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Badgers getting major contributions from freshman G John Blackwell

The Badgers have a breakout on their hands with their freshman guard.

During the offseason, there was hype around the Wisconsin Badgers after a disappointing 2022 season, as they landed transfer forward A.J. Storr, while landing three freshman in John Blackwell, Nolan Winter, and Gus Yalden.

Storr was a big get, as the potential was clearly there, given his frame, ability to score at all three levels, and the plug-and-play ability at the wing, where the Badgers lacked depth in 2022.

Yalden was seen as the biggest fish in the recruiting class, earning a four-star rating from several recruiting databases, while providing some depth at the forward position, where the Badgers also struggled behind Carter Gilmore last season.

Winter was a player who clearly had value, given his three-point ability and rim protection with his height, but his size was the big question for Year 1.

But, Blackwell was the recruit that was more unheralded, as he was a three-star commit joining a guard rotation that already had Chucky Hepburn, Max Klesmit, and Connor Essegian, while Storr figured to play heavy minutes, and incumbents like Isaac Lindsey and Kamari McGee had the potential for more playing time.

Fast-forward five games into the season and not only is Blackwell the most impactful freshman, but he’s one of the team’s most impactful players, period.

To start the season, Blackwell has been extremely efficient on the offensive end, scoring 10.2 points per game, while shooting 51.9 percent from the field, 60 percent from three, and 81 percent from the line.

But, the box score isn’t where Blackwell’s impact can be fully visualized; while the guard is having an impressive statistical start to the season, his presence on the court has been extremely valuable in other ways.

Offensively, Blackwell has shown flashes of being a complete player.

On the ball, the guard has a tendency to be aggressive, consistently driving to the paint, which has resulted in 21 free throws through five games, good for second-most on the team behind Tyler Wahl (22).

Off the ball, Blackwell has played in a similar fashion to Connor Essegian last year, looking to fill cutting lanes and finding open space, while excelling in catch-and-shoot situations from beyond the arc in a short sample size.

Blackwell has primarily worked off-ball, with Chucky Hepburn and Max Klesmit usually controlling the pick-and-roll situations, but his dual-threat ability offensively has made him a threat that defenses need to respect, with his explosiveness and quick first step shining.

Defensively, Blackwell has already emerged as one of the team’s best defenders, hounding opposing players on ball, while knowing his responsibilities. This side was where you expected Blackwell to lean on early, but the offensive breakout has been special as well.

It was unclear truly how much Gard would rely on his freshman and how early in the season that’d come to fruition, but through five games, it’s clear the trust has already been established.

Blackwell and Nolan Winter have consistently been the first two players off the bench, with the freshman guard leapfrogging Connor Essegian and Kamari McGee on the depth chart.

As a result, Blackwell has played 17 minutes a game, the most of any backup on the team by a wide margin.

The freshman has been incredibly efficient with those minutes as a scorer, reaching double digits in four of his five games, including a career-high 18 points in 18 minutes against Robert Morris.

After last season’s disappointment, it was clear the Badgers needed more size and athleticism to play faster and adapt to the new landscape of college basketball.

They went out and got exactly that with Blackwell and A.J. Storr, and it’s paid off early with strong minutes from both players thus far this season.

Head coach Greg Gard will have some minutes balancing to do if Connor Essegian can work his way back into a regular role, but the Badgers certainly have stronger depth in 2023, and Blackwell has played a huge role in that.