The construction of Wisconsin Basketball’s 2021 recruiting class is officially underway, with Illinois forward Chris Hodges committing late Thursday night.
Greg Gard and his staff are still working on putting the finishing touches on Wisconsin’s 2020 recruiting class, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t also get a nice head start in 2021.
On Thursday evening, the Badgers picked up their first commitment in that class from forward Chris Hodges (Schaumburg, IL), who announced his decision on Twitter. The 6’8 big man is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 27 power forward and No. 141 overall player in the nation and chose Wisconsin over other offers from DePaul, Loyola (Chicago), Miami (OH), and Rutgers. Hodges also reported strong interest coming in from the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, and Michigan State.
As is usually the case in hoops recruiting, a strong relationship between the school and the recruit’s AAU program played a key role in Hodges’ recruitment: he plays for the Illinois Wolves on the Under Armour circuit, a program that produced arguably the best player in the history of Wisconsin Basketball in Frank Kaminsky and that has long been friendly with Wisconsin. However, though the staff had been monitoring Hodges for a while, he wasn’t really on our radars until June, when he was a surprise offer at the Badgers’ advanced camp.
Hodges commitment is obviously great news, but it was definitely a shock that it came this early in the process. Earlier in the summer, he told Evan Flood of Badger247 that he was planning on possibly taking official visits throughout his junior year and making his decision almost a year from now in July of 2020. Had Hodges played out his recruitment as anticipated and gone through another entire season of AAU ball, he would have almost certainly picked up several more high-major scholarship offers.
There’s a substantial percentage of Wisconsin hoops fans who do not have much faith in the recruiting ability of this coaching staff, and while there has certainly been some reason for criticism in the last couple of classes, the fact that Gard and company were able to lock up a prospect like Hodges at this stage of the game is very impressive and should silence some of the naysayers. This is also coming on the heels of a very nice 2020 recruiting class that could get even better sooner rather than later with the traction the Badgers appear to be gaining with Minnesota center Steven Crowl.
Hodges had this to say about why he decided to pull the trigger so early:
"When you feel like you’ve found the spot, you run with it…I had a great feeling there from the get-go. Everything felt like the right fit for me–the offense, the coaching staff, the city, how they develop players there."
It seems like the staff sold the program pretty darn well in this case. As you can tell from Hodges’ quote, a major part of their successful sales pitch likely included Wisconsin’s track record of developing players like him.
Right now, he’s a mainly back-to-the-basket player who does the majority of his damage within a couple of feet of the rim. Hodges’ skill set is pretty raw, as he has a long ways to go in terms of developing his footwork, shooting, and ball-handling. That being said, Hodges is more than adept at banging in the post and plays with a very high motor, and he also has an excellent frame that will only continue to get bigger. At this point, it’s just a matter of if those skills come along, but he still has two more years of high school to develop, and once he gets to Madison, he could really take off with the developmental ability of this staff. The coaches clearly were ahead of the curve here and saw a ball of clay they are confident they can mold effectively moving forward, and I trust them on that evaluation.
The pickup of Hodges is a very strong start to what is going to be a pretty large and important class for the Badgers, who could take as many as four more players. Top targets on the board include point guard Chucky Hepburn (Bellevue, NE), shooting guard Julian Roper (West Bloomfield, MI), small forward Patrick Baldwin Jr. (Sussex, WI), power forward Matthew Mors (Yankton, SD), and centers Jackson Grant (Olympia, WA) and Logan Duncomb (Cincinnati, OH).