The Badger coaching staff, including head coach Bo Ryan, spread across the eastern half of the country last weekend to scout its top recruiting targets during the first of three open evaluation periods for college basketball coaches. They get to do it all again the next two weekends as well.
Even with limited information, you can amuse yourself trying to decipher the staff's recruiting objectives because Twitter does a great job of supplying information to the masses. At this point, most people who watch closely know how Ryan likes his staff to operate when it comes to building a roster.
But it is refreshing to see small tweaks in the strategy. Whether it was ever warranted or not, Ryan has been criticized in the past for being too hands off in recruiting by letting his assistants handle the load before he swoops in to close the deal. Not so much these days.
Not only has the caliber of athlete being recruited and signed in the last 2-3 years increased1, but Ryan himself has become much more visible of late. Entering his 13th season at the helm, Ryan tracked his top recruits -- Kevon Looney, Diamond Stone and Henry Ellenson -- relentlessly this spring.
So I found it interesting that instead of watching Looney in Indianapolis last week, the head coach was tracking Abdul-Malik Abu step-for-step down at the Nike EYBL Peach Jam finals. Later joined by Lamont Paris, Ryan also followed highly-touted 6'5" guard Charles Matthews very closely, and got another look at 2016 Ohio forward VJ King, who was playing with the King James Shooting Stars. He also took in plenty of Howard Pulley (MN) games. Point guard Jarvis Johnson and forward Sacar Anim, both 2015 recruits, play for the Panthers.
I can't say enough about the 6'1" Johnson's athleticism as a lead guard (other than !!!!!), but I think Anim is probably the one Ryan is really keeping his eye on. We could see another classic "buy-low" scenario develop with Anim if Bo continues to see the toughness and glue-guy intangibles that he always wants on his squad. And the Badgers have always had great success with Pulley players too.
Sacar scores, Sacar creates turnover, Sacar dives for loose ball, gets it to Tyus, Tyus hits floater,70-66, 94secs, cold in here, #PEACHJAM— Ryan James (@RyanJamesMN) July 11, 2013
Ryan flew back from Georgia to Wisconsin Saturday to catch West De Pere's Cody Schwartz (who has a Marquette offer) score 23 points in Mequon at the NY2LA Next Level Invitational, where Gary Close had been camped out all week. Close had his plate full, monitoring UW commit Ethan Happ, posting up at Stone's games, tracking Illinois forward Evan Boudreaux and fitting in time to watch youngsters Trevor Anderson and Sam Hauser of the Wisconsin Academy club.
Where was Greg Gard you ask? Indy. The Adidas Invitational was chock full of top recruits too, including Looney's Milwaukee Rebels. But as respected as Gard is, there is something about having the head coach in attendance that matters to a lot of players. Maybe a bright kid like Looney is an exception?
Gard was most visible, however, following 2015 big men Henry Ellenson -- who runs with D1 Minnesota and is teammates with Marshawn Wilson -- and Neenah's Matt Heldt. According to Evan Flood of Badger247, Heldt really impressed the coaches at UW's team camp. Due to having a more defined position at 6'10", Heldt appears to have a leg up on the tweener Schwartz when it comes to Wisconsin's other options in 2015 if they cannot reel in Ellenson or Stone.
Along the circuit, the staff manages to see new and old players they are interested in, whether it's Ohio's Carlton Bragg going up against Ellenson in Indy or seeing a player Wisconsin had expressed interest in at one point like Ohio's Luke Kennard blow up at Peach Jam while watching King.
Now the cycle starts over again Wednesday. Wisconsin will have to balance their scouting efforts across some smaller events this time. The Badgers will probably focus on their own backyard in the Milwaukee area, where an even better field than last week heads to Mequon for the 2013 Summer Jam. I'll be watching to see how deep UW rolls for Looney's games.
Stone (Young Legends), Happ (Quad City Elite), Heldt (Wisconsin Playground Warriors), and Schwartz (WI Blizzard) will also be in Mequon, plus well-respected programs like the Illinois Wolves and the Wisconsin Swing. Maybe a brand new name or two emerges over the next two live periods, though it is hard enough for four coaches to track all the existing prospects.
* Ellenson is playing in Bloomington, Minnesota in D1 Minnesota's own tournament.
* Malik Abu will be at two Hoop Group events this week in Pennsylvania with Expressions Elite. Abu's recruitment reminds me somewhat of Semi Ojeleye's although Abu hasn't broken through to the blue bloods level yet as Ojeleye did. Wisconsin is going to make some of his final lists, but I don't see him becoming a Badger in the end.
* Aaron Jordan and the Illinois Stars head to Orlando for the ESPN AAU Super Showcase, as do the King James Shooting Stars (featuring Kennard and possibly King again). Though he was at a smaller event in Illinois last weekend, Jordan impressed observers by playing through an injury.
* Bragg and Kennard both blew up big-time last weekend and it may not make sense for Wisconsin to spend valuable time on either right now unless it fits into other plans. Bragg will be with Ohio Basketball Club in Cincinnati for the regional Adidas All-In Classic.
* Wisconsin is in the same boat with Matthews, a top 20 guard out of Chicago. Matthews suits up for Meanstreets. The Badgers seems to be in the same place with him as they were with Rashad Vaughn or Marcus Paige previously -- UW was in early but quickly became just another name among the biggest of big names.
* The top Howard Pulley team is taking the week off since standouts Tyus Jones and Reid Travis are participating in the Nike Global Challenge. Like many other top programs, Pulley will be at the AAU Super Showcase the following week. All-Ohio Red (King, Willie Jackson) will stop by the Big Shots Myrtle Beach first.
1In 2011, for example, Wisconsin went all in in guys like Chasson Randle, Nnanna Egwu and Mycheal Henry and even little Plumlee. The fact that UW even offered Anthony Davis is fairly astounding in retrospect. [back]
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