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Carmen Backes photo (copy)

Carmen Backes

Jonathan Tsipis was looking to build the foundation for his University of Wisconsin women’s basketball program going forward with his 2018 recruiting class.

And he is confident that he and his staff were able to do just that with the five-player group that he has assembled. Three of them signed a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday and the other two will in the next few days of the early signing period.

It is a class that includes three players ranked in the top 100 nationally by at least one scouting service and is ranked No. 26 by Prospects Nation.

The class consists of: Carmen Backes, a 6-foot-1 wing from Lindstrom, Minnesota; Jasmine Hale, a 5-9 guard from Cincinnati; Diamond Bragg, a 5-9 guard from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania; Imani Lewis, a 6-1 forward from Willingboro, New Jersey; and Maia Caito, a 6-4 post from Cranston, Rhode Island.

Backes, Hale and Bragg signed on Wednesday, while Caito is expected to sign Thursday and Lewis early next week.

“I am extremely proud that these well-rounded and competitive young women have decided to join the Wisconsin women’s basketball family,” Tsipis said. “Our coaching staff built great relationships with each of these young women.

“Individually, each member of the class has a strong desire to compete against the best and collectively this group wants to take Wisconsin women’s basketball to the next level in the Big Ten.”

The headliners of the class are top-100 players Backes and Lewis.

Backes averaged 27.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game as a junior at Chisago Lakes High School before being sidelined by a torn ACL. A four-star recruit by Prospects Nation and ESPN HoopGurlz, Backes is ranked No. 87 by Prospects Nation and No. 65 by Blue Star Report.

“Carmen is a gifted scorer who plays inside and out,” Tsipis said. “She is a great shooter who plays with a toughness on both ends of the court. She is a great leader who has played at a high level in AAU with some of the best players in the country. She will bring a toughness to our team and fits with her versatility. Carmen’s mom played college basketball and her dad was a national champion and Olympic shot putter.”

Backes played for the powerful North Tartan club, whose alums include current Badgers Cayla McMorris and Courtney Fredrickson, as well as former UW players like Alyssa Karel and Tara Steinbauer.

Lewis is ranked No. 41 overall and No. 6 at forward by Prospects Nation and No. 42 by Blue Star Report. She averaged 17.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks last season at Live Center Academy in Burlington, New Jersey.

Bragg, who originally committed to Georgetown before reopening her recruiting, is ranked No. 98 by Blue Star Report. She averaged 21.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.6 blocks as a junior at Camp Hill High School.

“Diamond is a combo guard that is a dynamic scorer who attacks the basket with great aggressiveness,” said Tsipis. “She can score in many different ways and is a skilled passer who always works to get the ball to people in a position to be successful.

“Defensively, Diamond uses her strength, athleticism and aggressiveness to pressure the ball. She plays the game extremely hard and led the Philadelphia Belles to EYBL Nike Nationals Semifinals this past summer.”

Hale, a three-time first-team all-conference player at West Clermont High School, is ranked No. 126 by Blue Star Report and the No. 28 guard by ESPN HoopGurlz.

“Jas is a great slasher who can really get to the basket and score the basketball,” said Tsipis. “She can score from the 3-point line and has a good mid-range jumper as well. She is a good on-ball defender, who disrupts opponents with her length. She comes from a very athletic family as her father played basketball and her mom played soccer at Florida State.”

Caito, who committed earlier this week, averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists as a junior at Cranston East.

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Dennis Punzel covers Wisconsin Badgers volleyball, women's basketball for the Wisconsin State Journal.