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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Men’s Basketball: Wahl’s lifelong dream evolves into five-year reality at Wisconsin

Veteran’s presence elevates UW’s basketball program in all aspects of game
Soren Goldsmith

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team enters the open portion of practice through the southwest tunnel. A rack of basketballs sits waiting for them as they jog and skip up the tunnel’s concrete floor. The next several minutes are a barrage of jump shots and dribble moves and then silence as strength and conditioning coach Jim Snider initiates warmups.

Just beside Snider running up and down the floor is fifth-year senior Tyler Wahl. No matter the exercise — karaoke, high knees, shoulder stretches — Wahl executes them as if an imperfectly warmed-up joint or muscle would sour the rest of the practice. He’s mechanical, yet smooth. Loose, but conditioned. Whether in warmups, strength and conditioning, or on the court, he’s meticulous.

Wahl has been that way for a long time. His high school coach, John Oxton, described him as “the most driven player [he’s] ever had.” He knows what he needs to do, how to do it and why it needs to be done.


Wahl and other of Oxton’s former players have commented on the similarities between Oxton’s Lakeville North and Wisconsin — citing how much they’ve learned about basketball and life from him. They have the utmost respect and love for Oxton, who traveled to watch the Badgers play Purdue Feb. 4.

Wahl’s attention to detail and unending effort would pay off remarkably down the road. As a Badger, Wahl would score his 1,000th career point in November and win his 100th career game in January.

Only 48 Badgers can claim to have scored 1,000 points, while just six others have won 100 games.

His 100th win came against Michigan State University Jan. 26. Head coach Greg Gard’s locker room debriefing was different from most games.

For one, Gard doesn’t usually conceal a water bottle under his suit jacket. Two, he doesn’t usually plan for the whole team to surprise a player with a total drenching of water the way they did Wahl. Every player and coach collectively unsheathed their hidden bottles to celebrate his incredible accomplishment.

Not long after the night had ended and his hair dried, he had a chance to speak about the moment. It was a huge accomplishment, but Wahl was quick to dismiss his role in everything.

“It’s nice,” he said a couple of days after it happened. “That list [the six other Badgers to win 100 games] is a select group of people that laid the foundation of this program. So it’s showing up playing for the name on the front of that jersey, going out there and not caring about how many points you score, or how many rebounds you’re pulling down. You’re going out there to win games for this university and this team.”

Eventful winter break provides excitement for Wisconsin athletics

Wahl has been making winning plays for the Badgers well before he’s reached these milestones, quietly or loudly.

Taking a trip all the way back to Jan. 3, 2020, just after the Badgers pulled off a significant upset over Ohio State, Wahl was recognized for his ability to make plays. In that game, Wahl would finish an athletic reverse layup to cut a second-half deficit down to five points, find an open man out of a double team to go up one point with under two minutes to go and secure a game-altering five offensive rebounds, including one with 32 seconds remaining in the game with UW nursing a one-point lead.

His then-teammate forward Micah Potter wasn’t surprised by his contributions.

“That’s how Tyler Wahl plays,” Potter said. “That’s how he’s played since he got here in the summer [in 2019].”

Wahl has always played with grit. To him, the game is all about winning. It doesn’t matter what role he’s given, he’s going to fulfill that role. He’ll do the dirty work, like grabbing rebounds, as well as defend the opponent’s best scorer. But he’ll also find ways to score.

Back at Lakeville North High School, Wahl was an elite two-way player. In addition to his obvious athleticism and talent, he played with an endless motor.

“He’s just a warrior,” Oxton said. “Playing hard all the time is a talent. I never had to say, ‘Tyler, let’s play hard!’”

Wahl never cared about how many points he scored or how his team won, only that he did whatever he could to help them win.

When Wahl did score, which was often considering he was the fourth-highest-ranked high schooler in Minnesota in 2019, he did it in a multitude of ways. Pushing in transition, back cuts and some post plays, he got his buckets in different ways. One summer, he’d be tasked with playing the game itself in an entirely different way.

