Maybe someday the national media and so-called experts will give the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program the respect it deserves. Maybe that will take winning a national title. Until that happens those of us in the upper Midwest will just have to keep beating the drum.
One of the things that also needs to be recognized is the quality of the basketball players that have helped UW become the winningest program in the BIG 10 conference in conference games since Bo Ryan came to Madison in 2001. That record is 231-103, a .692 winning percentage, one game better than the highly respected Michigan State Spartans and their coach Tom Izzo.
Coaching matters in college basketball, but players still win and lose games. Wisconsin certainly has had plenty of good players in the last 19-seasons under Bo Ryan and Greg Gard and even one National Player of the Year (Frank Kaminsky-2015).
The purpose of this article is to focus on the players that have been small forwards or the three-spot during the Ryan-Gard era. I am going to rank the top five in reverse order. All respect to players like Ryan Evans, Tim Jarmusz, Kahlil Iverson, Duje Dukan and Rob Wilson. You men did not make my list.
So here we go with:
#5 — Mike Bruesewitz (St. Paul, MN–2009-13).
Bruesewitz may be the best example of a great hustle, energy player. He got a lot out of his athletic ability. His effort and energy many times lifted the rest of his team at critical times of the game, and who could forget the season he played with all that bushy red hair.
Bruesewitz does not overwhelm with his career numbers, just over 600 points and about 540 career rebounds. But he was every bit as important to his Wisconsin teams as Josh Gasser. He was a glue guy to help continue the Badger tradition.
#4 — Joe Krabbenhoft — (Sioux Falls, S.D.– 2005-09)
Krabbenhoft is another one of those players not overly gifted with athletic ability, but another Badger who maximized those abilities and also had a lot of smarts. He also wins some extra credit points in the eyes of this judge for the job he has done as an assistant coach for Greg Gard beginning in 2016. Krabbenhoft finished with 827 points, 756 rebounds and 273 assists. Again, these are not eye-popping numbers. However, he is the only player in Badger history with more than 750-rebounds and more than 270-assists. Krabbenhoft was also a great two-way player. He made the Big Ten all-defensive team in 2008.
#3 — Nigel Hayes — (Toledo, OH — 2013-17)
Hayes qualifies as one of the most engaging personalities to represent Wisconsin during the Ryan-Gard era. Who can forget those press conferences during the NCAA tournament runs in 2014 and 2015. Hayes makes this list for more than just that. He was one of the key players to transition this program from Coach Ryan to Coach Gard and help to continue the winning tradition.
The most important number for Hayes in my opinion is the number of wins for UW with him there. That number was 115 for him and his teammates, Bronson Koenig, Zac Showalter and Vitto Brown.
Hayes might also have been higher on this list if his numbers his senior year hadn’t fallen slightly. Hayes finished 3rd on the all-time scoring list with 1857 points. He also had 802 rebounds and 319 assists. I believe his passing ability was probably the most underrated part of his game.
#2 — Sam Dekker — (Sheboygan, WI — 2012-2015)
Dekker was a gifted athlete and a Wisconsin favorite son after his high school exploits for his father at Sheboygan Lutheran. He left Madison with one-year of eligibility in his pocket. Not many Badgers have done that. His dunks, threes and swashbuckling attitude endeared him to Badger fans. He also proved to be the key second scorer to take pressure off of Frank Kaminsky during the magical 2014 and 2015 Final Four seasons. In his three campaigns, Dekker scored 1363 points (18th in school history), pulled down 567 rebounds and had 148 assists. Dekker’s one-on-one ability helped him make the leap to the NBA.
#1 Small Forward during the Ryan-Gard era — Alando Tucker — (2002-2007)
Tucker too earns some extra credit for the role he played in the 2019-20 season as an assistant coach taking over for Howard Moore under tragic circumstances. But he probably didn’t need those points to top this list. He did redshirt during the 2003-04 season after appearing in only four games.
Tucker is Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer with 2217 points. He had 769 rebounds and more than 200 assists. Tucker was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2007 averaging just under 20-points per game and setting the UW single season scoring record. He was the third Badger to earn first team All-American honors. That team won 30-games, the first Badger team to accomplish that feat. They also were the first UW team to be ranked #1 in the polls during that highly successful season.