When Jonathan Tsipis was hired to become the seventh coach in Wisconsin program history, one of his primary objectives was to recruit better talent than previous UW regimes. Tsipis had prior recruiting success as the associate head coach at Notre Dame and as the head coach of George Washington.
Now, in only his second season, Tsipis has found success at Wisconsin too.
Tsipis’ success with previous programs hinged on landing highly-ranked recruits within his first few years on the job. Accordingly, this year’s class will likely be pivotal in the rebuilding process of the women’s basketball program.
Fortunately for UW, Tsipis has recruited a solid class. The second-year head coach and his staff delivered one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory, signing five players including three top-100 recruits.
And while UW will of course look to land any top-100 recruit it can, there is a more specific mold that Tsipis is looking for outside of just recruiting ranking. Specifically, Tsipis noted that he and his staff look for work ethic and adaptability in prospective players. According to Tsipis, each of the five new Badgers that were signed work hard in the classroom and on the court. Additionally, Tsipis looked for certain student-athletes that had the ability to play multiple positions effectively on both ends of the floor.
Ultimately, Tsipis got the grit, fluidity and talent he was looking for, as this year’s recruiting class is ranked No. 14 in the nation according to Blue Star Report and No. 32 by Prospects Nation.
The class is led by Imani Lewis, a 6’2” forward that plays for New Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J. Lewis is the 41st and 39th ranked prospect in the nation according to Prospects Nation and Blue Star Report respectively. Lewis is the highest rated recruit to commit to the women’s basketball program since now-senior Cayla McMorris was recruited.
“Imani Lewis will bring that toughness inside on both ends of the court,” assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Sasha Palmer said.
“When you look at our team right now, Imani has a skillset and length that is different [than what we currently have on this team],” Tsipis added, “She will be a compliment to Courtney Fredrickson, Abby Laszewski and incoming recruit Maia Caito with her ability to post-up or be a stretch four.”
While Wisconsin is recruiting to a specific type of player, it also has to recruit to its needs. Specifically, with McMorris graduating after this season, Tsipis needed another quick guard that could fill the void the senior guard will leave. Tsipis thinks he has found that player in Carmen Backes.
Backes is a 6’1” wing that currently plays for Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom, Minn. She comes from an athletic family, as her mother played collegiate basketball and her dad was a national champion and Olympic shot putter. Backes, who was on pace to become a finalist for Minnesota Miss Basketball in her junior year, suffered a knee injury that ended her junior season. Still, the injury hasn’t seemed to set her back much. Tsipis said that he was surprised at how much stronger she had gotten through the rehab process. Additionally, Backes sent videos to the coaching staff showing milestones that she met along her recovery, highlighting her determination to return even better.
“Carmen brings that rare element of being a great shooter,” Palmer said. “[She has] the ability and the strength [to take] guards and three’s into the paint to post them up.”
Like Backes, Diamond Bragg looks to add depth and grit to Wisconsin at guard, as she is ranked just inside the top-100 according to Blue Star Report. According to Tsipis, Bragg reminds him a lot of Zak Showalter and Brad Davidson.
“Diamond is going to be a lot stronger than a lot of guards she faces at the Division One level,” Tsipis said. “She is not afraid of a challenge, whether it is facing a post player down low, or a more athletic guard ... Diamond is not going to back down, and she is going to step up to any challenge presented to her, much like Zak did in his career and Brad is showcasing right now.”
Similarly to Backes and Bragg, the Badgers added another smaller player they think can bring speed and grit to their lineup. Jasmine Hale is a 5’9” wing that is ranked as the 128th recruit in the nation according to Blue Star Report.
Tsipis sees Hale as a similar player to 5’7” freshman Niya Beverley.
The Badgers last recruit, Maia Caito, fits Tsipis’ mold of perseverance. Caito, however, gained that relentlessness and drive through her childhood. She was thrusted into growing up very fast as a teenager, as she helped her mother raise her four siblings while taking part in a variety of extracurricular activities.
On the court, Caito is a 6’4” center that looks to replace graduate Kendall Shaw when she leaves in May. Tsipis says that her greatest attribute when it comes to basketball is that she is both an extremely fast learner and loves the opportunity to bang down low.
Now that Tsipis, Palmer and the rest of the staff have landed one really successful recruiting class, they expect to gain this type of talent every season going forward.
Specifically, Palmer said that it is a goal of Tsipis’ to develop an impenetrable bubble around the state of Wisconsin moving forward for the state’s top recruits.
Recruiting is never easy, especially early in your coaching tenure. But for now, Tsipis has gained five talented players and has seemingly set the precedent for successful recruiting going forward.