Late in point guard Tai Strickland’s senior season, he began to wonder whether all his hard work would pay off. He held scholarship offers from South Florida, Boston College, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech but wanted more options before making a decision.
Maybe, he thought, he’d just have to go the prep school route and wait another year.
“For so long, it was like, ‘What am I gonna do?'” Strickland told Land of 10. “I was thinking that extra year would finally get coaches to realize that I’m good enough.”
As it turned out, Strickland didn’t have to put his college basketball dreams on hold. He earned a scholarship offer from Wisconsin on Feb. 15, which sparked subsequent offers from Rutgers, Minnesota and DePaul.
But the Wisconsin offer stood out. Two weekends ago, Strickland took an official visit to Madison. By Tuesday afternoon, Strickland was ready to make an announcement for which he had waited years: He’s committing to the Badgers’ Class of 2018. Strickland intends to sign his National Letter of Intent during the next signing period on April 11 and enroll this summer.
— Tai Strickland (@taistrickland13) March 27, 2018
Strickland followed up his Wisconsin visit with a trip to see Rutgers, another of his top 3. He didn’t need a visit to Minnesota, his third finalist, to know Madison was the place for him.
“All the schools really had a need,” Strickland said. “But with Wisconsin, it was like, ‘You can come in, you can compete, but we’re going to make you better, and we’re going to keep on making you better, and we’re going to win while we’re doing it.’ That was really big for me.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Strickland is rated as a 3-star player and the No. 53 point guard in his class, according to the 247Sports composite. But he represents an important recruiting win for Wisconsin, which did not have a guard in the 2018 class. Badgers coaches previously offered scholarships to point guards Tyger Campbell (La Porte, Ind.) and Xavier Pinson (Chicago). Campbell committed to UCLA, while Pinson picked Missouri. Only 10 point guards ranked ahead of Strickland remain uncommitted.
Wisconsin still could pursue a potential graduate transfer to bolster the front court. The Badgers have another available scholarship in 2018. They are losing forward Aaron Moesch and guard T.J. Schlundt, as well as forward Andy Van Vliet, who decided to transfer. Wisconsin is bringing in Strickland and forward Taylor Currie (Clarkston, Mich.) as scholarship freshmen. Center Joe Hedstrom (Hopkins, Minn.) will enter the program as a walk-on before earning a scholarship in 2019.
Badgers assistant coach Howard Moore was the lead recruiter on Strickland and watched him play in person in February. Strickland said Wisconsin’s coaches were ecstatic when he told them about his commitment, particularly Moore.
“The first thing he told me was, ‘You’re going to make a lot of people happy today,'” Strickland said. “That was really cool of him to tell me that.”
Strickland transferred to St. Petersburg (Fla.) High School after starting for two seasons at Tampa Catholic, where he played on the same team as McDonald’s All-American Kevin Knox, who recently finished his freshman season at Kentucky. Knox averaged 28.5 points per game in his senior season, while Strickland averaged 13.2.
But Strickland said he took a major confidence leap when he attended the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 camp last summer at the University of Virginia.
“I really competed,” Strickland said. “I came into this year and I was like, ‘I competed against all the top guys in the country. Now I’m getting into the high school season, and I have to dominate.’ I really did that.”
Tai Strickland highlights
During his senior season, Strickland played alongside another Division I prospect at St. Petersburg in guard Serrel Smith, who recently de-committed from Ole Miss. Strickland and Smith helped lead St. Petersburg to a 24-6 record and a spot in the Florida Class 8A state semifinals. Strickland noted the fact he had an opportunity to play with two high-major teammates in consecutive seasons made him a better player.
“I learned from those guys how I need to approach the game, how I need to work out, how I need to have the mindset coming into a game that these guys are not better than me and that I need to take over and I need to win,” Strickland said. “Winning is the biggest part.”
Wisconsin possesses a strong backcourt rotation returning next season. Brad Davison, who hosted Strickland on his official visit, is coming off a freshman campaign in which he ranked second on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game. Brevin Pritzl ranked fourth in scoring at 8.9 points per game and played some of his best basketball down the stretch.
The Badgers will return D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King, both of whom missed the final 23 games because of season-ending injuries. Wisconsin also will have Trevor Anderson, who sat out as a redshirt under NCAA rules after transferring from Green Bay. But Strickland said he believes he can earn immediate playing time given his skill set as a true point guard who defends, rebounds and makes the right play on offense.
Strickland said his father, Rod, provided guidance throughout the recruiting process. Rod Strickland went to DePaul and played in the NBA from 1988-2005. Tai relayed a phone conversation he had with his father on Tuesday about Wisconsin.
“He asked me, ‘Is that what you want to do?'” Strickland said. “I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘All right, good. We’re ready to get back to work.’ I’ve got to come in with the right mindset to come in and not take a back seat, but to really excel and develop myself.”
Wisconsin finished the season 15-18 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Strickland, however, is confident the Badgers won’t be absent from the postseason for long. And with Strickland on the roster, Wisconsin has even more reason for optimism.
“All those guys are great,” Strickland said. “I built a good relationship with all those guys when I was up there. I realized those guys are hungry and they’re ready to get back to the tournament.”