Wahl was active in the Amateur Athletic Union circuit in Minnesota. When his team’s point guard, Tyrell Terry, had to miss time one summer, Wahl stepped in to be the team’s floor general.

“He handled [the new role] great,” Oxton said. “I think he was excited about it. It has helped his development long term, ball handling and passing.”

Oxton kept Wahl in the same role when he returned for his senior season for Lakeville North. The already excellent Wahl was developing into an even more complete package. One that could get to his spot on the floor, open the game up and find open teammates.

The “Swiss Army Knife” skill set he developed is one that Gard and assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft regarded highly.

And so Wahl would embark on the next step in his basketball journey. He displayed the same hustle and will as a Badger as he did as a Lakeville North Panther. He made mistakes, sure, but he kept a level head. The game eventually slowed down for him as he played more minutes against strong Big Ten teams.

He made winning plays, like the aforementioned ones against Ohio State in January 2020 and, of course, received much recognition. His teammates knew where he was coming from, but they also knew where he was going.

“He’s definitely not close to where he’s gonna be,” said forward Nathan Reuvers, another Lakeville North alum. “He’s continuing to grow, but this year will actually be great for him experience-wise, building it for the rest of his career. If he keeps building off of what he’s doing now, he should be having a great career here at Wisconsin.”

Now four years later, it may not be surprising that Reuvers’ prediction was realized. The DNA of Tyler Wahl necessitated he would become a great Badger basketball player. In fact, it’s been his destiny since he was a child. His ties to UW run deep.

His older sister, Lindsay, played basketball in La Crosse. Young Wahl would tag along to watch her play and afterward hang out with the men’s team. They’d correctly tell him, “You’re going to be a Badger someday.” Maybe they could see the future, or maybe they saw a driven young kid hailing from a basketball family.

In addition to Lindsay, Wahl’s father, Tim, played at Mankato State University and professional basketball in Germany. He was a 1977 finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball.

Wahl’s mother, Kaye, encouraged him early to set goals for his future. In addition to the usual “get good grades” and “get a scholarship” that were taped to his closet door, an 11-year-old Wahl set a goal to play basketball for the Wisconsin Badgers. No one else.

He’s not only accomplished that goal but blown past it.

After playing in every game as a freshman in 2019-2020, Wahl was the 2022 UW Student-Athlete of the Year, a 2022 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and a member of several All-Tournament teams, including the 2023 Fort Myers Tip-Off MVP. Wahl has also been named to the Julius Erving Preseason Award watch list multiple times — an award given to the best small forward in men’s college basketball.

To put things simply, Wahl has enjoyed a fruitful career at UW. He flourished in several roles in each season he played, but things took an awkward twist in January 2023.

Wahl’s characteristic energy became a bit harder to sustain after he injured his ankle against the Golden Gophers on the third of that month. He’d twisted his ankle several times before, but he’d always been able to run it off and keep contributing to his team. Though he tried, this time was different. Wahl missed the following three games and was never quite the same when he did return.

His discomfort lingered, especially late in games as he felt his shot affected.

The Badgers were riding high with an 11-2 record after defeating the Gophers. They’d lose nine of their last 15 regular season and Big Ten Tournament games en route to the National Invitation Tournament. It was an uncharacteristic finish for a prestigious UW program.

Wahl entered the offseason in a cloud of uncertainty. A decorated player in his career, there was no shame in closing that chapter. He’d given all he had to a program he’d wanted to be a part of for a decade. Wahl felt he still had more to give.

“He’s the type of person that would just not want to leave not on his own terms,” Oxton said about the end of Wahl’s senior season.

Wahl had plenty to think about. He took some time to himself to think about the team and his coaches, among a flurry of other things.

He’d accomplished every goal he’d set for himself, but Wahl wanted to end on a high note. His injury didn’t allow him to do that.

“I think he leaned on his parents a lot,” Oxton said.

They’ve been with Wahl at every step, from his time tagging along with his sister to commitment day and Senior Day.

