With four starters gone from the 2016-'17 Wisconsin men’s basketball team, there is more than a fair share of playing time to be doled out and next to no clarity on who will take those minutes. That might have changed in the Badgers’ annual Red-White scrimmage Sunday.
Freshmen guards Brad Davison and Kobe King separated themselves from a large incoming class of recruits as each showcased impressive versatility on both ends of the court.
King spent much of the afternoon matched up on junior forward Khalil Iverson defensively and did a respectable job holding the explosive third-year man in check. Though it was a far cry from the Kobe-Iverson matchups of the early 2000s NBA, the duo was not want for athleticism.
King is a tweener guard in an almost identical — though slightly smaller — frame as Iverson, and his natural athletic ability is hard to ignore. As Iverson repeatedly sought for post position, the freshman from La Crosse, Wis., refused to surrender any ground and forced Iverson to the perimeter where he is notably less effective.
On the offensive end, King found a groove outside the paint and hit a few 3-pointers and a smooth jumpshot from the foul line. He doesn’t quite have the freak explosiveness of Iverson, but King’s strength ability to hit shots from the perimeter make him a viable candidate to contribute in the absence of former Badgers Bronson Koenig and Vitto Brown.
“He’s one of those guys when the lights go on … for whatever reason, has a whole other level to him,” head coach Greg Gard said.
While it was King that filled up the scoreboard, Brad Davison stole the show from the rest of the Badgers and demonstrated why the coaching staff has been singing his praises all summer.
The four-star recruit out of Maple Grove, Minn., was all over the court Sunday afternoon, tallying 10 points, three steals and a charge on the day. But most notably, he was constantly vocal through the game, calling out screens and defensive assignments.
“I’ve said all along, he’s not your typical freshman, physically or mentally,” Gard said. “The way he looks at things, what he talks about — I heard him several times communicating in transition defensively, and that’s the sign of a pretty good leader.”
Davison joins a deep group of backcourt players that will fight for minutes, but he certainly staked his claim for the majority of playing time in relief of sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice, who will step into a significant role with Koenig now gone.
Redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl struggled from the 3-point line in his first season on the court last year, making just 23.8 percent of his 21 attempts from deep. That seems to be behind him now, though, as his first three long-range attempts found the bottom of the net. Known as a dangerous deep threat coming out of high school, Pritzl could become a real weapon for the Badgers as they try to surround superstar redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ with shooters.
Happ and Iverson figure to play the majority of minutes in the frontcourt, but there is a severe lack of depth at the two forward positions beyond those two for UW. Juniors Charles Thomas, Andy Van Vliet and Alex Illikainen will likely fill out the regular rotation, but none have shown a marked improvement from a year ago.
While there remains a strong sense of uncertainty surrounding how the Badgers’ minutes will be distributed, Davison and King will play major roles for an unusually young UW team. The next step is an exhibition matchup with UW-Stout that should clear up at least some level of uncertainty.