It would have made for a cool story if Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl had huddled up somewhere in the Twin Cities earlier this week and decided they’d announce their commitments to the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program on back-to-back days.
Carlson says that’s not the way it went down.
“It was just coincidence,” he said. “There was no plan or anything like that.”
Carlson, a 6-foot-9 forward from Woodbury, Minnesota, orally committed on Wednesday, completing a deep and impressive 2020 recruiting class for Greg Gard and his staff.
His announcement came less than 24 hours after Crowl, a 6-10 forward/center from St. Paul who played on the same AAU team as Carlson, pledged his allegiance to UW.
The two big men from Minnesota join a class that already included La Crosse Central siblings Johnny and Jordan Davis, both 6-5 wings; and Lorne Bowman, a point guard from the Detroit area. Carter Gilmore, a 6-7 forward at Hartland Arrowhead, is a preferred walk-on in the class.
“I think it’s a really good class,” Carlson said. “One thing the coaches told me it’s a class of really good guys, and I think that’s important.”
If rankings are to be believed, Carlson may be the best of the bunch. He averaged 16.6 points and 11.3 rebounds as a junior at East Ridge High School last season and is a consensus top-100 recruit.
Carlson is ranked No. 82 in the country by 247 Sports, No. 88 by ESPN and No. 89 by Rivals. His other five finalists were Xavier, Purdue, Iowa State, Minnesota and Stanford and he also had scholarship offers from Iowa, Creighton, Ohio State, Colorado, Northwestern and Wake Forest.
“He’s versatile,” said Josh Peltier, who’s in his first season as East Ridge’s coach but has watched Carlson’s growth from afar. “He can play a variety of positions, inside and out. He’s got the skills to be a guard, but also physically can match up inside with some of the bigger kids.”
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Carlson’s commitment continues a remarkable three-month stretch for UW, which had been in a recruiting rut since Bowman became the first member of the 2020 class last November.
The Davis brothers got the ball rolling by committing in mid-June. Gilmore, who had offers from De Paul, UW-Milwaukee, Indiana State and four other Division I programs, committed on Aug. 8 and Chris Hodges, a forward from Chicago in the 2021 class, committed a week later.
Crowl and Carlson, who were teammates on the D-1 Minnesota AAU program, made official visits on the same weekend earlier this month. Less than two weeks later, both decided they wanted to become Badgers.
“It wasn’t a huge impact,” Carlson said of Crowl’s commitment a day earlier. “But I played with him last year for AAU, and being able to play with someone who you’ve already played with is an added bonus going in. You’re already friends with someone before you even get to the school. You don’t get that at many places, and I think that’s only going to help both of us once we get there.”
At UW, Carlson and Crowl will join two other D-1 Minnesota alumni: junior forward Nate Reuvers and freshman forward Tyler Wahl. Toss in junior guard Brad Davison and redshirt freshman center Joe Hedstrom, and UW has landed six scholarship players from Minnesota in a span of five recruiting classes since Gard took over as coach in late 2015.
The Badgers also landed eventual starters Kammron Taylor, Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz from Minnesota while Gard was an assistant under Bo Ryan.
“The big thing for me is the people there,” Carlson said. “I just felt really comfortable when I was on my visit there. I’ve known the coaches for three years. I know the players a lot better now. It seems like they all have the same values as me.”
Peltier believes Carlson still has plenty of room to grow as a player.
“I think his best days are still ahead of him,” Peltier said. “He’s growing into his body, he grew so quickly. Athletically, he’s really starting to flourish. He’s our hardest worker. He’s always going to be working to improve all parts of his game going forward. All the offensive skills are good right now, but they have room for improvement, too, because he wants to keep getting better with that.”