Minnesota recruits key ingredient at Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. — Mike Bruesewitz means no disrespect to the Minnesota basketball program by saying this, but there’s a reason some of the most talented high school players in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” have ventured east to play for Wisconsin in recent years.

Bruesewitz, a St. Paul, Minn., native and Badgers forward, said part of Wisconsin’s success in recruiting players away from Minnesota simply has to do with the level of consistency each program has experienced.

Since Bo Ryan became Wisconsin’s coach in 2001-02, the Badgers have made the NCAA tournament all 10 seasons. Minnesota has qualified just three times during that span.

“They had a couple down years where they didn’t make the tournament and were just kind of an average Big Ten team,” Bruesewitz said of the Gophers. “Wisconsin was winning Big Ten titles and going to the NCAA tournament every year as soon as coach Ryan got here. Winning is a big part of this whole ordeal, so that kind of helps out with recruiting.”

When No. 21 Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4 in Big Ten play) travels to face Minnesota (17-7, 5-6) at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, the Badgers will have some of Minnesota’s top talent on display. Bruesewitz is one of three starters in Wisconsin’s lineup that hails from there, along with point guard Jordan Taylor and center Jared Berggren.

Taylor ranks among the best players in the nation, not just the state of Minnesota. This season, Taylor, a preseason All-American, leads the Badgers in points (14.0) and assists (4.4). His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1 ranks eighth in the country.

How did he slip away from Minnesota?

Taylor said he never had serious discussions about playing for the Golden Gophers when Dan Monson was coach. By the time Tubby Smith took over the program in March of 2007, Taylor was already committed to Wisconsin.

Taylor, a senior, said he still looks forward to returning to his hometown for games.

“I’ve been playing there since I was in third, fourth grade,” Taylor said. “I watched a lot of games there. I played in quite a few games up there. It’s only like 20 minutes from my house. I grew up watching Bobby Jackson and that Final Four team. I loved those guys. It’s definitely fun to go back and see family and friends in the crowd.”

The 6-foot-10 Berggren, who is second on the Badgers in scoring at 10.5 points per game, and second in the Big Ten in blocks, did receive a scholarship offer to Minnesota. However, he chose Wisconsin because he believed he would fit better into Ryan’s system than anywhere else.

As for Bruesewitz, he was not offered a scholarship by Minnesota. The Golden Gophers had only two spots available for that class, and Smith offered them to Royce White and Rodney Williams. White now stars at Iowa State, and Williams has started all 24 games for the Golden Gophers and averages 10.5 points.

“They were a little bit more physically talented than I was overall in high school,” said Bruesewitz, who has started all 24 games for the Badgers. “They went with those guys instead of me, which is totally fine with me. I literally have no hard feelings. I have no regrets. I love coming to school here and playing for Wisconsin ever since the day I stepped on campus.”

Smith said the overflow of talented high school basketball players in Minnesota and the Minneapolis area makes it impossible for the Gophers to take every player, but that also means it can be very appealing for major programs within a relatively short distance.

“It’s a very convenient place to recruit from,” Smith said. “You’ve got AAU programs and high school teams and quality players. I’m sure Wisconsin is in a good situation where they can recruit Chicago and here, the two major metropolitan areas in this region. It helps. It helps us also.”

Badgers coach Bo Ryan insists he doesn’t focus on landing recruits from a specific part of the country, even if it might seem that way to outsiders. Wisconsin actually has more players on its roster from Illinois (five) than it does from Minnesota (four).

“In the recruiting process, I don’t get territorial,” Ryan said. “I don’t get to the point where you worry about what you don’t have. With us, it’s always about what you do have. … We have guys here who want to be here. They have players that wanted to be there. There’s a place for everybody. I don’t get into that stuff. Never have.”

On Thursday, the players’ backgrounds will hardly matter. The more important thing is the way each team has played of late.

Wisconsin had its six-game winning streak snapped in a 58-52 home loss to third-ranked Ohio State, but still sits tied for third place in the Big Ten.

Minnesota began the season 12-1 by feasting on a relatively easy non-conference schedule. The Gophers then proceeded to lose their first four games in Big Ten play. Since that time, they have rallied to win five of seven, including a stunning 77-74 victory at Williams Arena against Indiana and an overtime win against Illinois.

The results have typified what a topsy-turvy existence it is this season for Big Ten teams.

“Defensively, they can get after you with how athletic they are,” Ryan said of Minnesota. “They’ve got some depth into the lineup now. It hasn’t surprised any of us that they’re doing well, especially in a league that you just don’t know. There are some years you can have a team that would go 15-3 in the Big Ten and that same team in another year could go .500 the way things are this year.”

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