have a player fee for each player that participates in our program. We also run several fundraisers over the course of the year. Both NCAA and WIAA rules prohibit any student-athlete from playing for free since it is a direct violation of his amateur status.

I also believe that it's important that our players do not develop any sense of entitlement. Those who work hard both on and off the court will be rewarded appropriately when that time is right.

Badger Nation: What type of player are you looking for to be a part of your program?

Ritchie Davis: I believe, first and foremost, there has to be a certain level of talent that people have to have to play in this program. However, you can never fall in love with talent at the expense of toughness. Toughness in an individual is not just his physical strength but also his mental toughness, his ability to play through fatigue and his willingness to want to get better. If you have great toughness, then you have solid basketball character. I think they go hand-in-hand. I would hope that these are the two greatest attributes in our players.

I love coaching players who really want to improve and get better. Kids who have a strong passion for the game as well as for our program. I think that if you have that willingness to work on your game, you will work harder in school and work harder at being a better person every day. I feel very confident at this point in time with the way things are going here with the young men involved in our program.

We believe in looking for quality in each potential recruit to the Playground Warriors' program. Our philosophy is built around three important principles; we recruit only good kids with moral fiber, we believe that each recruit must be a hard worker and we try to recruit players from the entire state of Wisconsin as well as Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota if there is a mutual interest.

There are traits and skills that I believe are important to recruiting, but they should be constant within every recruiting philosophy. However, I truly do believe that these three principles make the difference between an average grassroots basketball program and a championship-caliber program.

Badger Nation: How does a player get selected to be on the Warriors … tryout? Handpicked?

Ritchie Davis: We do run a series of competitive tryouts for our elementary school (8U/Second Grade – 11U/Fifth Grade) and middle school (12U/Sixth Grade – 14U/Eighth Grade) teams each year. We always end up selecting some players from each of those tryouts to participate in our program the upcoming spring and summer. We also will recruit some at these levels, as well.

At the high school (15U/Ninth Grade – 17U/11th Grade) levels, we do not run tryouts. We recruit particular players to our program. However, I believe it's important to note that we choose not to mass recruit players. I want kids to feel special and to truly understand why it is that I believe they would be a good fit for our team and for our basketball family.

I have also developed relationships with a significant number of high school coaches in Wisconsin over the years. I would consider many of them friends and, as a result, they will contact me when they believe that they have a player within their respective programs that would also benefit from participating in our program.

Our coaching staff does a great job at maintaining these relationships and I can only hope that we continue to develop many more in the years to come.

Badger Nation: How many college coaches do you deal with on a weekly basis?

Ritchie Davis: The number of college coaches that I speak with on weekly basis, whether by phone or email, literally depends on where we are at within the calendar year.

In April and May, I speak with coaches on current players they are interested in, seniors who may still be unsigned and could help a specific program, transfers which usually includes former players of mine who may be looking to make a move and play elsewhere.

In June, coaches want to know who played well for us all spring and where we will be at in July.

In July, the grassroots basketball season reaches its peak. When we are NOT at an event, my phones are ringing continuously about our current players. Our rosters typically contain young men who will be moving on to play at the NCAA Division I and II levels respectively and therefore, coaches put a great deal of energy into making important decisions as to whom they are willing to offer an athletic scholarship too, etc.

August is a chance for college coaches to catch up on what they were able to take in during the July Live period. We also spend a great deal of time communicating about "official" visits for our seniors as well as discussing attendance at various "elite" camps. We always have several players that will participate in some elite camps and, of course, we always have seniors that will be taking official visits to help them gain the information necessary to make an informed decision about which institution of higher learning they would like to also play college basketball at.

My communication in September and early October revolves greatly around the high school Open Gyms that our players are participating in. This becomes very tiring because we most certainly need to work with the high school coaches as well on this. Let me be honest, our player's number one priority is and always will be their respective high school teams. Coaches drive and fly in from all over the place to see players work out as well as to be seen by these players.

The college season begins in late October. So from late October through the middle of March, most of my discussions with college coaches are about my player's progress during the high school season, other players from Wisconsin and about getting specific players to attend games at their schools during the season.

I attend a basketball game on average, six nights a week. I most certainly see more high school games than college games but I do see quite a bit of college games as well. I make it a point to see every one of my former players play in college and that is not very easy when you have well over 30 playing. Add in our former players that are playing professionally and my schedule is already packed before I even get to make some decisions about what games to see.

Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Mr. Davis early next week

The Wisconsin Playground Warriors, Ltd.

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