Like the Florida Gators, the Wisconsin Badgers spent many decades in the college basketball wilderness. They won the NCAA championship in 1941, but from 1947 until 1994 they made zero appearances in the NCAA tournament.
During the wilderness years, the Badgers were known at times for big men of limited effectiveness like Al (The Tree) Henry and the Hughes twins (Kim and Kerry). Henry was Philadelphia’s first-round pick in the 1970 NBA draft which stunned everyone, especially Wisconsin fans. I later heard that the 76s’ scout happened to see the big center play on his career night.
Recently, Wisconsin has made up for lost time. The Badgers have participated in every NCAA basketball tournament this millennium, twice under Dick Bennett (father of Virginia’s coach Tony Bennett) and the remainder under current coach Bo Ryan. Bennett led the Badgers to their only Final Four, until this year, in 2000.
My all-time Badger selections appear below. They do not include Al Henry or the Hughes twins, but would certainly include another big center, Frank Kaminsky, if my picks encompassed current players. Kaminsky’s performance against Arizona in the Round of 8 was one of the most memorable clutch all-around offensive displays I have ever seen in college hoops.
Taylor Jordan (2008-12)
Seventh on the all-time Badger scoring list and second all-time in assists. A finalist for the Cousy award for best college point guard, Jordan set the NCAA record for best assist-to-turnover ratio.
Devin Harris (2001-04)
He was Big Ten Player of the Year and Cousy award runner-up in 2004, and an NBA lottery pick in that year’s draft. Harris averaged 19.4 points per game that season. Number ten all-time in Badger scoring and number eight in assists.
Michael Finley (1991-95)
A personal favorite of mine, Finley ranks second on the all-time Badger scoring list. A two time all Big Ten selection, he averaged more than 20 points a game in each of his final three seasons at Wisconsin. Finley was a first round NBA pick and won a title with San Antonio.
Alando Tucker (2002-07)
Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer, he was the school’s first consensus first-team All American since 1942. Tucker averaged more than 19 points per game his last two seasons. Also a first round NBA draft pick.
Claude Gregory (1977-81)
A Washington DC basketball legend out of Coolidge High, “Little Stretch” (his brother James “Big Stretch” Gregory preceded him at Coolidge and Wisconsin) is Badgers all-time leading rebounder. He averaged 20.4 points per game his senior and ranks fourth on Wisconsin’s scoring list.
Trent Jackson (1985-89)
Star of the 1989 team that made Wisconsin’s first post-season tournament since 1947 (the NIT). He averaged 19.1 points per game that year, on .493 percent shooting) and 19.5 the year before. Left Wisconsin as its all-time leader in steals.
Wes Matthews (1977-80)
His 18.6 points per game ranks third on the Badgers all-time list. In his final season at Madison, Matthews averaged 19.6 per game on .512 shooting. Another first round pick who won an NBA title (with the Lakers).
Danny Jones (1986-90)
The Badgers number two all-time scorer. He also led the team in rebounding twice. Jones’ career field goal percentage was .535.
Mike Wilkinson (2001-05)
All Big Ten as a senior, Wilkinson led the Badgers in rebounding in each of his four seasons at Madison. He’s number eight on the all-time scoring list.
Joe Franklin (1965-68)
He’s number two in all-time rebounding for Wisconsin. Franklin was a first-team all Big Ten selection his senior year.
Tracy Webster (1991-94)
Holds Wisconsin’s top three single-season assist records. He also holds the Badgers single-season mark for 3-point field goal percentage (.490).
Rick Olson (1982-86)
He averaged 20.4 points per game his senior year, and is fifth on the all-time scoring list. Olson’s career free-throw percentage was .870, best in school history.
Kirk Penny (1999-2003)
A two-time all Big Ten selection, Penny is the Badgers ninth all-time leading scorer. Made just under 40 percent of his career three-point shot attempts.
Cory Blackwell (1981-84)
First-team all Big Ten selections his senior year, when he averaged 18.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Jon Leuer (2007-11)
Led the Badgers in scoring and rebounding during his junior and senior year. As a senior, he averaged 18.3 points per game. Leuer is making a good living in the NBA knocking down three-pointers (49 percent of his attempts) as a “stretch 4.”
Honorable mention goes to John Kotz who led the Badgers to the 1941 NCAA championship; Jim Clinton who averaged 15.6 rebounds per game in 1951; and Clarence Sherrod who holds the Badgers single season points per game record (23.8 in 1971) and is eleventh on the all-time scoring list, but who shot only .407 for his career. John and I saw Sherrod play against Northwestern when we were in Evanston for a debate tournament. He could definitely hoist them up.