Most likely, Wisconsin could start junior guard Jordan Taylor, junior forward Rob Wilson and senior forwards Tim Jarmusz, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil with the first ones off the bench being sophomores Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz. A formidable lineup with a combination of experience and young talent and all with something in common – associate coach Greg Gard had a hand in all of their recruitments.
It's no secret that the 39-year-old Gard is one of the top assistants in college basketball. Publicly praised by Head Coach Bo Ryan for his scouting work in the Badgers' 18-point victory over No.5 Michigan State on Feb.2, Gard wears many hats for the Badgers, from running Wisconsin's summer camps to filling out the non-conference schedule; a challenging job that typically makes the Badgers' schedule one of the toughest in the country.
"You've heard of Omar the Tentmaker? Well, we have Greg the Schedule-maker," Ryan said last March when the Badgers were one of the final at-large teams selected. "There's no way we get into the tournament without the schedule we played."
But when it comes to recruiting, Gard is in a class by himself. The other constant of next year's potential starting seven is that four have come from the state of Minnesota, which makes today's game for No. 14 Wisconsin (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) at Minnesota (14-10, 5-7) a homecoming for nearly a third of the roster.
When Tubby Smith took over as Minnesota's head coach in 2007, many questioned whether the Badgers would be able to cross the border and get verbal commitments from the state's top talents. Gard and the Badgers responded by getting a verbal commitment in 2009 from Henry Sibley forward Mike Bruesewitz.
Although showing interest in Bruesewitz, Minnesota didn't offer the talented prospect, choosing to go after Royce White and Rodney Williams. Williams has had an up-and-down season (averaging five points per game) and White has been saddled with legal troubles and is ineligible to play this year.
On the other hand, Bruesewitz was instrumental in UW earning a third-place finish in Maui and has been a key contributor on the glass.
"The coaches and the people (in Minnesota) have been terrific to me," Gard said. "I started going there when I was at UWM and was received with open arms. The coaches up there do a great job, a lot like the coaches in Wisconsin. Players are fundamentally sound, value each possession and understand how hard players have to work."
One of those fundamental players is sophomore Jordan Taylor, the 2008 Mr. Basketball award winner for Minnesota after leading his high school to the Class AAA championship, scoring 43 points in the quarterfinals and 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the championship game. In 53 career games at Wisconsin, Taylor owns a career 2.92 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"Like Jordan, the players that come from Minnesota understand how hard you have to work because of the Midwest values," Gard said.
The biggest Minnesota player is arguably Jon Leuer, who is expected to play after missing the last nine games with a broken bone in his left wrist. Leuer was a four-star player and the 26th-best power forward in the country by Scout.com when he played at Orono Senior High. Gard was instrumental in getting Leuer to come to campus, a factor that helped Leuer, like Taylor, pick the Badgers over the Gophers.
"When I got here I just knew it was the right place for me," Leuer said. "Coach Gard was there from the beginning and always took the time to come watch me play."
Although Wisconsin has no offers out to 2011 prospects in Minnesota, Gard is still racking up the frequent flier miles to the Twin Cities. After watching Ross Travis (2011) and Jake White (2011) workout at Chaska, Benilde-St. Margaret sophomores Sanjay Lumpkin, Kyle Washington and Isaiah Zierden play and Jonah Travis workout at De LaSalle in the fall, Gard traveled up to Minnesota Tuesday to watch Marcus Alipate (2011) and Tyus Jones (2014).
It's hard to argue with the success the Badgers have grabbed from Minnesota. Much like they have at venues across the country, Wisconsin will display the fruits of Gard's labor at Williams Arena, giving Minnesota a first-hand look at what could have been.
"The players that have come from Minnesota have had great success here," Gard said. "That has helps. They know that they can come down here, get a great education, play in great facilities with great fan support and win a lot of games while getting a great degree. It started with Kammron Taylor, then Kevin Gullikson and even Joe Krabbenhoft, who claims he's from Minnesota during the Vikings season.
"It's continued with the guys that are here now and hopefully, we'll be able to get good players from there in the future."