Most people probably think of Wisconsin's guards and go, "there's that Chris Rock-looking fella, and, uh..." then the mind flatlines.
Yes, this is why Ray Nixon often started at two guard last year and Tanner Bronson was placed on scholarship. (I don't mean to be mean to Ray-- he was a big guy, a decent defender and shooter, and a good athlete, but he lacked some sort of innate basketball instinct that good players have; I was the same as far as water polo goes).
But now the tables have turned, Mr. Powers. First off, we have Jason Bohannon coming in, by all accounts the best high school baller in the state of Iowa last year (Mr. Basketball). Of course, that designation is not all that dissimilar from being labeled the tallest midget, or the coolest waiter at the local Applebee's. Well, Iowa's population is certainly larger than many other state's, like the Dakotas, or Maine. Anyhow, he was ranked 88th by Rivals, based on this year's high school class. While apparently not a fantabulous athlete, Bohannon appears to have plenty of the aforementioned "innate basketball instinct" besides being a spot on shooter, passer and dribbler, perhaps developed from being hands-down the best player on a high school team that went 71-9 in his three years playing. Yee haw. He should be an excellent one/two guard.
Second, we have Trevon Hughes, the first New York product to play for the basketball Badgers since forever. Okay, he came by way of a Delafield area military academy. Whatever. He's reputed to be an excellent athlete, and a true "floor leader" pass first point guard (rated 58th overall by Rivals). Not sure if this means he can't shoot. Regardless, the Rivals video highlights had lots of footage of him stealing passes and dunking on breakaways. Hooray for point guards who have ups. Hooray beer!
Third, Mickey Perry is off of his year of magenta-shirting, and is ready to do some balling. The man they call Craig and I saw Perry play a high school state tournament game in Chicago a year and a half back, in perhaps the most emotionally charged sporting event I've witnessed in person. Some history: Perry went to Proviso East, located in the near western suburbs of Chicago. Proviso East produced Dee and Shannon Brown and Michael Finley, and is year-in and out a basketball powerhouse, even though the school serves a relatively poor suburb. The Proviso East team, reflecting the makeup of the school, was almost all African-American. The center on Perry's team was Brian Carlwell, a 6'10" center, now a freshman for the FIBs (another kid currently on that team is going to K-State to play for Bob Huggins next year). The other team, Brother Rice, was an all boys Catholic school from the far south side of Chicago, as close you can get to suburbia while continuing to work for the city. All white, no one taller than 6'4", but led by the current point guard at North Carolina, Bobby Frasor. I think it's safe to say that Frasor was the best player in the history of his high school. Roy Williams was allegedly at the game.
Anyway, the UIC Pavillion, where the Horizon League Flames play their home games, was packed, with a very divided crowd of almost all African-American fans from Proviso, and an equally large nearly all Caucasian group from Brother Rice. (This was during Illinois' one-loss season, and, perhaps driven by loyalty, several dads from Brother Rice refused to believe that Illinois was recruiting Carlwell). Highlights included the Duke-esque student section from the all-white school mocking the Proviso players in organized chants, several dunks by Mickey's team, the papists hitting many, many three pointers, a Proviso player giving the papist student section the shush sign after hitting a free throw (he missed the next one), Mickey's team building a solid lead towards the end of the game, only to blow it because they refused to run the weave, and because, predictably, the white team started hitting threes. There was no shot clock, and instead of killing the clock by playing keep away, some random guy on Proviso (not Mickey or Carlwell (the 6'10" current Illinois freshman)) kept driving to the basket.
Mickey missed a put back to win the game, right at the buzzer, then collapsed, face to the ground with half his teammates, while the all white teenage boy student section from the Catholic school went nuts. He'll probably remember that game forever. A crazy night of high school basketball.
The point is not just that (A) I have sentimental leanings toward Mickey, or (B) I'm one of those weird guys who goes to random high school basketball games and everyone wonders if they're a pederast, but also (C) Mickey comes from a place of serious ballers, and thus (D) should actually be pretty damn good.
He's a fine defender, looked like he had a more complete offensive game than Kammron during that high school game, and apparently has had the whole maturing physically thing going on. I'm fired up to see him contribute, probably spelling Flowers. Since he's been around a year already, expect him to see playing time ahead of Bohannon and Hughes at first.
Now the key returnees are our man Kam, and Madison LaFollette grad Michael Flowers.
Kam displayed a much improved shooting touch last season, and generally defended and distributed the ball well, though like the team generally, he seemed to fall off when Greg and Marcus went out. The part of Kam's game that was missing, and may always be missing, is his penetration, and subsequent passing. You just don't see him doing a lot of driving to the basket or passing out of drives to set up other players. And when you see him try, the results are often not pretty. (Not sure why that's the case... short arms?). I think that's ok. Guys around him, Hughes in particular, should be able to provide penetration if needed. Kam should provide senior leadership, a calm head under pressure, and intensity. I imagine he'll play the most of any guard.
For two seasons now, Flowers has been the "hustle" guy. The energetic defender, pressing the ball, a solid passer, but a player whose offensive game was lacking, and thus didn't get much attention from opposing defenses. Allegedly, he's been working on his offense, so look for him to take (and make) more jumpers. He and Kam should be the starters at the beginning, unless Bo decides to go big and play the Hoft at the two. Though I like Michael and generally think well of him, one negative play sticks in my mind. Last season, in our Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Wake Forest, the Wake Forest power forward, this huge guy with cornrows, was killing us. During one play, the power forward took a pass about three yards from the basket by the baseline, took a step, lept up toward the hole, and dunked. Flowers came to help late, but could easily have gotten position between the PF and the basket, putting himself in position to draw a charge. But instead, he stood aside, and let the guy leap by him for an easy basket. Now this guy was way bigger than Michael, and Michael would have gotten hit quite hard, maybe even taken a knee to the chest. But it was the obvious play, and one that I expected Michael to make given his general degree of hustle. Seeing him step aside there, in the midst of a very close game, was disappointing. So I hope to see a greater level of leadership and intensity this season. On the plus side, he did do a spectacular Urkle at last year's State Street Halloween party. Spot on, I swear.
Other guys who could see some minutes this season are Bronson, still looking very babyfaced, and Morris Cain. They both played a decent amount on the August Italian tour (not sure how the NCAA lets teams do this outside of the season), but that was before Bohannon and Hughes were available. They probably won't see much action in games unless we're up big or if someone gets injured; hopefully, they'll contribute to the team by keeping the intensity (the same as ya did) in practice.
Positions among the guards should be amorphous. Everyone seems capable of bringing up the ball, making good, collected passes, or shooting. Plus the main frontcourt starters, we should have a legitimate 12 man depth chart. I'd say starters and subs are the following:
Guards: Kam and Flowers (Mickey, Bohannon, Hughes as subs; Mickey getting the most time at first)
Frontcourt: Alando, Butch and Chappell (Stiemsma, Landry, the Hoft, Gullickson as subs).
I have no idea whether that's a Final Four team. Besides Alando, no one else blows me away right now (though I haven't seen the freshmen play), and Final Four teams generally seem to have a couple stars. I think Kam will continue to be a good, but not great player. I do that think Landry will become a star, although it may not happen this year, and that Stiemsma is quite close to being one defensively. But if the team can meld defensively, we should be near dominant at that end of the floor, perhaps making up for a lack of another dynamic scorer. If everyone stays healthy and eligible, fingers-crossed, the Badgers could be the best team in the Big Ten, and make a serious post-season run. We shall see.