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Wisconsin Basketball: Growth From Role Players Is Promising



Wisconsin Basketball

It was a disappointing night for Wisconsin Basketball fans Thursday, leaving the Kohl Center after yet another final-second loss.

UW played their hearts out all night but again failed to close out a game they led with just minutes remaining. No surprise though, Greg Gard’s team fell into another offensive dry spell and failed to stop No. 5 Purdue on key possessions. It’s been their achilles heel all year and showed up big time Thursday night.

Struggles Apparent, But Future Bright For Wisconsin Basketball

It’s been extremely painful to watch the struggles on both ends of the floor at times. But there have been a number of positives to take away down the stretch. A big one has been the noticeable growth of Wisconsin role players. Between Max Klesmit, Connor Essegian, Kamari McGee, and Isaac Lindsey, player growth is apparent.

Let’s break down the player development that has me looking forward to the 2023-2024 season.

1. Max Klesmit

Klesmit has been a pleasant surprise for Badger basketball fans this season. The Wofford transfer and Neenah native has been one of the top perimeter guard defenders in the Big 10 and possibly the country — the defense dropped off a cliff when he missed time due to injury. Down the final few games of Big 10 play, though, it’s been his offensive game that has me excited.

Against Purdue and Michigan Klesmit averaged 19 points per game. He shot over 60 percent from three, and around 60 percent from the field. He’s been a reliable free throw shooter and ran the offense at times, allowing Chucky Hepburn to play off the ball. Klesmit has always been known as a great shooter and slasher on the offensive end. Now the guard is finally showing decisiveness as a playmaker. The sky is the limit with him as he will have his fingerprint on the program for a while. Coach Gard can’t get enough props from me on this transfer portal find.

2. Connor Essegian

Growth has been apparent ever since Essegian was inserted into the starting lineup early in Big 10 play. His minutes have continued to jump, and so have his shot attempts and confidence. Fans and analysts rave about his three-point shot, the quick release, and the shooting range he boasts. When it comes to his development, what has impressed me most is his ability to create and get to the hoop — even in traffic and against bigger defenders.

CE3, as he’s been nicknamed, is a fearless freshman. This was most apparent down the stretch in the second half against Purdue when Gard had the confidence to go him late. He got the ball on the left wing and attacked the hoop with no hesitation, making a close-range bucket over two Purdue defenders. Impressive as he realized big man Zach Edey was out of the game at the time and he could capitalize.

3. Kamari McGee

McGee was held scoreless in his six minutes against Purdue on Thursday night, but the sophomore transfer from UW-Green Bay has impressed with his ability to calmly run the offense and play tough defense. He’s been a firecracker off the bench when called upon, most recently against Michigan when he tallied 6 points, a steal, and 3 rebounds.

The same couldn’t be said earlier this year when he rarely saw minutes, was sloppy with basketball, and hesitant to shoot or go to the hoop. McGee will likely never be a 15+ minutes-a-game guy, barring injury, but he’s proven to be a great ball handler and shooter when Chucky Hepburn needs a break.

4. Isaac Lindsey

The UNLV transfer and Mineral Point native showed up big time against Purdue. At the end of the first half, Lindsey took over and scored 8 points with defenders draped all over him. His ability to create and make tough jump shots has clearly been visible in limited time this year. To me, this is huge for an offensively challenged Wisconsin basketball team. Lindsey will need to improve his defense and overall court awareness to crack the rotation, but his growth and scoring potential are eye-opening.

Player Development Crucial For Wisconsin Basketball

An open criticism many Wisconsin basketball fans have had of coach Gard is his ability to develop players. A few players didn’t turn into what was expected or transferred. Ben Carlson, Matthew Mors, and Lorne Bowman to name a few.

But it’s been impossible to miss what Gard has done with a number of players during his tenure. He turned Tyler Wahl into a playmaking forward and scorer with great footwork down low. Helped Johnny Davis make the jump from role player to NBA Draft prospect. Most recently he turned Steven Crowl from a frail and hesitant player to a go-to scorer with poise down low. These are just a few of many. Now add Klesmit, McGee, Essegian, and even Lindsey to this list. This group has been fun to watch grow this season. I honestly can’t wait to see them alongside guys like big man Gus Yalden next year.

Let’s power through the last few games of the season Wisconsin basketball fans. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but now you can spend the final few games watching the future develop. The depth coach Gard is putting together is making for something special.

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