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.
According to a website that tracks player movement — verbalcommits.com — 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.
Dairyland dance: 20 players and coaches from Wisconsin in the NCAA men's basketball tournament
TREVOR ANDERSON | WISCONSIN
Anderson, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior from Stevens Point, is averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 assists for the Badgers off the bench this season. Named Mr. Basketball and AP Player of the Year as a senior in 2016 after the Panthers repeated as Division 1 champions, Anderson attended UW-Green Bay before transferring to UW, redshirting in 2017-18 and suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2018-19. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
NATE BUSS | WINTHROP
Buss (above center), a 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior from Verona, has been held scoreless in the brief action he's seen in four games with the Eagles since transferring. No. 12 Winthrop opens the tournament 8:57 p.m. Friday against No. 5 Villanova in the South region.
JONATHAN DAVIS | WISCONSIN
Jonathan Davis, a 6-foot-5, 196-pound freshman from La Crosse, is averaging 7.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists in his first season in Madison alongside his twin brother Jordan. Named Mr. Basketball in 2020, Jonathan Davis is Central’s all-time scoring leader with 2,158 points. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
JORDAN DAVIS | WISCONSIN
Jordan Davis, a 6-foot-4, 196-pound freshman from La Crosse, is averaging 0.5 points in 11 appearances since joining the Badgers with twin brother Jonathan. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
CARTER GILMORE | WISCONSIN
Gilmore, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound freshman from Hartland Arrowhead, is a preferred walk-on at UW. Named AP first-team All-State and Classic 8 Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2020, he is Arrowhead's career scoring leader with 1,565 points. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
JAMES GRAHAM | MARYLAND
Graham (above right), a 6-foot-8, 205-pound freshman who led Glendale Nicolet to a 22-2 record in 2019-20, left Nicolet to enroll mid-year at Maryland on Dec. 27, 2020, and joined the team immediately. He's played in seven games for the Terrapins, averaging 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds. Tenth-seeded Maryland opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Saturday against No. 7 Connecticut in the East region.
JOEY HAUSER | MICHIGAN STATE
Joey Hauser, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior from Stevens Point, is averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Spartans — highlighted by a 27-point effort against UW on Christmas Day — since transferring from Marquette and sitting out the 2019-20 season. Michigan State opens the tournament 8:57 p.m. Thursday against UCLA in a First Four game, with a matchup against No. 6 BYU on the line in the East region.
SAM HAUSER | VIRGINIA
Sam Hauser, a 6-foot-8, 218-pound senior who played at Stevens Point High School, is averaging 16.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the Cavaliers this season after transferring from Marquette and redshirting in 2019-20. Fourth-seeded Virginia opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Ohio in the West region.
JORDAN McCABE | WEST VIRGINIA
McCabe, a 6-foot, 188-pound junior who earned Mr. Basketball and AP All-State Player of the Year honors at Kaukauna in 2018, is averaging 2.3 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game this season for the Mountaineers. Third-seeded West Virginia opens the tournament 8:50 p.m. Friday against No. 14 Morehead State in the Midwest region.
JAMARI SIBLEY | GEORGETOWN
Sibley (above left), a 6-foot-8, 200-pound freshman who played high school ball at Glendale Nicolet and then Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, is averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 rebound in 20 appearances for the Hoyas. No. 12 Georgetown opens the tournament 11:15 a.m. Saturday against No. 5 Colorado.
BEN VANDER PLAS | OHIO
Vander Plas, a 6-foot-8, 232-pound senior from Ripon, is averaging 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists this season, his second as a starter for the Bobcats. No. 13 Ohio opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 4 Virginia.
ALONDES WILLIAMS | OKLAHOMA
Williams, a 6-foot-5, 201-pound senior who played high school ball at Milwaukee Riverside, is averaging 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22 appearances, including 14 starts, for the Sooners this season. Eighth-seeded Oklahoma opens the tournament 6:25 p.m. Saturday against No. 9 Missouri in the West region.
TONY BENNETT | HEAD COACH | VIRGINIA
Tony Bennett, son of former UW coach Dick Bennett, has won three national coach of the year awards while leading Virginia to a 277-96 record over 12 seasons. Fourth-seeded Virginia opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Ohio in the West region.
BRADY ELLINGSON | DIRECTOR OF OPS. | DRAKE
Ellingson, a Sussex Hamilton graduate, played three years at the University of Iowa and earned second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors at Drake in 2018-19 before beginning to serve as a video coordinator for the Bulldogs last season. Drake faces Wichita in a First Four game 5:27 p.m. Thursday for the right to face sixth-seeded USC.
GREG GARD | HEAD COACH | WISCONSIN
Gard, a native of Cobb in southern Wisconsin, has compiled a 118-69 record since taking over as Wisconsin’s head coach in 2015. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
CLAY MOSER | ASSISTANT | ARKANSAS
Moser, who graduated from UW-La Crosse in 1987, has coached in schools at all levels from the USA to China, including in the NBA with Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers before being hired by Eric Musselman once again, this time with the Razorbacks. Third-seeded Arkansas opens the tournament 11:45 a.m. Friday against No. 14 Colgate.
NATE OATS | HEAD COACH | ALABAMA
Oats, a Watertown native who played Maranatha Baptist Academy High School from 1993-97, is 40-21 since taking over the Crimson Tide program in March 2019. Second-seeded Alabama opens the tournament 3 p.m. Saturday against No. 15 Iona in the East region.
SHAKA SMART | HEAD COACH | TEXAS
Smart, who grew up in the Madison area and was a three-year starter at Oregon High School, is 109-85 since taking over the Texas program in 2015. Third-seeded Texas opens the tournament 8:50 p.m. Saturday against No. 14 Abilene Christian in the East region.
BRAD SODERBERG | ASSISTANT | VIRGINIA
Soderberg, who grew up in Wausau and attended Stevens Point Pacelli High School, is in his fifth season at Virginia. Starting his college playing career at Ripon College before transferring to UW-Stevens Point and playing under Dick Bennett, Soderberg also joined former NBA star and coach Terry Porter to play in the 1984 NAIA national championship game and coached under Bennett at UW from 1995-2001. Fourth-seeded Virginia opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Ohio in the West region.
JULIAN SWARTZ | ASSISTANT | GEORGIA TECH
Swartz (above left), a three-time Associated Press All-State player at Waukesha South and 1999 state player of the year, played on UW's 2000 Final Four team but left the program due to issues connected with obsessive-compulsive disorder and earned his degree from Carroll College in 2005. He has been with Georgia Tech since 2016 and has served as an assistant coach since 2018. Ninth-seeded Georgia Tech opens the tournament 3 p.m. Friday against Loyola Chicago in the Midwest region.