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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Evaluating Wisconsin's Future Guard Depth

The announcement by Vander Blue yesterday that he is officially back on the market was the culmination of a tumultuous week for Badger fans. Though Blue's final destination will not be known for another six months probably, he disputed the implication that he was a poor student and that the Badger offense was undesirable to him. He simply felt like he rushed his verbal commitment a year ago.

As misinformation and clarifications circulated about the Blue situation, other announcements trickled in regarding that impact how Wisconsin's roster looks over the next few years. Late last week Wisconsin added two walk-ons for 2009 and offered a 2010 scholarship to Cameron Wright, a former Ohio State recruit.

Wright, a 6'5" guard from Cleveland, is considered Plan B with Blue looking elsewhere, but is planning on taking some official visits to different schools in August. Now that another another BCS school like Wisconsin has re-offered, I would expect the stigma of Wright's split from the Buckeyes to fade away. A few big-time programs (like Miami, VT and Notre Dame) are already sniffing around again, meaning Wright is in no way signed, sealed and delivered to Wisconsin.

Of the players not on scholarship, Jeremy Glover arrives as a preferred walk-on from the talent-rich Washington, D.C. area (Oakton, VA). As a preferred walk-on, Glover (6'3") will have the opportunity to earn a scholarship down the road, a la Kevin Gullikson. However, nothing is officially promised to a preferred walk-on.

With Glover, Mike Bruesewitz and Diamond Taylor filling the spots vacated by Gullikson, Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry, another 6'3" guard, Dan Fahey, will replace Morris Cain. Fahey hails from Chicago's prestigious St. Ignatius College Prep, where 2011 prospect Nnana Egwu also attends. Wisconsin also reportedly looked at New Berlin native Taylor Hall (6'7") of Bemidji State to fill that slot.

So Wisconsin is replacing three forwards from their rotation with one forward and two guards next year. The onus is on the sophomore and junior classes to really step up in the paint. A lot will be expected of Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Jared Berggren this season. The back court is in good hands with a solid four-man rotation, giving Diamond Taylor room to grow. The 2009-10 season will be the first one in five years that won't be missing a guard from any of the original recruiting classes.

Looking ahead to 2010, Bo Ryan appears to be going with a shotgun approach with his back court depth. Blue appeared to be that ace-in-the-hole type recruit who could have developed into the next great Badger guard. Many have referred to Bo's track record to suggest he will not wait around to court Blue -- even if Howard Moore is going to recruit him "harder than ever."

Until Blue signs a national LOI at Wisconsin or more likely, elsewhere, Wisconsin is at least amassing some depth at positions 1-3 for 2010:

Seniors - Tim Jarmusz (3)
Juniors - Jordan Taylor (1), Rob Wilson (2)
Sophomores - Ryan Evans (2-3), Diamond Taylor (2), Jeremy Glover (2), Mike Bruesewitz (3-4)
Freshman - ???

Wright would be another '2' if he signed. Depending on Diamond's ability to play a little point guard, another pure floor leader would be a great fit for the final 2010 scholarship. Blue was being recruited as a combo guard that could fill either role. Adding Wright would ensure some serious wing depth and odds are that the next great Badger guard can emerge from that group. Waiting on a point guard, however, puts a lot of pressure on the staff to find a player in the 2011 class who can start for Bo Ryan as a sophomore.

The assistants will be working hard to find the right fit for that last scholarship since Bo will be busy in June and July coaching Team USA for the World University Games in Serbia. For those wondering about the Swing offense's place in international competition, it sounds like Bo will be installing 'Swing Lite' into the players.

: : :

- Just in case you were wondering, yes, Ohio State immediately offered J.D. Weatherspoon and no, he has not accepted it yet.
- Speaking of the Buckeyes, OSU will lose two scholarships next season due to its APR shortcomings.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Vander Blue Saga Continues

As the Vander Blue soap opera-like tempest has come to a head in the last 48 hours, Rob Schultz of the Capital Times gives Badger fans the first substantial insight into the situation in a story posted Wednesday.

It is clear that Blue met with several academic advisors as well as the Wisconsin coaching staff to discuss his academic struggles. Eligibility issues would certainly be a legitimate reason for Blue to re-evaluate his options, especially if he was finally awakened to the reality of his situation by the meeting.

But if Blue really wanted to be a Badger, he would put in the necessary work and remain committed. It's that simple.

