Today marks the start of the early signing period for high school seniors across the country. It's an exciting day for players, parents and the schools that put together the top recruiting classes.
But for fans of the Wisconsin Badgers, they can only think about what could have been.
Bo Ryan's 2010 recruiting class resembles the same ones he has been putting together this entire decade. It consists of overlooked, underrated late-bloomers that help the Badgers consistently make the NCAA Tournament and occasionally win the Big Ten conference in years when other top programs are rebuilding.
These players, along with Ryan's incredibly successful coaching methods, have put Wisconsin on the map in college basketball. UW's streak of 11-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is no small feat and Ryan deserves more credit than he has received.
I'm not ready to say that streak is in major jeopardy entering the 2009-10 campaign, like many other college basketball writers have in the last few weeks. I am ready to say, however, that it could be awhile before Bo Ryan wins the Big Ten again.
About a year ago, UW's 2010 class looked like one of the best in the country. Two years ago, his 2009 class looked pretty darn good too. Just a month ago, his 2011 class -- which features a boatload of talent in Illinois -- looked very promising.
Oh, how things can change quickly in the recruiting world.
Looking across the college basketball landscape, it hurts to see some of the players out there that were once seriously recruited by Wisconsin. Two of them happen to be on the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook's Pre-Season All-American Team: Kansas' Cole Aldrich and Ohio State's Evan Turner.
Those are the superstars everyone knows about. But there also plenty of young stars in the making that have the potential to be All-Americans.
Minnesota's Royce White, a true-freshman, was a blue-chip recruit considering Tubby Smith's Gophers and Ryan's Badgers. He went to the place where he could contribute right away and showcase his talents in a fast-paced offense. Good for him. In return, the Badgers nabbed Mike Bruesewitz, an incoming freshman who was considered the second best player in the state of Minnesota -- behind White. He should see playing time this season and develop into a solid role player like Joe Krabbenhoft.
Madison's own Vander Blue was verbally committed to Wisconsin before getting a wake-up call and realizing his potential was better suited at Marquette, where he could also run up and down the floor. Good for him. Yesterday, Wisconsin filled Blue's scholarship with Duje Dukan, a 6-8 deep threat from Deerfield, Ill who is also only a 1-star recruit, according to Scout.com.
Chicago's Nnanna Egwu, a fast-rising, 6'10 center from St. Ignatius College Prep who won't graduate until 2011, was considering Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois. Last month he gave a verbal commitment to the Illini. I happen to be an alumnus of St. Ignatius and in all fairness to UW assistant coach Howard Moore, who was recruiting Egwu, many parents close to the SICP program told me Moore did everything the Ignatius coaches asked him to do and then they went and steered Egwu to Illinois. Fair enough. Unfortunately, that happens all the time in the recruiting world.
Then there are the kids who came -- or are still coming -- to Wisconsin. Former incoming recruit Diamond Taylor was once a big-time star at St. Joseph's in Westchester, Ill. -- the alma mater of Isiah Thomas and Evan Turner. Unfortunately, he peaked as a sophomore in high school, transferred to Bollingbrook as a senior to play for his father and didn't last a week into the school year at UW. He was arrested for burglary and is now in the Southern Illinois basketball program. Taylor's scholarship went to Josh Gasser, a three star, 6-4 point guard from Port Washington who will join the UW program next season.
Then there is Evan Anderson, who just a year ago made up half of what was supposed to be Ryan's best recruiting class ever. He was the five-star blue-chip center from Eau Claire, who with four-star prospect Vander Blue, was going to lead Wisconsin over the hump and into the Final Four. Now, after a disappointing junior season, Anderson is not even ranked among the top centers according to Rivals.com and only considered a three-star recruit. He will join the Badgers next season. Meanwhile, Blue is now a five-star recruit headed to Marquette.
Like I said, Badger fans are left to wonder what could have been.
The reality is that this is nothing new at Wisconsin. And Ryan will take the kids he is actually pulling in and turn them into great role players that lead UW to multiple appearances in the NCAA Tournament. There is no problem with that.
The difference now is that other Big Ten schools are pulling in some of the best classes in the country and Wisconsin is losing the top recruits they attempt to bring to Madison. Scout.com has Ohio State's 2010 class rated No. 1 in the country. Illinois is ranked No. 6 and Michigan State is No. 9. Purdue and Michigan round out the top five classes within the Big Ten, with no sign of Wisconsin in sight.
Don't get me wrong. I like Gasser a lot. And some believe Dukan is the best shooter in the country at 6'8. Hopefully, Anderson has a better senior year and becomes a star at Wisconsin. Only time will tell.
Unfortunately, the rest of the conference is signing guys who can play in a loaded conference immediately and make the jump to the NBA. That's not Bo Ryan's formula and it never has been. But in the meantime, it's going to be much harder for the Badgers to win the Big Ten in the near future and that means four or five less wins every year.
Just a year ago, we were talking about the difference between the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. Today, we are talking about how those four or five extra losses a year could be the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.