Updated: Jul 28, 2019
An unlikely basketball breeding ground has emerged within the last few years: the great state of Wisconsin.
In a state known for dairy production and Big Ten-style football, basketball has taken a seat at the table due to some impressive talents coming from land of milk and cheese.
An indicator of this new-found basketball pipeline took the stage last Thursday night at the annual NBA Draft. Kentucky guard Tyler Herro, a Whitnall H.S. grad (Greenfield, WI) and Michigan wing Jordan Poole (Milwaukee native, attended Milwaukee King H.S. for three years) were both taken in the first round. Herro went 13th overall to the Miami Heat, Poole 28th overall to the Golden State Warriors. While this marks an achievement for hoops in the state, it is one of many recent developments of excellence on the court.
You can trace back the success of Wisconsin hoops to around 2014. This five-year period marks the rise of the on court success that has driven Wisconsin the national hoops stage. In this year, Wisconsin had two top-100 basketball recruits, according to 247, after not having any the year before. #11 overall recruit Kevon Looney out of Milwaukee Hamilton headlined the class, while #76 overall recruit Sandy Cohen out of Seymour H.S. followed him. Looney signed with UCLA, Cohen with Marquette. On the college level, the Wisconsin Badgers gained national prominence, led by Wisconsin natives Bronson Koenig and Sam Dekker, making a run to the 2014 Final Four. As for the local NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks were starting to regain some magic after years of middling finishes. A new hope was found in budding second-year player Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The following year marked yet another achievement for the state hoops scene. The class of 2015 featured three top-100 recruit: #6 Diamond Stone, #9 Henry Ellenson, and #94 Brevin Pritzl. Stone's real NBA potential led to packed games at Dominican High School, which also featured a young Kostas Antetokounmpo. Stone went on to sign with Maryland, breaking numerous freshman school records, while Ellenson won Big East Freshman of the Year at Marquette. Pritzl would sign with Wisconsin. As for Wisconsin, they once again made it to the Final Four, this time upsetting then-undefeated Kentucky to advance to the national championship. However, they would be ousted by Duke and Grayson Allen's breakout game.
2016 was represented in the top-100 by two players, Kostas Antetokounmpo and Sam Hauser. Hauser would go on to have three years of success with Marquette before transferring to national champion Virginia. Kostas signed with Dayton, and left after two years before being drafted with the last pick of the 2018 NBA Draft to the Mavericks. The Wisconsin Badgers would also make a Sweet Sixteen run, and the Milwaukee Bucks got a new arena deal promising that the team would stay in Milwaukee for the near future.
2017 was a quiet year on the recruiting front, with no top-100's, but both of the state's major conference college teams made the NCAA Tournament, with Marquette losing first round and Wisconsin making the Sweet Sixteen yet again. As for the Bucks, they made the playoffs in the 2016-17 season, marking a highlight in the rebuild of the franchise. Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo made his rise to the national stage, being voted in as a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game.
2018 was a hallmark year for the state, and the state really started to turn heads. Players like Jordan McCabe, Joey Hauser, Tyler Herro, Tyrese Haliburton, and J.C. Butler made the prep circuit a must-watch. McCabe-led Kaukauna brought out fans in droves to central Wisconsin, and his matchups with Haliburton-led Oshkosh North were always spectacles. Herro became a legend of sorts on his showcase of pure scoring ability. Every game he played, hundreds would fill Milwaukee-area gyms. Herro's well-documented recruiting drama took place as well. Originally committing to Wisconsin as a sophomore, the 6'5" guard flipped his commitment early in his senior campaign to the University of Kentucky. This created many haters, even in his own school. Herro, as well as McCabe, became YouTube stars. Channels like Midwest Ballers and Overtime featured highlight videos, person interviews, and other content of the two players. This media coverage truly showed how far Wisconsin had come. McCabe would go on to sign with West Virginia, #52 recruit Joey Hauser with Marquette, Haliburton with Iowa State, and Butler with U.C. Irvine.
And now we arrive in 2019. Besides the Milwaukee Bucks becoming NBA Finals hopefuls, the high school level saw yet another boost in breeding basketball talent. Look no further than the state championship games. In Division 3, Greendale Martin Luther, led by a three-headed monster of D1 prospects, ousted Northern Kentucky commit Marcus Domask and Waupun in a thrilling game. Martin Luther was a team infused with talent, as starting guards Trequan Carrington and Ace Evans both will be playing at the D1 level. Xzavier Jones, who holds offers from Maryland, St. Louis, and Bradley among others, and Jeramie King, who once held an offer from Memphis as a freshman, headlined the team as well. In the Division 2 championship game, nationally ranked Nicolet took on Milwaukee Washington in a game for the ages. Nicolet was the only team in state history to finish nationally ranked by USA Today. The game had the looks of an NBA contest, as #4 2020 recruit Jalen Johnson threw down a crazy alley-oop of the feed of #76 recruit Jamari Sibley. As for Milwaukee Washington, Michael Foster and Deontay Long led a talented team. Foster is a top-ten recruit in the class of 2021, while Deontay Long will be playing D1 ball in 2020. Joining Foster and Johnson in a new wave of top tier basketball talent in consensus #1 overall recruit in the 2021 class, Patrick Baldwin Jr. He has received similar recruiting grades to that of R.J. Barrett and Ben Simmons. Baldwin (Sussex Hamilton), Johnson, and Foster will all likely be playing ball at a blue blood school. Elsewhere in the state, areas are littered with basketball talent. Brookfield East high school, D1 state champions, feature the talented Nau brothers and top prospect David Joplin. Brookfield Academy features a pair of talented 2021 recruits, forwards Logan Landers and Max Kunnet. Racine Case was led this year by Tulane commit Nobal Days, and Waukesha West was led by big man David Skogman who will be playing at Buffalo. Brandin Podziemski and Gerald Gittens of St. John's Military Academy, Carter Gilmore of Arrowhead, Luke Haertle of Lake Country Lutheran. No matter where you look, Wisconsin has become a hotbed of basketball recruiting.
While Poole and Herro will look to carve their careers out in the NBA, they will join fellow players Stone, Deonte Burton, Vander Blue, Looney, Dwight Buycks, Ellenson, and Dekker to play in the NBA while hailing from Wisconsin. The list of players with Wisconsin roots to achieve success starts at Caron Butler, Devin Harris, and Latrell Sprewell, with few others after them. With this new wave of talent, that could very well change, and it could all start with Herro and Poole. Once an afterthought in NBA breeding grounds, Wisconsin has become an unmistakable place to showcase basketball talent.