Five weeks ago, point guard Tai Strickland was waiting and hoping all the hard work during his high school basketball career would pay off in the form of more scholarship offers. He was a self-proclaimed “late-bloomer,” and time was running out for coaches to notice him as his senior season sped to a close.
But then Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore watched Strickland and came away so impressed that the Badgers offered him a scholarship, beginning a string of offers to come Strickland’s way. Rutgers, Minnesota and DePaul entered the fold, providing Strickland with plenty to ponder.
Now, Strickland is in the process of whittling down his list to finalists. And after taking an official visit to Madison over the weekend, Wisconsin is firmly in the mix alongside Minnesota and Rutgers. Strickland is scheduled to take an official visit to Rutgers on Friday and is in the process of setting up a visit to Minnesota.
Strickland visited Madison with his parents and liked what the city and the campus had to offer.
“The city of Madison is beautiful,” Strickland told Land of 10. “The city was great. The facilities are really big-time. I like that. The people up there are really cool. I liked those guys.
“We toured the facilities, the Kohl Center, we went over to the school of business. That’s one of my big things that I wanted to do. We went down to State Street, looked at the restaurants, ate near the lake. Of course, it was frozen at this time, which was actually pretty cool. That’s most of what we did.”
What did Strickland like most about his visit?
“Definitely the fans,” he said. “They love Wisconsin basketball.”
Strickland is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior from St. Petersburg, Fla. He ranks as the No. 33 player in Florida and the No. 53 point guard in the country, according to the 247Sports composite. Strickland is one of the top uncommitted point guards in his class, as only nine point guards ranked ahead of him have yet to commit to a school. He held previous offers from South Florida, Boston College, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. Strickland’s father, Rod, went to DePaul and played in the NBA from 1988-2005.
Wisconsin offered Strickland a scholarship on Feb. 15, and he kept close tabs on the Badgers over their final six games. He watched on television as Wisconsin upset No. 6 Purdue 57-53 at the Kohl Center on the same day he earned his Badgers offer. Wisconsin finished the season 15-18 overall and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
Strickland is aware of Wisconsin’s recent history of success and pointed to the Badgers’ 19-year NCAA Tournament appearance streak. He could be a piece to the puzzle that helps the Badgers return next season.
“Those guys have a drive,” Strickland said. “They’re hungry to get back. They broke the streak, so they’re kind of in redemption mode. They want to get back there.”
While Strickland was on his visit, Wisconsin coaches made a strong pitch to him to join the Badgers’ 2018 recruiting class. Wisconsin is bringing in forward Taylor Currie (Clarkston, Mich.) on scholarship. Center Joe Hedstrom (Hopkins, Minn.) will begin his career as a walk-on before earning a scholarship in 2019.
“They pointed to me being a true point guard,” Strickland said. “Me being able to defend, rebound. They think that I can come, compete and contribute immediately.
“When a guard can rebound, I can get it and go immediately. There’s no outlet and you can go from there. You can run the plays off of that. That’s big because it pushes tempo a little bit and it also helps to get other guys involved.”
Strickland transferred to St. Petersburg after starting for two seasons at Tampa Catholic, where he played on the same team as McDonald’s All-American Kevin Knox, who is now a freshman at Kentucky. Knox averaged 28.5 points per game last season, while Strickland averaged 13.2 points.
This past 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 formed a devastating back-court duo that helped lead St. Petersburg to a 24-6 season and a spot in the Class 8A state semifinals.
Strickland made the game-winning bucket with 10 seconds left to help his team defeat previously unbeaten Countryside 62-61 in December. Smith and Strickland both were named to the all-tournament team in December at the Under Armour Holiday Classic. Strickland scored a team-high 23 points in the title game of the event.
Strickland said he met everyone on Wisconsin’s team during dinner and liked the group. Badgers guard Brad Davison, a freshman from Maple Grove, Minn., hosted Strickland on his visit.
“He was great,” Strickland said. “We just talked about how if I go there, I’ll be set for life. Those guys, they take care of each other during your time there and then the time you’re not there.”
Wisconsin appears to possess a solid backcourt rotation returning next season. Davison 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 isn’t concerned about guard depth hindering his ability to play.
“That doesn’t bother me at all,” he said.
Strickland said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino would visit him Monday, along with Gophers assistant coach Kimani Young. Strickland expects to finalize a visit to Minnesota soon. He said he anticipated making a college decision “around signing day,” which is April 11. The final signing date for Division I basketball players is May 16.
“It just depends on when my visits are and then how long I have,” Strickland said. “My spring break is coming up in two weeks. So I don’t know when that last visit with Minnesota will be. Whenever I can figure that out, then I’ll make a date.”