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How Greg Gard plans to approach building the Badgers men's basketball roster in the transfer era
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How Greg Gard plans to approach building the Badgers men's basketball roster in the transfer era

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“Watching the transfer portal,” UW coach Greg Gard said, “is like counting cars on the Beltline.”

The unofficial start of the 2021-22 season for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program will come in about 2½ months when players return to campus for an eight-week summer session.

What the roster will look like at that point is anybody’s guess, and that includes coach Greg Gard.

While that may sound unsettling, Gard considers it part of the job in an era where players are more willing than ever to pack their bags and find a new home.

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According to a website that tracks player movement — — there were 800-plus names in the NCAA transfer portal as of Wednesday morning. That’s roughly double the amount (439) from the same day a year ago.

“I think you talk to any coach in the country, nobody’s going to tell you that they feel settled because we’re all dealing with the same thing,” Gard said earlier this week. “That’s just the generation we’re in right now.

“Transferring, it’s just like every other component in recruiting. It’s gone from 10, 15, 20 years ago, it was looked at as taboo. ‘Transfers, oh, my God, what’s wrong?’ Now, it’s like 40% (of players) will change schools.”

As Gard has learned, the transfer game can work both ways. Six players have left the UW program with eligibility remaining since he took over for Bo Ryan in December 2015, with Kobe King’s abrupt exit midway through the 2019-20 season being the most recent and only real prominent departure in that group.

Gard is realistic enough to understand that number could grow this offseason, though he said Wednesday he had no indication any non-seniors plan to leave the program.

On the flip side, a quarter of UW’s eight-man rotation this season consisted of players who started their careers elsewhere. Micah Potter, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, arrived from Ohio State midway through the 2018-19 season and backup point guard Trevor Anderson spent one season at UW-Green Bay prior to joining the Badgers as a walk-on in 2017.

The NCAA Division I Council voted in January to delay enacting legislation that would allow players to change schools without sitting out a season. It’s widely believed that one-time transfer exemption will pass at some point before the start of next season, which is why that 800-plus transfer count only will continue to grow as the end of the 2020-21 season draws closer.

“Watching the transfer portal,” Gard quipped, “is like counting cars on the Beltline.”

Gard acknowledged UW won’t just sit and watch, however. There are significant holes to fill on a young roster and the Badgers will try to fill them if the fit is right.

Does Gard have a wish list in terms of position or need? He didn’t offer specifics other than to say he’d like to add experience.

“There’s value in having that old backup quarterback who has been around the track a few times,” he said. “Maybe they statistically don’t wow you or have a large impact, but there’s just value in a steadiness and voice of experience or a voice of reason at times.”

Anderson confirmed Thursday that he’s in the portal and will play elsewhere next season as a graduate transfer. Unless Brad Davison returns for an extra senior season — the NCAA has granted that opportunity due to the COVID-19 pandemic — UW won’t have any experience at point guard. There’s potential at that spot with freshmen Chucky Hepburn and Lorne Bowman, but neither has played at a minute at the college level.

The Badgers are almost as inexperienced at center. A big, experienced body would help there as well.

Landing a scorer to pair with Jonathan Davis won’t be easy, but UW has to be on the lookout for one of those as well.

One player UW has been connected with is Jamison Battle, a forward from George Washington who works out with Badgers forward Tyler Wahl in the offseason. Battle also is being pursued by his home-state program after Minnesota hired Ben Johnson as its coach earlier this week.

Kaukauna native Jordan McCabe, a graduate transfer point guard from West Virginia, told Fox 11 in Green Bay he’s heard from UW.

Roster building in the transfer era isn’t an exact science and can lead to mixed results. Nebraska has filled its lineup with transfers during Fred Hoiberg’s first two seasons and has gone 5-34 in Big Ten play during that span.

Meanwhile, Michigan found the perfect complementary pieces in transfers Mike Smith (Columbia) and Chaundee Brown (Wake Forest) last offseason. Smith was the starting point guard and Brown a key reserve on a team that won the Big Ten Conference regular-season title and is the conference’s only remaining team in the NCAA tournament.

“I think you’re constantly looking at your roster, you’re constantly evaluating and the transfer component has to be factored in,” Gard said.

The trick this year is navigating the transfer epidemic that’s going on during a pandemic.

Coaches can’t leave their campus to recruit so they’re relying heavily on video. Gard says that’s the easy part: Just log into Synergy Sports, a web-based on-demand scouting system that includes game footage and clips along with stats and analytic data, and start evaluating.

Can a mid-major player make the jump to a high-major program? There’s plenty of tools available for coaches to sit in front of their computers and make that determination.

But even if a player is a good match in terms of talent and scheme, the biggest challenge this offseason will be figuring out a player is a good fit off the court and inside the locker room. Gard talks about the program’s culture all the time and doesn’t want to disrupt that.

Unless the Badgers find a prospect they’ve previously recruited, the process will turn into a round of speed-dating rather than a long courtship. The getting-to-know-you period is reduced from months — or longer — to days. It’s possible a transfer will accept an offer to play for a program without ever stepping foot on that campus, which has to be nerve-wracking for both the coaches and the player.

“That’s a piece of the puzzle that sometimes is challenging to fit in normal times, when you can have somebody on a 48-hour visit or you can go sit down with somebody at a home or at a restaurant and really get a face-to-face interaction,” Gard said. “Now you’re depending on technology. You’re hoping that your computer screen isn’t lying to you.”

The transfer portal has made it easier — too easy, Gard would argue — for players to bolt from a program. No conversation with the coaching staff is necessary; just fill out some paperwork and an administrator can do the rest.

On the other hand, the portal is user-friendly for coaches looking for transfers. There are various sorting tools — name; height; etc. — and either an email address or phone number if programs want to reach out to prospects.

It’s not as though the Badgers’ staff is spending all day clicking refresh on the portal, but Gard said it’s being monitored.

Rather than watching the transfer traffic fly past, UW is trying to make a stop at its exit.


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