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Badgers miss on top target Zeke Nnaji

Wisconsin Basketball’s frustrations in the 2019 recruiting class continue.

The Wisconsin basketball staff has had a rough go of it on the recruiting trail over the last couple of months with the latest blow coming yesterday from the Badgers’ top remaining target in the 2019 class.

Four-star power forward Zeke Nnaji released his Top 5 list last night on Twitter, and Wisconsin is out for the nation’s No. 34 overall prospect.

The five programs left in contention are Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Purdue, and UCLA. A somewhat surprising omission from that list is Kentucky, who offered Nnaji recently and was instantly seen as a favorite to land him in the eyes of many.

That the Wildcats also did not make the cut is likely of little solace to most Badger fans who felt that Wisconsin was in better position for Nnaji than this. The fact of the matter is that this is a concerning development in the recruiting efforts of Greg Gard and his staff when taking into account the other disappointing events leading up to Nnaji’s decision.

Wisconsin could have a really used a dynamite 2019 class after the fiasco that was the 2018 recruiting cycle. The Badgers were burned by putting all their eggs into the Joey Hauser and Tyler Herro baskets, ultimately losing out on both players and missing the chance to sign other promising prospects that were obtainable.

The staff wisely settled on a strategy of getting involved with more players for the 2019 class, but it does not seem to have done much good so far. While we should not forget about the commitment of 3-star forward Tyler Wahl who is a perfect fit for the Wisconsin program and a player fans should be excited about, the rest of this cycle has not gone well for the Badgers.

Not making the cut lists for 4-star forwards E.J. Liddell and Robbie Beran, while disappointing, was not all that surprising. Wisconsin entered both of those recruitments relatively late, at which point each player had already racked up plenty of other high-profile offers. However, it is understandable that many Badger fans, including myself, are concerned about the staff’s inability to make a serious dent with two other heavily-prioritized targets in Nnaji and 5-star point guard D.J. Carton.

Wisconsin was the first high-major offer for both prospects, as the staff was successful in identifying the prolific talent of each player before other programs took notice, as is often the case. Unfortunately for the Badgers, both Nnaji and Carton ended up blowing up after that, with each ultimately earning offers from some of the nation’s best programs.

Considering how coveted Nnaji and Carton each became nationally, most Badger fans understood that Wisconsin was highly unlikely to land either prospect in the end. That being said, it is alarming that the staff was not able to make enough of an impression on either recruit to even earn a spot on Carton’s Top 6 list or in Nnaji’s Top 5, despite having begun forming relationships with each player and his family well before most other schools, something that should have been a major advantage for Wisconsin.

At this point, it seems likely that Wahl will be the only player Wisconsin signs in 2019.

This in and of itself is not a major issue, but Gard and his staff must hit it out of the park with the 2020 class and land a few of their Plan A targets, otherwise, their woes on the recruiting trail will really start to have a major effect on the team’s performance on the court. Five-star forward Jalen Johnson seems like an increasingly unrealistic option as time goes on, but there are still players such as 4-star small forward Ethan Morton, 4-star power forwards Dawson Garcia and Ben Carlson, and 4-star shooting guard Jonathan Davis that remain within reach.

Next: All-time Wisconsin Basketball starting five

This has been a relatively grim post, but let’s be clear: it’s not time to panic yet Badger fans. I still remain optimistic about this Wisconsin coaching staff’s recruiting ability and the future of the program, and I’m confident that the Badgers will land some great building blocks in the 2020 class.

I also anticipate that this year’s Wisconsin squad will have some nice success this season, which will go a long way in removing the bad taste many Wisconsin Basketball fans have in their mouths right now.



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