Wahl was in a fairly unique situation — he had another year of eligibility. In the end, his decision was an easy one.

“All the outside noise, all the wins and losses going through a long season, your mind gets pulled in all sorts of different directions,” Wahl said in October. “But having everything end and just sitting down and having [the decision] be my main priority, it was an easy decision at the end of the day.”

He made his return official in April, expressing his excitement about the team and the brotherhood they’d created. UW was returning all five starters and had an influx of new and young talented players.

One of those new faces was Nolan Winter. Winter was yet another Lakeville North graduate and basketball star. He’d known Wahl from years prior, during his time rising up through the Panthers’ basketball program.

Winter represented a unique relationship. Wahl had developed into a veteran teammate, but the Lakeville North connection was an added layer of camaraderie.

Shortly after announcing his return, Oxton asked Wahl a favor.

“I need you to take care of [Winter],” Oxton said in the summer. “Show him the ropes.”

Wahl has done it gracefully, offering advice and his friendship. He’s led by example in the way he carries himself as well as shouting things out from the sideline when Winter is on the floor.

Sometimes leadership happens with the two of them on opposite sides of the floor. Playing against Wahl has helped challenge Winter to improve.

“[He’s] beat me up in the post,” Winter said with a laugh when answering how Wahl has helped him make the smooth transition into college. “He teaches me a lot without really telling me anything … I’ll continue to lean on him when times get tough. I know I got him,” he said, glancing over at Wahl across the Kohl Center basement hallway.

Winter has been able to hit the ground running as a freshman — earning playing time in every game for the Badgers this season. He admitted he was a bit hesitant in the summer, but his confidence continues to grow both offensively and defensively.

For Wahl, being a great teammate has been more than doing whatever it takes to win. He’s grown as a communicator and a leader — something Oxton says he’s seen develop even more in college.

“He went to college as an 18-year-old kid … he’s going to leave as a 22-year-old man,” Oxton said. “He takes a lot of pride in being the ‘old guy.’” 

Men’s Basketball: Badgers can’t overcome shooting woes, lose to No. 2 Purdue 75–69

Wahl knows he’s become a veteran, and he’s cool with it. He’s heard the “old man” of the locker room quips, sometimes being compared to former teammate Brad Davison, who played for the Badgers between 2017 and 2022. For Wahl, it’s another way to give back to the program that’s given so much to him.

Being the “old guy” often means being able to communicate well with teammates. Wahl has always had a keen understanding of the game of basketball. Gard applauded his IQ and adaptability as a freshman, saying Wahl always picked plays up in one or two reps. Now with years of experience under Gard, he has a deep wealth of knowledge to share with teammates.

“I feel like from [high school] to now, I’ve become a better communicator,” he said before the season. “And also just speaking up when my voice needs to be heard. If something’s going on in practice that shouldn’t be happening, just speaking up and saying, ‘That’s not how we do things, this is how it goes.’”

Wahl has also taken on answering questions from younger players, articulating how offensive sets work, proper defensive positioning or relaying to them where players will be on the floor.

It’s a dynamic aspect of his game that may get overlooked throughout the course of a long season.

“Being able to give it to them not from a coaching standpoint, where it’s like ‘you need to do this or that,’ but explaining the reasoning behind it,” Wahl said when talking about practices, “like ‘We do this because this guy’s going to be over here in the corner.’”

With plenty of help from Wahl’s hustle, leadership and basketball ability, the Badgers are excelling. They could finish the regular season with another Big Ten championship —making Wahl the only Wisconsin player to do so three times.

He wouldn’t think much of it. Not because it isn’t a massive accomplishment, but because he’d likely remember all of the hard work, “small” plays that turned the tides and the journey up to it first.

“I’m truly blessed to have been here for four years and won two Big Ten Championships with those teams,” Wahl said. “It’s always our goal. It’s not necessarily about me this year winning a third one. I think with the guys that we’ve got we can, and we have the opportunity to really attack that each and every day.”

Wahl can finish his career at UW on his own terms, and audiences better believe he’s playing with the same heart he’s always played with.

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