The devastating side of national recruiting reared its ugly head this week, with Tyler Herro, one of Wisconsin Basketball’s top-rated recruits of all time, decommitting from the program. With only weeks before signing day, the Badgers are now forced to fight for scraps after losing their Plan A guy.
My job is not to bash a high school kid’s difficult and complex decision to jump ship — people on Twitter and various fan sites have surely done enough of that. We’re all just chasing our dreams, so who are we to question the way some kid chooses to chase his?
Losing Herro stings, but Wisconsin, in the long run, will be just fine. It was a rarity that UW was able to make such a big recruiting splash. The program, just like its counterpart in football, has consistently chosen to eschew flashiness in order to ensure on-court production. Following one of Bo Ryan’s tenets, Greg Gard and his staff continue to look for guys who will work hard, demonstrate unimpeachable integrity and buy into his system. For many, that includes sitting on the bench until they are ready to contribute. For the players with dreams of going one-and-done before getting drafted, Wisconsin’s system appears to be more of a roadblock than a springboard to success.
But that’s a reason why Wisconsin’s teams are generally some of the most experienced and consistently successful groups in the country. Players who understand and commit to the program — who pay their dues and put in the time — tend to become smart, serviceable players who do in fact sometimes go pro. Teams that are comprised of top-50 recruits often don’t live up to their collective potential — egos conflict and players who are used to being the unquestioned stars chafe at the prospect of sharing the limelight with others and NBA dreams often supersede short-term goals. Some of these teams do achieve immortality. Many more end up falling flat.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, continues to remain immune from down years. Sixteen straight top-four finishes in the conference and 19 straight NCAA tournament bids will vouch for that. Their system of development has proven successful, and will continue to do so, even if the Diamond Stones and Tyler Herros of the world don’t buy in. The Frank Kaminskys and Ethan Happs will continue to add to their own prestige.
This season, pundits are expecting a dip from the Badgers, but they should know by now to not count UW out. Expectations may need to be tempered, but this will be a hugely formative campaign for a Wisconsin team with plenty of talent and potential coming up the pipeline. This potential should show in the coming years. Kobe King, Brad Davison and Nate Reuvers comprise one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory — not because they’re necessarily bona fide superstars, but because they combine their athletic ability with a commitment to the program and to Coach Gard’s message. Those are the players that Wisconsin will continue to recruit and develop.
In the end, Wisconsin will never outcompete schools like Kentucky, Duke or Kansas when it comes to consistently hauling in four- and five-star recruits. It will also likely avoid the major academic and recruiting violations that have recently befallen Louisville and should have befallen North Carolina. Its coaches will gladly pick and choose the right players for its system, while continuing to play by the rules, and finding success along the way. This is going to remain the case — with or without Tyler Herro.