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Why John Blackwell Is a Natural Fit for Wisconsin Basketball

Meet the New Duct Tape Guy for Wisconsin Basketball.



Wisconsin Badgers basketball combo guard John Blackwell
Brother Rice's John Blackwell dribbles during a Catholic League-Central boys basketball game Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. Dsc 4478

Wisconsin men’s basketball has a long line of guards that Badgers fans love and other teams…well, I’m not sure how to describe their feelings, but it certainly isn’t “love.” Players like Josh Gasser, Zak Showalter, Brad Davison (I have complicated feelings about him, but you can’t deny he gave 100% to UW every time he stepped on the court), Michael Flowers, and even going all the way back to Mike Kelley you see it.

These Duct Tape Guys (because they are useful in any situation you see) are tireless on defense, better on offense than you think, and are always in the right place at the right time to make winning plays. Gasser saving that ball in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State (he was inbounds…kind of!), Flowers throwing the ball really high into the air so the clock ran out in a win at Texas, Showalter’s three-pointer against Florida in the NCAA Tournament (IT’S UNIMPORTANT WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THAT), these are the types of plays these guys make.

Max Klesmit is this guy for the current Wisconsin basketball team. Remember last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis when he blocked a shot with one second left to secure a win over Dayton? However, the Wisconsin Badgers are always looking for the next Duct Tape Guy, and I think they’ve found the perfect fit in true freshman John Blackwell.

Wisconsin Basketball May Have Found Another ‘Duct Tape’ Guy 

The first member of Greg Gard’s 2023 recruiting class, John Blackwell, comes to Madison from Highland Park, Mich., where he was a team captain as a junior for powerhouse Brother Rice High School. 

“He’s a great kid and a great teammate. He was voted unanimously as our captain as a junior. He’s a pleaser by nature, sometimes to his detriment on the court,” Brother Rice head coach Rick Palmer told me in an interview I did for Bucky’s 5th Quarter after Blackwell announced his commitment to the Wisconsin basketball program.

Blackwell was by no means a complete unknown on the recruiting trail, but the 3-star combo guard only held offers from Central Michigan, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan, Loyola Chicago, Northern Illinois, Oakland, Rhode Island, Toledo, and VCU when he picked Wisconsin. 

He’s yet another example of a player that Greg Gard and his staff identified early and trusted their evaluation of.

“While evaluating him, the staff and I quickly identified him for his physicality, feel for the game, and basketball IQ,” Gard said in UW’s press release on Signing Day. If the Duct Tape Guy had a motto, “physicality, feel for the game, basketball IQ,” would probably be most of it. 

Wisconsin basketball has a type, and they don’t apologize for recognizing and pursuing it. “John Blackwell brings some things to the table from a toughness standpoint and how he competes on the defensive end,” Gard noted at Big Ten Media Days.

On Wednesday night, if you attended or subscribed to B1G+, Wisconsin Badgers fans got our first look at Blackwell in a game setting. While UW-Stevens Point isn’t exactly a Big Ten caliber (although they might beat Minnesota) opponent, Blackwell looked good. In 19 minutes, he shot 3-of-5 (1-of-3 from deep) for eight points, grabbed six boards (two offensive), dished out two assists, and recorded one steal. He also had three turnovers, but freshman guards are going to make mistakes, ok? Even against UWSP!

“He’s taken huge steps from the summer. You can definitely tell he’s ready for the season. I’m confident in the kid, and I think he’s going to be a very good player in the Big Ten,” veteran point guard Chucky Hepburn told me at Media Days. It’s pretty clear that Blackwell is a quick learner and is using the things he learned early in practice on the court already. “He soaks everything up like a sponge,” Klesmit said admiringly.

To be fair, Blackwell had a leg up on his teammates in learning about Big Ten basketball since his father, Glynn, played 106 career games for Illinois and averaged 12.1 points per game as a senior. “John is a very humble yet competitive young man that comes from a great upbringing. [He] understands the hard work he has to put in to be successful, not only on the court but also in the classroom,” Gard said after mentioning Glynn played B1G hoops.

Blackwell is already positioning himself as a fan favorite, much like Klesmit did early last year, due to his style of play. “John can mix it up with you for sure and the thing I love about him most is that there’s no fear in that kid. If you need him to guard someone that’s 6-foot-9 or someone that’s 5-foot-9 his approach and his mentality are going to be the same,” Klesmit said.

You can never glean TOO much from exhibition games, but Blackwell was the third player off the bench for Gard and played the most minutes of any reserve. For a team looking to bounce back from a down year, playing multiple freshmen (Nolan Winter was second off the bench and played 16 minutes) as key reserves is a gamble. However, Blackwell’s hounding defense and basketball smarts makes him a bit more of a “sure thing” than other freshmen around the country.

At Big Ten Media Days, sophomore sharpshooter Connor Essegian, once a true freshman thrust into a large role on the Badgers himself, implored Blackwell to be comfortable as he is. “He’s just really gotta be himself and kinda do what Max was talking about, how he’s not really scared of anything. If he keeps that mentality, he’ll be alright. He’ll do just fine.”

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Drew Hamm is a seasoned sports journalist with an extensive background in covering the Wisconsin Badgers. He has previously held positions as the site manager at Bucky's 5th Quarter and founder of Badgers Ball Knower. Currently, he contributes as a staff writer for