The last time Bo Ryan received a verbal commitment from a scholarship athlete was November 11, 2012. Nigel Hayes wrapped up Wisconsin's 2013 recruiting class at that time. Over the next year or so, the Badgers held out hope that they could add Kevon Looney to its small 2014 class, all while having Rockridge (Ill.) star forward Ethan Happ in their back pocket.
Now a quarter of the way through 2014, fans are getting justifiably thirsty about UW's wide open 2015 class. Due to two unexpected departures this season, Ryan has as many as six open scholarship tenders to work with for next season's crop of high school seniors if he so chooses.
But now Wisconsin is at a fork in the road. Does the staff hold out and continue to chase the big names it has extended early offers to or attempt to get the ball rolling with fast-rising DePere (Wis.) guard Brevin Pritzl?
Either option could be viewed as a way to capitalize on the program's recent Final Four run.
Fresh off a visit to Michigan on Sunday, Pritzl heads to Madison Tuesday for an unofficial visit. To his credit, Pritzl has kept his head down and plowed ahead this offseason as he's fielded questions about when he feels he'll get a scholarship offer from the Badgers. Two weekends ago, Pritzl exploded for 37 points in the second half of a game and followed up with 41 points the next during Wisconsin Playground Warriors' impressive win over Seattle Rotary at the Spiece Run-N-Slam. The outburst produced offers from Creighton and Xavier. And now the biggest names in college basketball are calling on Pritzl.
While Pritzl's relationship with UW is steady, the staff has played things close to the vest with him. Per usual, Pritzl needs to improve his defense and ball handling. Yet his shooting ability (and his confidence in it) would fill a need for Wisconsin down the line as a 3-point specialist. Riley Dearring may be ready in 2015-16, but as of now he is unproven. Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig have much larger roles on the team and each hit less than 33 percent of their 3-pointers this past season.
Michigan had the opportunity to open the floodgates on high major offers for Pritzl. Even though at least one observer who watched Pritzl this spring likened his game to that of Nik Stauskas, the Wolverines held back on offering. So Wisconsin still has every chance to be the first "Big 5" school to plant its flag with Pritzl. And an early strike from the home-state program would be hard to beat in this case.
If the Badgers don't offer Pritzl, his visit to Marquette later this week will be telling. New coach Steve Wojciechowski is placing a different emphasis in recruiting than his predecessors and I'd guess Marquette will go after Pritzl fairly hard, seeing as they have a huge class to fill as well. I would be shocked if three major programs deferred on Pritzl in the same week with more exposure looming during upcoming evaluation periods. If Pritzl continues to shine, there could be even bigger offers than Wisconsin's waiting.
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Billy Wampler hasn't blown up to the extent Pritzl has, but he's put his name on the map nonetheless. Wisconsin will host Wampler on Wednesday, according to Mark Miller.
Hailing from Eau Claire, Wampler toils at the WIAA Division 4 level for the Regis Ramblers. He averaged over 25 points per game as a junior and, until this summer, played AAU ball alongside Ellenson for D1 Minnesota.
By sprouting up a few additional inches and becoming more well-rounded this season, Wampler was able to showcase his more efficient self to a wider audience in April once the grassroots tournament began. His AAU coach, Nick Carroll, said Wampler's improvement is the result of a willingness to put in the necessary hard work at all hours -- an "unbelievable comfort with discomfort."
"He will be coveted for his ability to shoot the basketball," Carroll said. "But I know he doesn't view himself as just a shooter. He's going to want to be in a position where he's able to play and utilize all the tools he has in the tool shed."
I can't help shaking mental comparisons between Wampler and Tim Jarmusz. Wampler is a much better scorer and plays with more swagger, but the gym rat tendencies, versatility and a nose for making big plays in all facets of the game also described Jarmusz back when Oshkosh West was a prep giant.
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Will we see more class of 2015 offers extended this week? It's very possible. It is not a bad strategy to go after a rising player or two in your backyard, secure a commitment and start building some momentum on the AAU circuit after such a great season. But the players have to fit your plan.
After next season, Wisconsin will lose a lot of firepower and moxie when Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky depart. Replacing Kaminsky in the middle is an immediate need, thus the early focus on big men.
Recently, Wisconsin's plan has been to recruit players with length and also go after more of the bigger fish. The staff is still very judicious with offers. When you are vying for favorable decisions from the J.P. Tokotos, Looneys, Stones and Ellensons of the world, that often means a lot of waiting.
It's not getting any easier on that front.
Ellenson's latest interest comes from Kentucky, and he picked up a huge offer from Duke not too long ago. There are rumors floating on the internet (yeah!) that the Ellensons really like Michigan State right now as well. Stone destroyed the first live evaluation period at the Jayhawk Invitational and has started talking about being a package deal with 2015's top prospect, Mississippi shooting guard Malik Newman (though most of the talk seems to be originating from Newman's end).
Seven-footer Josh Sharma, out of Northfield Mount Hermon in Massachusetts could be the most likely domino to fall first for the Badgers among the touted big men, though Sharma was in touch with the likes of Duke, Syracuse and Connecticut in April and may reconsider his decision timelines.
Four of UW's six known outstanding scholarship offers for 2015 have been to big men. When it comes to guards and wings, rather than offer Pritzl or Wampler right away, the Badgers recently reached out to impressive Missouri combo guard Jimmy Whitt at the start of May. The move on another guard indicates a willingness to wait on Pritzl a bit longer.
The staff is focusing primarily on Jarvis Johnson at the point guard spot. He just received an offer from Tom Izzo and will be a tough get with a sister at Iowa State and a reported soft spot for Kansas. Rather than hit the trail with guns blazing, so far Ryan and Co. have been content to zero in on a few top-notch candidates and hope the cachet of their Final Four appearance yields better dividends than in years past.
Whichever route Wisconsin decides to go in this class, it will become more clear soon enough ... maybe as early as today.
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To take you home, just sit back and listen to Vitto Brown puttin' it down, Billy Joel-style...
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