Class of 2013: The Right Kind of Pieces
MADISON - The first day of the early signing period for college basketball hardly generates the same pomp and circumstances that college football does during the first week of February. At the University of Wisconsin, it's a day that fits in with all the other signing days that have come and gone under 12th-year head coach Bo Ryan. No matter the number of players, it's typically a class with one star and a bunch of other really solid contributors. Wisconsin's 2013 five-person class is unusual in some ways. For starters, it equals the biggest class Ryan has ever brought in at one time (2008 and 2002), and ranks fifth in the Big Ten according to Fox Sports Next's rankings. It has the typical Midwest post players in Bowling Green (Oh.) High's Vitto Brown, Toledo (Oh.) Whitmer High Nigel Hayes and Minnetonka (Minn.) High's Riley Dearring. It has a typical under-the-radar guard, but from an atypical place, in Pasadena (Cailf.) La Salle guard Jordan Hill. Most importantly, it has the best player in the state of Wisconsin in four-star La Crosse Aquinas point guard Bronson Koenig. "If there's one thing that Bo Ryan has proven is that he can make pieces fit together and get the most out of them," said Brian Snow, a national basketball recruiting analyst for Fox Sports Next. "What (Ryan) has are guys with some athleticism up front with Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes. You have a shot guy in Koenig, a do-it-all guy in Riley Dearring and a bulldog in Hill. "On paper, they complement each other very well, and I think that's something they bring to the table: that the whole is greater than the sum of their parts." The Badgers haven't had a top-20 class since the four-man class of Joe Krabbenhoft (four-star), Marcus Landry (four-star), Mickey Perry (three-star) and Kevin Gullickson (two-star) was ranked No. 20 in 2005, but the Badgers have done plenty of winning during Ryan's tenure. "From a rankings perspective, this class is fairly on par," said Snow. "You start looking and they had a class of Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Jordan Taylor. That turned out to be a heck of class, but they weren't necessary the highest-recruited kids. They didn't bring in an absolute stud like last year with Sam Dekker, but [this year] they brought in more depth." With this group, Wisconsin has the potential to do a lot more winning. Koenig turned down offers from Duke and North Carolina, among others, to play for the Badgers. He's been committed the longest, making his pledge back in September 2011. "Any time you can get your top target early, that's a big deal, especially an in-state kid," said Snow. "Whenever you beat out North Carolina, there is a little street credit there. I think you have to take that into consideration, that getting Bronson Koenig was big. He's somebody that can certainly make shots and handle the position well. He's not going to get by guys, but you're not going to take the ball from him. You have to like his ability, and he can be the guy who can provide scoring punch." After Koenig, the work Ryan and assistant coach Lamont Paris did in Ohio made the biggest impact on the class. While the Badgers have had success recruiting that state in the past (signing Rob Wilson and Traevon Jackson), UW never made as big a splash as they did with Brown and Hayes. Brown committed in September over offers from Nebraska, Iowa State, Kansas State and Minnesota, among others. Hayes committed on Nov. 11 over childhood favorite Ohio State; his other finalists were Minnesota and Stanford. "Vitto is more of a power forward-center and Nigel is more of a power forward-small forward, so even though they are listed at the same position, they are different players," said Snow. "Vitto is going to block shots, he's going to rebound, he's going to defend and be a presence on defense. "Nigel is interesting. He's got more skill than people think. He can shoot it out to about 18 feet now. He can take it off the dribble a little bit. He's got a great basketball body. Both of them bring good athleticism to the table. Both are good solid players." Per usual, Ryan feels he found some diamonds in the rough. Dearring committed to UW in July, just a few days after the Badgers offered him his first high-major scholarship after watching him play in an AAU tournament in Mequon. "There are some tools in the toolbox there," Snow said of Dearring. "He's the classic kid who redshirts at Wisconsin and by the time he's a fifth-year senior, he's starting and averaging 12 points a game. Bo Ryan has an uncanny ability to do that." Hill committed in August, a few weeks after Ryan watched him play for the first time in person at the King James AAU tournament in Chicago. Hill didn't turn 18 until December and is spending this season at Phillips Exeter Academy, an academically prestigious prep school in New Hampshire. Quotes from Coach Bo Ryan On Brown: "Vitto brings immediate size and physicality to our future front lines. He's got a college-ready body plus a 7-foot-2 wingspan and can cover a lot of ground in a short time. He really played well at our team camp this past summer and has improved immensely over the past 18 months. "Vitto showed the ability to block shots, handle the ball in transition and knock down 3's from the perimeter in addition to the game he's been able to build in the paint. He'll be able to play both the 4 and the 5 positions and has a chance to be a real force on the interior for us in the future. He's a great student, comes from a superb family and will be a treat to coach as a Badger." On Dearring: "Riley is a long, skilled, athletic wing who can play multiple perimeter positions. He has deep range with a quick and smooth release. Scoring has always come naturally for Riley. His high school team was at our team camp in June and Riley put on a show several times. He showed the immense potential we think he has. "He's a very unselfish individual who understands how important the classroom is and has worked very hard to make himself a very good student and player. His father was an excellent player in his own right, so Riley has had excellent mentoring and teaching from him along with the coaches he's played for. We're excited to see what the future will hold for him. I know Riley is eager to have a great senior year at Minnetonka before coming to campus next summer." On Hayes: "We're absolutely thrilled to have Nigel and his family joining our program. Nigel has worked very hard to make himself into a very good player. He's got the ability to play both forward positions and has the college-ready physique and wingspan to be a big contributor in the future. "He's got a great nose for the ball, can rebound out of his area and has worked really hard to make himself a perimeter threat. Nigel's an outstanding student who ranks in the top 2 percent of his graduating class at Whitmer. He's been coached really well and understands a lot of the nuances of the game that will really help him at this level. Nigel's potential is sky-high and I know our coaching staff is eager to help him develop into the player we think he can be. "His family has been a treat to get to know over the past few months and our staff is extremely proud to welcome Nigel and his family to the Badger program." On Hill: "Jordan really caught our attention this summer. He's an extremely sharp young man who just keeps getting better and better. He's watched a lot over the past few years as Jordan Taylor was his favorite college player. We have won a lot of games over the years with student-athletes who were hungry and had a special drive to be the best they could on and off the court. Jordan reminds our staff of those with the same qualities. "His length, quickness and demeanor can help him become an exceptional defender in time. He comes from a fantastic family and is an outstanding student who is spending a post-grad year at one of the top academic prep schools in the nation. He's very young for his grade so we believe his ceiling is still very high. Our staff is extremely excited to watch Jordan grow and develop during his time at Wisconsin." On Koenig: "Bronson has developed himself into a terrific player and great young man on and off the court. We first saw him as a freshman at our Advanced Instruction Camp and knew at that point he had a chance to be a very good player. He's played in a very successful high school program and knows what success is all about. "Bronson has exceptional court vision, great feel for the game and has the ability to take over a game or make plays for his teammates. He also wants to be really good and play for championships. All the best guards we've had through the years have had that internal drive and motor to be the best and Bronson definitely has those traits. "He's worked extremely hard to put himself into position to have a lot of options nationally on where to go to school. We're elated that he's chosen to stay home and play for the Badgers. I know our fans will really enjoy watching him grow, develop and help lead our teams in the future."