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Wisconsin's Ethan Happ still has room to improve with his midrange game.

Wisconsin mailbag: In-state basketball talent, where things stand with PG Tai Strickland, Ethan Happ’s shooting

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss in-state high school basketball prospects, the recruitment of point guard Tai Strickland, Ethan Happ’s shooting and whether Wisconsin will offer a football scholarship to the younger brother of quarterback Alex Hornibrook.


Question 1

Answer: For those who have not read Tom Oates’ story in the Wisconsin State Journal, here is the link. Oates ran down a list of several standout high school basketball players who participated in the state tournament last week at the Kohl Center. Here are some of those names:

  • Jalen Johnson (Sun Prairie): The 6-foot-8 sophomore is the most coveted player in the state  now and already has scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Marquette, Purdue, UNLV and West Virginia. The Georgia Tech offer arrived last week. Johnson has a solid relationship with Wisconsin’s coaching staff, but he will have an opportunity to play for just about any school he wants to when it’s all said and done. I wrote about Johnson’s recruitment earlier this season, which included his thoughts on Wisconsin and where things are headed. You can check out that story here.
  • Michael Foster Jr. (Milwaukee Washington): Foster committed to Arizona State in December during his freshman season before his college recruitment could even take off. At the time, he held scholarship offers from Arizona State, Bradley, San Diego State, UNLV and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I’m sure Wisconsin would have come in with an offer given that Foster is one of the top prospects in the 2021 recruiting class. It’s extremely rare to see a player of his caliber commit to a school so early in his high school career.
  • Patrick Baldwin Jr. (Hamilton): Baldwin led his team with 22 points in a state semifinal loss against Oshkosh North. The 6-8 forward just wrapped up his freshman season and is sure to start gaining the attention of college recruiters. I’d have to imagine Wisconsin will offer a scholarship to him.
  • Tyrese Haliburton (Oshkosh North): Haliburton had 15 scholarship offers and committed to Iowa State in September 2017. Wisconsin never offered him and wasn’t in the picture. He was considering Nebraska, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Northern Iowa. He is a quality player, but Wisconsin also can’t take everybody from inside the state.
  • Jordan McCabe (Kaukauna): McCabe put together a sensational senior season in which he earned the state’s Mr. Basketball award. He committed to West Virginia and did not receive a Wisconsin offer. Many Badgers fans have wondered why Wisconsin did not pursue McCabe. For starters, Wisconsin used scholarships on point guards in the 2016 and 2017 classes by taking D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison, so it didn’t necessarily make sense at the time to take point guards in three consecutive classes. McCabe also was slightly undersized, and his style of play didn’t match what Wisconsin was looking for from a point guard.

McCabe committed to West Virginia in August 2016, and Wisconsin was confident it would land in-state guard Tyler Herro. Herro committed to Wisconsin in September 2016, only to de-commit 13 months later and wind up signing with Kentucky. Having said all that, it’s interesting that Wisconsin is now looking to add a point guard in its 2018 recruiting class, after all. Tai Strickland recently visited and has the Badgers atop his short list, alongside Minnesota and Rutgers.

Question 2

Answer: There is no question Jordan McCabe is one of the top point guards in the country, and the fact he is a Wisconsin product only magnifies the attention he received from fans who wished he would play for the Badgers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he was the right fit for Wisconsin. He was a high-volume shooter at Kaukauna who was prone to frequently turning the ball over as well. In the state championship game, he showed his greatness by scoring 32 points and lifting Kaukauna to a title. He also made 10 of 33 shots from the field.

McCabe will be a great asset in West Virginia’s up-tempo, pressing system. But Wisconsin’s style of play is different. Wisconsin initially had not intended on looking for a point guard in the 2018 recruiting class. The Badgers landed D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison in the previous two classes. When Wisconsin collected a commitment from in-state shooting guard Tyler Herro, the class looked great. But Herro de-committed and picked Kentucky. Meanwhile, it became clear Wisconsin needed to add another playmaking guard. So, Wisconsin is now in pursuit of point guard Tai Strickland, who prides himself on defense, rebounding and creating for teammates.

Question 3

Answer: Ethan Happ works as hard as anybody on Wisconsin’s team, so the shooting numbers aren’t for lack of effort. He didn’t become as good as he is without spending countless hours in the gym. But you are correct in that the percentages aren’t good. Last season, he shot 55 percent from the free-throw line and connected on 1 of 11 3-point attempts.

Happ’s free-throw shooting has been all over the place. He shot 64.3 percent from the line as a redshirt freshman but only 50 percent as a sophomore. In terms of his outside shooting, that is something that should continue to evolve. I asked Happ about developing his midrange game when I talked to him in January.

