On the day Tai Strickland decided to commit to the Wisconsin Badgers, he was in contact with two key figures of UW’s coaching staff. One was assistant coach Howard Moore. The other was head coach Greg Gard, though he took a hint longer to contact.
“I called coach Moore first ‘cause coach Gard was actually in San Antonio, and he was on a horseback ranch or something like that,” the Florida guard told B5Q on Wednesday. “I called coach Moore and he was ecstatic. He told me, ‘You’re going to make a lot of people’s day today.’”
The chat with Gard came shortly thereafter.
“I think maybe after two to three hours, coach Gard called me back and said, ‘Tai, I hope this is good news.’
“I let him know, and he said, ‘I need to go horseback riding a lot more often.’ I told him, ‘Yes sir, I’m ready to get started. I wish I could get up there immediately.’”
Strickland publicly announced on Tuesday afternoon that he committed to Wisconsin, ending a recruiting process that picked up late with interest from Division I and Big Ten schools.
Wisconsin offered Strickland back on Feb. 15. At that time, Rivals only noted him as having scholarship offers from Boston College, Tennessee Tech, and Austin Peay. Since then, Minnesota, Rutgers, and DePaul added their names to the list of potential suitors for the prep guard from St. Petersburg, Fla., DePaul is also the alma mater of his father, 17-year NBA veteran Rod Strickland.
“I had a couple of good options, but I felt like Wisconsin was definitely the best,” Strickland said.
Strickland officially visited Wisconsin two weekends ago with true freshman guard Brad Davison as his host.
Last weekend, he traveled up to New Brunswick to visit Rutgers, but knew thereafter he wanted to play his college basketball in Madison.
“I went on the visit to Wisconsin, and I loved it and I fell in love with the city, the program,” Strickland said. “I decided that it made no sense to keep on waiting and entertaining these other schools. After I took the Rutgers visit, I realized what I really wanted, so I decided I might as well go ahead and commit and get it done.”
The atmosphere during his Wisconsin visit was similar to what he experienced growing up in Lexington, Ky., where his father worked as a special assistant to Wildcats coach John Calipari from 2009–14.
“It honestly just felt like home,” said Strickland, who played at St. Petersburg High School this season after transferring from Tampa Catholic. “I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and that’s a college town, college city, so getting to Madison, it reminded me a lot of it—a lot nicer actually. When I got there, I felt like I was back in Lexington and I really enjoyed that.”
Rod served on Kentucky’s staff, along with making stops at Memphis and most recently South Florida after playing for nine different NBA teams in a nearly two-decade span.
The elder Strickland has influenced Tai and helped him through a time that can both be exciting and stressful.
“He definitely just told me to stay patient throughout the recruiting process,” Strickland said. “I wasn’t highly recruited. I’m just now really growing into my body. I’ve grown maybe almost a foot since I entered into high school, so I’m really still growing into my body. This year, that athleticism showed, I got my athleticism, and I showed a bunch of new things that people had never seen before.”
One of Rod’s former players at Kentucky, current Washington Wizards all-star John Wall, actually retweeted Tai’s public announcement that he received an offer from the Badgers back in February, and spoke with him the day he decided to play basketball at Wisconsin.
“We got a pretty good relationship after that. He still reaches out to me every now and then,” Strickland said. “The day I committed to Wisconsin, he called me and I asked him his opinions on things, and he told me, ‘That’s a solid program. You know what you’re going to get from them,’ so that was pretty big for me.”
Next season, Wisconsin is expected to return a backcourt including Davison, D’Mitrik Trice, Kobe King, Brevin Pritzl, and Green Bay transfer Trevor Anderson. Trice and King will presumably come back after injuries forced them to miss all but 10 games last season, while Davison recently had surgery on an ailing left shoulder.
According to Strickland, the Wisconsin coaching staff does not want him to do anything outside of what he has shown already.
“They just told me I’m a pure point guard and they just want me to come in and do what I do,” Strickland said. “Nothing special, nothing different, and they’re going to help me get better and they’re going to throw me in the thick of things immediately. They said I’ll work for minutes, I’ll work my way up the chart, and I’m excited to do it.”
The point guard, who has played with Kentucky forward Kevin Knox previously as well as former Ole Miss commit Serrel Smith, believes he can bring a lot to the program.
“I can definitely do everything. I can rebound, I can make passes, make plays for other people, and also, I can defend,” Strickland said. “There are some great point guards in the Big Ten, Carson Edwards, guys like that, and for me to be able to pick him up for 94 feet, and play him the entire time, that’s pretty big.”
Strickland has now found a collegiate home in Wisconsin and plans to officially sign his National Letter of Intent during the next signing period that starts in April. However, that’s only the beginning of the next step for the Florida native who has some motivation behind him.
With Division I programs not noticing him until recently, does he feel he has a chip on his shoulder?