MADISON, Wis. — The beauty of Wisconsin losing a starting backcourt that combined last season to play 2,221 minutes is that it opens up a free-for-all of opportunity. There is some apprehension in that scenario when the roles are so undefined in mid-October. But, based on early returns, two members of the Badgers’ freshman class are poised to help fill the gap as key reserves.
During Wisconsin’s annual Red-White intra-squad scrimmage on Sunday, freshman guards Kobe King and Brad Davison were among the most impressive players on the floor, and neither looked as though they had yet to appear in a college game. Davison’s White team defeated King’s Red team 55-34. But the final was largely irrelevant considering the game featured a running clock and the scores were reset at halftime.
Instead, what mattered most was determining which players might be ready to assume new places for a team that returns only one starter in forward Ethan Happ. Afterward, the Badgers liked what they saw.
“We have a really good team, and literally everyone can contribute something,” Badgers forward Khalil Iverson said.
Wisconsin’s most likely starting backcourt is point guard D’Mitrik Trice and shooting guard Brevin Pritzl. Those two will replace veterans Bronson Koenig and Zack Showalter. Trice is the second-leading returning scorer from last season after averaging 5.6 points per game. Pritzl averaged only 1.9 points and appeared in 24 games. After those two players, however, the backcourt minutes are up for grabs.
Iverson said King and Davison were among the younger players to show flashes during Wisconsin’s five-game August exhibition tour of Australia and New Zealand. Davison scored a team-high 23 points in the team’s tour finale and averaged 11.2 points for the trip. King scored 18 points in consecutive games and averaged 9.6 points over the five contests.
On Sunday, King led all scorers with 16 points and connected on 7 of 13 field goal attempts. Most notable was the variety of ways in which he scored.
During the first half, King buried a free-throw line jumper, converted a turnaround inside, stole the ball underneath his basket from two rebounders for a layup and drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing. He scored 9 of his Red team’s 15 first-half points.
In the second half, King made a pull-up 3 from the right wing off a fast break, finished a coast-to-coast layup left-handed in traffic and made a tough pull-up from the left corner while drawing a foul on Davison.
“He’s one of those guys when the lights go on for some reason, I noticed that in Australia too,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said. “It’s not that he doesn’t practice well. But he’s a guy that when it comes to games for whatever reason, he has a whole other level to him. I think he can do a lot of different things. He’s still young. He still has a lot of areas to grow in, but he plays hard, he makes a lot of plays happen offensively and defensively.
“I think that’s something he hasn’t quite understood yet is how good he can be defensively, and that’ll come as he watches more things on film and gets more comfortable with what we do defensively.”
King starred at La Crosse Central and was named Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball and the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year when he averaged 28 points per game as a senior. His first few months on campus have provided him an opportunity to gain a better feel for the college game.
“I think the foreign tour really helped,” King said. “I was kind of a freshman guy until that trip. And then I think that trip really helped me a lot and made me come out here and play very comfortable.”
Davison finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and a team-high 3 steals in 35 minutes. He also had 2 assists with 3 turnovers. Davison is a defensive pest who isn’t afraid to challenge bigger bodies in the post, and he already has established himself as a floor general. Davison can handle the point guard role or slide over to the off-guard spot if necessary. Late in the scrimmage Sunday, he and Happ argued over a non-call after Happ blocked Davison’s 3-point attempt. Davison told Happ, a member of the Red team, that he was just upset because his team was losing.
“I’m glad he’s on my team,” Gard said of Davison. “I’ll tell you that. … I’ve said all along he’s not your typical freshman physically or mentally, the way he looks at things, what he talks about. I heard him several times communicating in transition defensively. That’s the sign of a pretty good leader.”
Wisconsin has finished in the top-four of the Big Ten during the last 16 seasons. But the Badgers were picked this season to finish seventh in a preseason vote of 28 media members from around the conference. Much will be expected from the Badgers’ young backcourt additions in order for that top-four streak to have a chance at continuing, and they appear ready to deliver.
“Obviously, [we had] a little bit of nerves,” King said. “But you’ll get to see us for a long time, so it’s just the start.”
"I think it could be a lot of fun around here again this winter"
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) October 22, 2017
— Forward Andy Van Vliet finished with 9 points on 4 of 10 shooting and a game-high 9 rebounds. He scored on a post-up move against freshman center Nate Reuvers, used nice touch on a dribble turnaround, scored a put-back on a foul and made a layup. Van Vliet has positioned himself to be the team’s fifth starter alongside Trice, Pritzl, Iverson and Happ.
— Pritzl finished with 11 points for the White team and made his first three 3-point attempts. Last season, Pritzl made only 5 of 21 3-point attempts during the season and underwent an especially rough stretch in the middle of the year.
“We’ve always known he can put the ball in the basket,” Gard said. “It was just a matter of being more consistent in all the other areas that you can impact the game. He’s grown in those areas defensively, moving without the ball, what he can do in the post, how he can pass the ball. Shooting has always been something he’s been pretty adept at. It’s a matter of growing some of those and becoming more consistent in some of those other areas.”
— Iverson tallied 8 points with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 0 turnovers. He has worked on being a more versatile offensive threat, but he still remains the high-flier on the team. Iverson recorded back-to-back alley-oop dunks midway through the second half. The first came from a Trevor Anderson pass off the glass during a fast break. Iverson then threw one down on top of Reuvers from a Pritzl feed.
— Happ did not score and missed all 4 of his field goal attempts. He did finish with 5 rebounds and a game-high 6 assists. Happ, a third-team Associated Press All-American last season, is a unanimous preseason all-Big Ten selection.
— Forward Charles Thomas scored 14 points and made 6 of 9 field goal attempts. He scored on an alley-oop dunk off an inbound pass from Davison and mde 3 layups, a 3-pointer, a short jumper and a put-back inside. Thomas and Alex Illikainen appear to be the most likely frontcourt candidates to play important reserve minutes behind Van Vliet and Happ.
“He’s been a little more consistent,” Gard said of Thomas. “I thought he was pretty active today. He finished around the rim, so that’s good.”
White Team (55)
Charlie Thomas 14, Brevin Pritzl 11, Brad Davison 10, Andy Van Vliet 9, Khalil Iverson 8, Aleem Ford 3, Trevor Anderson 0, Michael Ballard 0
Red Team (34)
Kobe King 16, Alex Illikainen 8, D’Mitrik Trice 5, Walt McGrory 3, Aaron Moesch 2, Matt Ferris 0, T.J. Schlundt 0, Ethan Happ 0, Nate Reuvers 0
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