“I think that when it’s opportune and I feel comfortable and in rhythm, then it’s going to show,” Happ said. “But, at the same time, what Coach tells you, it’s tough when we can get a possession with me in the post and have a kickout and a wide-open 3 for a shooter. So, it’s tough to decide when to do it or not to do it.”

I also spoke to Toby Whiteman, who was Happ’s high school coach at Rockridge in Illinois. Whiteman said Happ made 3-pointers as a high school player. But he noted there are issues associated with maintaining shooting form while continuing to grow, which take time to sort out. Happ entered high school as a 6-foot-2 guard, was 6-8 as a senior and has since grown to 6-10.

“It’s going to throw off a ton of your mechanics,” Whiteman said. “So now what you have to do is you’ve got to go right back in, and it’s almost like re-teaching yourself all over again. And that’s what he’s doing.

“He’s still young. I think the whole shooting thing is going to come. I know it’s going to come, given the years that everybody else has to perfect their shooting form. You know it’s going to happen because of his work ethic.”

Question 4

Answer: Jake Hornibrook is a 6-4, 275-pound tackle from Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania who holds 17 scholarship offers. In the last week, he has picked up offers from Stanford, Minnesota, Oregon and Northwestern. The Wisconsin pipeline is obvious given that his older brother, Alex, is the Badgers’ starting quarterback. But at this stage, Wisconsin coaches believe they’ve offered players who are perhaps a cut above Jake Hornibrook.

Wisconsin already has commitments from two tackles in the 2019 class with Logan Brown and Joe Tippmann. The Badgers appear to be in good shape with tackle Bryce Benhart. Wisconsin is in Quinn Carroll’s top 6 and John Olmstead’s top 10. Jonathan Allen, Trevor Keegan and Andrew Kristofic also are high on Wisconsin. Perhaps Wisconsin will offer Hornibrook this summer, but that is one position group the Badgers are well-positioned with in their 2019 class.

Question 5

Answer: I talked to Tai Strickland on Sunday, and Wisconsin is officially in his top 3, alongside Rutgers and Minnesota. He took his official visit to Wisconsin last weekend, will visit Rutgers next weekend and then see Minnesota’s campus on April 6. I think Wisconsin is in pretty good position for Strickland, although he did not tip his hand about which program was his leader.

Strickland definitely had a good visit to Wisconsin with his parents. He toured the campus, visited the business school, ate on State Street and saw the lake. He went to dinner with Wisconsin’s team and talked quite a bit with members of the coaching staff. It’s clear the Badgers really want him and see him as a strong fit for the program.

“They pointed to me being a true point guard,” Strickland told me. “Me being able to defend, rebound. They think that I can come in, 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 told me he wasn’t concerned about Wisconsin’s guard depth this upcoming season, which includes D’Mitrik Trice, Kobe King, Brad Davison, Brevin Pritzl and Trevor Anderson. And given that he’s a true point guard, he probably possesses a skill set that the returning players don’t. Strickland told me he would make his decision around Signing Day, which is April 11.

Question 6

Answer: As it stands, Wisconsin is adding forward Taylor Currie, as well as preferred walk-on center Joe Hedstrom, who will go on scholarship in 2019. Currie is a versatile forward at 6-8 and 210 pounds, but he actually moved up a grade and reclassified, so he’s a year younger than everybody else in his class. It’s a good bet that he’ll come in and take a redshirt season. Currie routinely recorded double-doubles his last two seasons while playing for Clarkston, which was a dominant high school team in Michigan. He strikes me as someone with a pretty high ceiling who could develop into a key rotation player as an upperclassman.

Hedstrom is somebody who will be able to bang down low with big guys and impact the game defensively. He isn’t the typical big guy we have come to see at Wisconsin who will pick and pop around the perimeter. But his skill set could translate well when Wisconsin needs toughness in the paint during Big Ten play.

Question 7

Answer: It’s far too early to speculate about whether Kare Lyles or Danny Vanden Boom stays with the program. Lyles will be a redshirt sophomore next season, and Vanden Boom will be a redshirt freshman. The fact that Jack Coan surpassed Lyles on the depth chart for the backup quarterback job does not bode well for Lyles’ future playing status. It will be interesting to see where things shake out when incoming quarterback Chase Wolf has a year in the program and what the roster could look like if Graham Mertz signs in the 2019 class.

Vanden Boom had a special high school career at Kimberly and went 28-0 at a starter his last two seasons. He’s a winner and the type of player coaches want in the meeting room. I don’t know what other position Vanden Boom would play, but he’s athletic enough to find a place somewhere, if coaches deem it necessary. Vanden Boom was an excellent baseball and basketball player in high school.

Have a question about Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.