Taylor Currie is playing this offseason in an invite-only pickup game that features a who’s who of Detroit-area basketball stars. Division II All-Americans who played professionally overseas and Division I standouts who reached the G-League are regulars. Last week, former first-round NBA draft pick Jordan Crawford showed up.
Currie routinely is one of the youngest, least experienced players there. And the physicality and speed with which the game is played feels unlike anything he has seen on a basketball court. It is challenging and frustrating at times. It is also hoops heaven for Currie.
“I think it gives me a realistic look of what I’m going to see going into college next year,” Currie said. “It’s just amazing playing with these guys. Oh, you’ll be able to make that play in high school, but playing against these guys, you’re going to get it blocked or you’re going to get it stolen.”
The evolution and education of Currie’s game continues to take shape. Currie craves competition in his quest to become the best basketball player he can be. That is a big reason why he has signed in Wisconsin’s 2018 recruiting class and will enroll in June rather than return to high school for his senior season.
Currie, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward, turned 17 in August and has taken an unusual path to the Badgers’ 2018 class. As a freshman, Currie attended Worthington Christian in Ohio, and took extra classes that allowed him to pull ahead in his high school credits. The family moved to Clarkston, Mich., before Currie’s sophomore season.
He received a scholarship offer from Michigan in June 2017 and committed to the Wolverines. Coaches there saw value in him joining the program in 2018 and taking a redshirt season with the program rather than remaining a 2019 prospect. So Currie took three classes online last summer to fulfill his academic requirements to reclassify. He skipped his junior year altogether and returned for the 2017-18 season as a high school senior.
But all of the assistant coaches who recruited him subsequently left for other jobs. Jeff Meyer left to become an assistant coach at Butler under LaVall Jordan — a former Wolverines assistant who recruited Currie in the eighth and ninth grade. Michigan assistant Billy Donlon accepted an assistant coaching position at Northwestern.
Michigan coach John Beilein then hired new assistants who already had certain prospects in mind for the 2018 class. He asked Currie if he would consider returning to the 2019 class as either a high school senior or a prep school candidate. Currie ultimately de-committed in late September, one week after Michigan accepted a commitment from 4-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis.
In stepped Wisconsin with a scholarship offer that prompted excitement from the Currie family.
“Wisconsin was always a better basketball fit for Taylor,” said Currie’s father, Jason. “We knew that from the beginning, primarily because of the inside-outside game that he possesses. We really looked at the value system of the staff. We looked at the quality of the education. So we really had a narrow window of programs that we would consider from just a values and an integrity perspective, which is why Michigan and Wisconsin were the top two.”
Taylor Currie highlights
Jason Currie said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard gave Taylor the option of committing in either the 2018 or 2019 class. But Gard advised Taylor that the Badgers needed a stretch forward in the 2018 class and offered the opportunity for him to take a redshirt season. While Taylor could have returned for his senior year of high school and taken only one or two legitimate courses, he jumped at the chance to enroll at Wisconsin in 2018 and committed in October.
“The redshirt year is a great idea for him,” Clarkston boys basketball coach Dan Fife said. “Knowing the kind of coaches that Wisconsin has, it’s really going to benefit him, I think, to reclassify and go up there and redshirt with them. I’m sorry to lose him here. But I do think he needs that next level to work with a person that can help his strengths.
“He’ll get to practice against that level. His progress, it’s there. His potential is there. I just think we can’t offer the same things here at Clarkston that the redshirt year can offer him. I don’t know any high school that could. We can’t have somebody quicker, faster, stronger than him in our gym every day.”
Currie joins point guard Tai Strickland and center Joe Hedstrom as members of the Badgers’ 2018 class. He said he hopes to earn minutes as a redshirt freshman in 2019 after several upperclassmen in the front court use up their eligibility, including Ethan Happ, Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen.
Currie noted that the safety net of beginning his college career with a redshirt season would lessen the pressure on him in making the big jump from high school.
“They’re very patient, and I think you’ve seen that,” Currie said. “You obviously saw that with Frank Kaminsky. Maybe he didn’t have as great of a first year and second year as he would’ve hoped. But he really made that jump in between his sophomore and his junior year.
“Knowing that I can come in and develop under the same guys that developed him, it really gives you all the confidence in the world looking at what those guys can do with big guys like me. And knowing I’ll have an extra year where nothing will be rushed and everything will be like I’ll be taking my time, making sure I’m learning everything and doing everything the right way, I just think that’s huge.”
Currie started for Clarkston High as a sophomore despite being the only underclassman on the roster. He averaged 9 points with 8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 54 percent from the field. Currie recorded 16 points and 10 rebounds in Clarkston’s state championship victory, capping the first state title in program history.
This season, Currie averaged a double-double and played a key role in Clarkston winning back-to-back state championships, alongside point guard Foster Loyer, a Michigan State commit. During the team’s five-game playoff run, Currie averaged 12.6 points and 12.2 rebounds. In three seasons of high school basketball, Currie’s teams at two schools finished with a combined record of 73-7.
Jason Currie said his son’s high school team practices primarily consisted of 30 minutes of defensive shell drills, followed by roughly 90 minutes of full-court play. Jason and Taylor regularly stayed after practice to work on fundamentals for more than an hour, rolling through a combination of post work, mid-range jumpers and 3-point shooting.
“We live in the gym,” Jason said.
Taylor Currie also works with trainer Reggie Butler, who is well known in the Detroit area for helping some of the top prospects in the state, including 2018 Michigan State signee Thomas Kithier and Purdue signee Trevion Williams. Currie’s connection with Butler helped lead him into those invitation-only pickup games that have become such an important learning tool for him in the months before he enrolls at Wisconsin.
“He’s a big, tall kid, but there’s more to it,” said Jeff Kosin, Clarkston’s athletics director. “He’s in the gym quite a bit after hours. He’s in the gym on the weekends with dad and trainers honing in on the skills that he needs to be successful.
“You don’t find that. I’d love to say that it happens quite a bit, but I think we’re in a society where kids are somewhat spoiled and think it should be given to them instead of working hard at it. He’s kind of the opposite. His work ethic is pretty strong.”
Currie is looking forward to gaining strength in the weight room and knowledge on the floor to grow into an even better basketball player at Wisconsin.
“Really, it was just the perfect fit,” Currie said. “That’s one of the things that my dad and I had always talked about growing up. We love to watch basketball together. We watched Wisconsin. From a basketball perspective, the way they play the game and their style, it’s probably the best basketball fit for me in the country. It’s an awesome opportunity.”