Even though I am glad to have more information than we did yesterday, I feel bad for Blue that his academic record is getting tossed out into the open for the public to consume. Would this type of article even have been written at all if it were not for the maelstrom of tips and rumors that hit the Internet message boards and finally reached the proverbial tipping point yesterday. Someone (media, the university, etc.) who was very eager to get out some information on the subject may look back and regret that specifics were released at the cost of the student, especially that junior college crack. After all, Schultz's story -- like every other one written on the subject thus far -- was not able to name a source.

Wisconsin is not allowed to officially comment on any player who has not signed a national Letter of Intent yet, making it more difficult to get straight facts on the ordeal.

If academics are the sole reason that Blue is reconsidering his verbal committment to Bucky, it is understandable why he has been largely silent. It would be fairly embarrassing. However, as anyone who has made a very serious life decision before knows, it is never just one factor that leads to your final answer.

Blue's verbal came much quicker than I expected last April before he had taken very many college visits. Blue reportedly had additional offers from Marquette, Indiana, and either Kentucky or Minnesota at the time. Blue wanted to stay close to home and admired Trevon Hughes. Marquette was in the middle of a head coaching transition at the time, which naturally was a red flag.

After the announcement last year, quoted the Memorial guard as follows regarding the early commitment:

“I trust Wisconsin and my family trusts Wisconsin so I am not planning on changing my mind. Somebody has got to offer me something crazy to change my mind. Everything is over with and I don’t have to worry about what college I am going to in two years. I can just play ball with my friends and keep my grades up.”

Since then, Blue exploded on the national AAU scene last summer and one of his best friends, Jeronne Maymon, signed with Marquette, which posted a 24-9 record in Buzz Williams' debut season. Conversely, Wisconsin suffered a "down" year. Academics aside, what once seemed like a fairly easy choice was blurred. And apparently Blue has not kept his grades up either ... a trifecta.

Some of these things together might have been enough to get Blue privately reconsidering. Thus the initial rumors, which Blue midly refuted ("I'm cool") to the media. The added challenge of meeting minimum academic standards and then perhaps slightly higher UW standards on top of that could be just another doubt.

All those doubts add up. Blue has had fellow Memorial ballers, past and present, telling him to come to Marquette and even more storied programs with more uptempo playing styles making themselves known to him (Louisville, for example). Honestly, not too many 16-year-old players would want to put in the extra effort if other options exist, options that for a variety of reasons are just as attractive. According to reports, Blue informed the staff of his doubts during the tail end of Monday's meeting.

I am not a conspiracy theorist that believes Wisconsin is leaking this information as an excuse for why Vander wants to look elsewhere. Nor do I believe that just because we haven't heard from Blue's family that he is not reopening his recruitment. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between.

Whether or not Blue has told anyone yet, the writing is on the wall. It's an only matter of time before he decommits officially. If he wants to work hard in the classroom, prove a lot of people wrong and recommit to Wisconsin, that is still possible. Unfortunately for Bo Ryan's program, the chances appear slim. I just hope both parties land safely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Prospect Profile: Cameron Wright

Cameron Wright SG
6'5" :: 195 lbs.
Class of 2010
Cleveland (OH) Benedictine HS [team site]
AAU: King James Shooting Stars

Scout: 3 Stars * * * (#32 SG)
Previous: 2 Stars > 3 Stars > 4 Stars (#17 SG/#74 overall)
Rivals: 3 Stars * * * (SG)
ESPN/Scouts, Inc. grade: 93 (#31 SG)
Previous: 87 > 88 (#61 SG>#68>#66>#56) > 92 (#30)

2009 AP All-State First Team (Div. 2)
2008 AP All-State Second Team (Div. 2)

Recent Press
7/7: Wright takes right approach to his recruiting -
6/13: Former Ohio State hoops recruit now looking at Flyers - Dayton Daily News
5/29: Wright will visit UW in June -
5/15: Wright Talks Wisconsin -
4/27: Wright has 'No ill feelings at all' -
4/24: Benedictine guard, OSU go their separate ways - Plain Dealer

The Verbal
Pitt adds Cameron Wright to 2010 class - NBE Basketball Report (8/10/09)
Benedictine sophomore guard to issue oral commitement to Ohio State - Plain Dealer (10/22/07)

The Hype
Something Special: Bengals' Wright scores 25 on Bellefonte - The Express (12/28/07)
Bengals win the Wright way - Plain Dealer (3/15/07)

Highlights: Cameron Wright Highlights 1 (7/17/08) - ($)
Highlights: Cameron Wright Highlights 2 (7/17/08) - ($)
Highlights: The Wright Stuff (10/24/07) - ($)

Junior: 2008-09 (Benedictine) -


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wisconsin State AAU Tournament

Unfortunately I was not able to scout any Badger prospects in person this past high school season, so when I heard the Wisconsin State AAU Tournament was going to be held in Stoughton, I knew I had to check it out.

