University of Wisconsin men’s basketball fans, before you read this, I need you to understand — I get it. It sucks when you truly believe someone can come in and help a program, and they decide the team you love just isn’t for them.
But slandering teenagers for making a decision they believe will better their chances at multi-million dollar contracts is not a good look for Wisconsin sports. Ultimately, it only hurts our chances at getting top-tier recruits down the road.
This is not to say the way former Badger and current transfer-portal-player Kobe King went about leaving the program was perfect. He was arguably the team’s best player and left midway through an up-and-down season to pursue other options for personal reasons.
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Yes, it left a gaping hole in the program — but at the same time, kids don’t grow up dreaming of missing the tournament two of their first three years in college.
Simply put, if a program isn’t making runs deep into March, top-tier talent just sees their NCAA days as a stepping stone to the NBA. The Kaminsky-Dekker days gave King reason to believe in that success, but he clearly felt the standards of that era weren’t being lived up to anymore.
King is as naturally gifted as any recruit to come out of Wisconsin in the last decade, aside from maybe a few guys in high school right now. He was, and may still be, a player with a legitimate shot at the NBA.
With that in mind, let’s try to understand what King has seen growing up from fellow Wisconsin natives with that same potential pro status.
Back in 2011, Sam Dekker was the No. 12 recruit in the country, according to 247 Sports. He came to Wisconsin, spent three years here and was selected as the No. 18 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. But just four years later, Dekker is suiting up for Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia — hoping to earn a shot at the big leagues again.
Just a year after the recruitment of Dekker, Wisconsin landed 4-star guard Bronson Koenig, who had amazing success here at UW, but has yet to get the chance to play in the NBA.
That same year, Matt Thomas of Onalaska, Wisconsin headed off to Iowa State en route to becoming a 3-point specialist for the Toronto Raptors.
In 2013, King watched as Milwaukee native Kevon Looney headed to California to play for blue-blood University of California, Los Angeles. Looney has now won two championships with the Golden State Warriors and recently signed a $15 million contract extension.
2015 comes along and both Diamond Stone and Henry Ellenson go alternative routes and become first-rounders after one year in college. Meanwhile, Brevin Pritzl is finally seeing real playing time in his fifth year at Wisconsin in 2020.
So King commits in 2017, holding onto the belief that the program he grew up loving can do at least one of two things — give him the time of his life playing college basketball, or help him make millions of dollars in the NBA.
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But neither happens. Even worse, King has to sit back and watch while guys younger than him make major moves.
He sees five-star Milwaukee guard Tyler Herro decommit from Wisconsin to hone his skills for the next level with Head Coach John Calipari at Kentucky. Now after being selected with the No. 13 pick in last year’s draft, Herro is already a key player in the running for NBA Rookie of the Year with the Miami Heat at just 20 years old.
Tyrese Haliburton of Oshkosh has blossomed into a projected top ten pick in his time at Iowa State, and he was considered to be such a long-term project coming out of high school that UW didn’t even offer him.
So don’t take to Twitter and say stuff like, “Quitter. Even worse is the Twitter people who support him leaving. You’re not real Badger fans,” as one fan, who I’ll keep anonymous, did.
Don’t support former Badger Zak Showalter for coming at King, saying, “Some play for the name on the back, some play for the name on the front.”
No one knows the true facts of King’s transfer, and he’s had no history of any sort of poor character. So don’t drag him for doing what he believes is best for his future.
If someone studying business at Madison College transferred to UW because they felt it better equipped them with the skill for life after school, you wouldn’t call them a “quitter,” so why say it to Kobe King?
Doing so will just hurt our chances at landing homegrown top-tier talent. We’ve already seen two elite in-state recruits, the No. 11 ranked recruit in 2020, Jalen Johnson, and the No. 3 ranked recruit in 2021, Patrick Baldwin Jr., shy away from the Badgers.
There will be plenty more recruits like King, Herro, Johnson and Baldwin. And if nothing changes, they’ll leave too.