So I traveled down to the Impact Sports Enhancement Academy on Saturday to take in a few games. Unfortunately a couple of teams did not show up for the event, leading to some of forfeits. Despite the cancellation of a few games, I was still able to see one each for the likes of Vander Blue, J.P. Tokoto, Wally Ellenson, Marquis Mason, Chip Rank, Kyle Kelm, Nimrod Hilliard and Jamar "Popcorn" Morris.

Outside of Blue and Mason, I had never seen any of these guys play live before. Needless to say, watching Tokoto was my main objective.

However, the first game I caught was in the 17U division, between Blue's Madison Spartans and the Wisconsin Force. Unlike the Spiece tourney last week or day 1 in Stoughton, Blue did not quite have his touch this time. He struggled from the field and subsequently, the Spartans lost by a few points to the Force, led by Josh Cameron and Sam Gage. But Blue continues to have his way getting to the basket at this level and had quite a few free throw attempts down the stretch. The Badger commit also tried a ridiculous dunk over his defender from outside the free throw lane on the baseline -- the gym would have erupted if it had stayed down. He still got the star treatment afterwards with a Channel 3 interview.

Playing on the court next to Blue around noon was the stacked Wisconsin Swing-Selk team, who completely ran away from the Wisconsin Blaze. I was pretty impressed by Chip Rank. He slammed the boards (knew how to box out well) and played with intensity all game long. His handle and shot were decent too. Mason's footwork inside stood out to me. Pretty nimble guy that should make a good receiver for the football team. He was the one guy I saw who able to actually put down his dunks, although he seemed a little lazy when it came to getting rebounding position.

Sadly, nothing Kelm did shouted "prime-time player" to me. He seemed more fatigued than others (didn't get the ball over the rim on a dunk) and just hung out by the 3-point line all game long.

Madison East's Hilliard found his rhythm behind the arc in the second half to fuel a big comeback for the 16U Madison Spartans against the Wisconsin Playmakers club. Miles Chamberlain's bucket at the buzzer gave the Spartans the win after being down as many as 16 points. Hilliard was fun to watch, very smooth.

After that I caught the first half of the 15U Wisconsin Force against one of the Wisconsin Swing teams. Junior Lomomba was not playing for some reason and was hanging out with the Madison Spartan kids. That left Popcorn Morris to handle business for the Force. He reminded me a bit of Flavien Davis -- 6'4" or 6'5", can lead a fast break, do work under the basket and get up for alley oops. I wanted to watch more, but the 15U Wisconsin Playground Warriors finally were ready to tip off.

Like Blue, Tokoto did not set the world on fire with his shooting touch, but he did get a few more buckets to drop in the second half as the Warriors kept the pesky Northwest WI All-Stars at bay. It must be hard to judge Tokoto when he plays down at this level because he is so much bigger and more athletic than any of the opposing players. He played up a lot in the full-court pressure the Warriors played and made several hustle plays that coaches love.

I tried to take a couple of videos with a weak Canon PowerShot, but they leave a lot to be desired. The first one shows Tokoto (#24) posting up and the second, blurry one shows him skying to retrieve what looked like an alley oop pass gone awry.

Ellenson was an interesting player to watch. He was quick enough to take any defender to the rack. Even though he was predictable in that way, his strength and aggressiveness earned him at least 10-12 points on those drives alone.

- There will be a rule change in 2009-10 regarding taking charges while under the basket -- it is now a blocking foul every time. There are a couple other rule tweaks and points of emphasis too.
- The Daily Cardinal checks in with Rashard Griffith.
- Many of Wisconsin's recruits and/or recruiting targets played well in last weekend's big Spiece AAU tournament (ie: Bill Hensley Memorial Run 'N Slam) in Indiana, including Blue, Tokoto, Evan Anderson, Chasson Randle, Nnana Egwu, Jacob Williams and J.D. Weatherspoon.

Do you like the NCAA tournament's new 8-team "first-round" format?

What should Wisconsin do with the newly vacated scholarship?

Poll: Who will win the Big Ten?

Poll: Who was Wisconsin's first-half MVP (thru 16 games)?

Poll: How Many Regular Season games will wisconsin win in 2009-10?