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How did Wisconsin’s 2013 recruiting class pan out?

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Hayes, Koenig highlight very productive class

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

There are a number of factors that go into whether or not a recruiting class was successful, including wins, championships, milestones, individual achievements and professional potential. Wisconsin’s 2013 recruiting class checked all of those boxes over the last four years on the way to becoming one of the most successful classes in school history.

Since stepping on campus in the fall of 2013, Wisconsin’s six-player class of Vitto Brown, Riley Dearring, Nigel Hayes, Jordan Hill, Bronson Koenig and Aaron Moesch compiled a 115-35 record while going to two Final Fours, four Sweet 16s, one Big Ten regular season title and one Big Ten Tournament title.

With all the team success came individual accolades, and the two standouts, Hayes and Koenig, are currently fighting for roster spots in the NBA Summer League. That’s about as good as you can ask for when you bring a class in.

In essence, the group came just in time for what could end up being the golden age of Wisconsin basketball, as Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and the rest of the Badgers were ready to jump into the national spotlight. Hayes and Koenig played key bench roles on that Wisconsin team that reached the 2014 Final Four, then came right back and did it again during a 2014-’15 campaign that was the best season in program history.

After a tough loss to Duke in the 2015 championship, all the veterans left Madison and the Class of 2013 was in the spotlight. Hayes and Koenig were the unquestioned go-to guys heading into 2015-’16, while Brown and Hill were going to be asked to take on larger roles.

Everyone was thrown into the fire and it was a tough adjustment early on. The Badgers were 7-5 when head coach Bo Ryan retired in December. It didn’t get any easier early in then-interim head coach Greg Gard’s tenure, as Wisconsin dropped four of its first five Big Ten games to fall to 9-9.

But the group settled back in and their winning mentality won out. The Badgers won 11 of their last 13 regular-season games to earn their way back into the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin eventually advanced to the Sweet 16 before a tough loss to Notre Dame.

The Badgers came back with high expectations heading into 2016-’17. They never quite seemed to reach that potential until March, when they returned to the Sweet 16 before a tough overtime loss to Florida.

While the wins will be remembered when fans think back on this age of Wisconsin basketball, those heartbreaking losses will be tough to forget. The Class of 2013 compiled a 13-4 record in four trips to the NCAA Tournament, losing those games by a total of 12 points, including on gut-wrenching last-second shots by Kentucky in the 2014 Final Four and by Florida in the 2017 Sweet 16.

But whenever it looked like the Badgers were done or had an excuse to pack it in, they came back, right down to their last time on the court together when Zak Showalter’s miracle 3-pointer was one-upped by Florida’s Chris Chiozza. It took a lot to beat Wisconsin the past few years, and that mentality tends to stick around a program.

The class also reached far beyond the court. The Badgers have participated in a number of societal discussions over the last couple of years, so much so that the New York Times wrote an article entitled “Inside College Basketball’s Most Political Locker Room” that highlighted the work of Hayes, Hill and Koenig.

As a whole, the Badgers couldn’t have asked for more from the Class of 2013, but let’s take a closer look at the individual cases. Three of the six have graduated from Wisconsin, two have transferred, while one will be back for one last go-around with the Badgers.

-Vitto Brown — 6-foot-8 forward

Brown was listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals and a two-star recruit by ESPN coming out of Bowling Green High School in Ohio. He averaged 23.7 points and 13 rebounds per game as a senior in high school, but he needed time to develop at the college level. He got it when he joined a loaded frontcourt that included Kaminsky, Dekker, Hayes and Duje Dukan.

Brown saw action in 14 games as a freshman before appearing in all 34 games as a sophomore, averaging just 1.8 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.3 minutes per game in 2014-’15.

He was ready to go by the time he was needed, averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while starting 34 games as a junior. Brown became Wisconsin’s most reliable 3-point threat down the stretch run in 2015-16, shooting 40.0 percent (38-95) from behind the arc.

Brown’s shooting wasn’t there during his senior campaign, as he shot just 39.8 percent from the field, including 31.9 percent from the 3-point line. But he was still essential to Wisconsin’s run, starting all 37 games and averaging 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

-Riley Dearring — 6-foot-5 guard

A three-star recruit, Dearring committed to Wisconsin after averaging 14.5 points per game as a senior at Minnetonka, Minnesota. Billed as a shooter, Dearring never really got an opportunity to shoot at Wisconsin.

He redshirted his first year on campus before appearing in 15 games in 2014-15. Dearring saw action in four games as a redshirt sophomore, then announced his intentions to transfer to Cal State Fullerton.

Dearring appeared in six games for Cal State as a junior last year, averaging 1.5 points in 4.3 minutes per game.

-Nigel Hayes — 6-foot-8 forward

The most well-known name of the group, Hayes had a decorated four-year career at Wisconsin. A Whitmer, Ohio native, Hayes was listed as a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star recruit by Rivals after averaging 16.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game as a senior.

He was ready to contribute right away at Wisconsin, earning All-Big Ten Sixth Man honors and being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year while earning significant minutes for Wisconsin’s 2014 Final Four team.

Hayes was entrenched in the starting lineup once Ben Brust graduated in 2014, starting 112 of his 150 career games. Hayes was a third-team All-Big Ten pick as a sophomore, then averaged a career-high 15.7 points per game on the way to being named first-team All-Big Ten as a junior in 2015-16. He was asked to do a lot as junior, leading the Badgers in scoring and assists (3.06) per game while finishing second in rebounds (6.0) and steals (1.1) per game.

Hayes’ success had him on every award watch list heading into his senior year, when he was the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He eventually averaged 14.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game on the way to earning third-team all-conference recognition.

The slightly diminished numbers in senior year led to Hayes going undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft. He was quickly picked up by the New York Knicks and has been playing in the NBA Summer League this month.

Overall, Hayes was one of the faces of college basketball the last few years and will go down as one of the winningest players in Wisconsin history.

Hayes will be in the Wisconsin record books for awhile. He graduated as the third-leading scorer in school history with 1,857 career points. Hayes is also the only player to be in Wisconsin’s top 10 in career points, rebounds and assists; and he was the second player in Big Ten history with at least 1,800 points, 700 rebounds and 300 assists.

-Jordan Hill — 6-foot-4 guard

Hill was lightly recruited coming out of LaSalle High School in Pasadena, California in 2012. That led him to spend a year at Phillips Exeter Academy, a fifth-year prep school in New Hampshire. Hill caught Wisconsin’s eye on the AAU circuit and committed just prior to the 2012-13 high school season, then spent the winter averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals for Exeter.

The 6-foot-4 guard had an up-and-down career at Wisconsin, playing sparingly as a freshman before redshirting in what would have been his true sophomore season. Hill saw his most playing time in 2015-16, when he averaged career highs in minutes (15.6), points (2.9), rebounds (1.4), assists (0.8) and steals (0.3).

However, he never really found a consistent role as a junior, as freshman guards D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl took much of the playing time behind Koenig and Showalter. Hill appeared in 35 games last season, averaging 1.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game while shooting 25.7 percent (9-35) from behind the arc.

Hill is looking for a new role as a senior, announcing in April that he would leave Wisconsin and join the Seattle Redhawks in the Western Athletic Conference as a graduate transfer.

-Bronson Koenig — 6-foot-3 guard

Koenig was the most highly-regarded recruit in Wisconsin’s 2013 class. Ranked a four-star recruit by Rivals and a three-star recruit by ESPN, Koenig picked up offers from Duke and North Carolina during his high school career at La Crosse Aquinas.

Koenig was a big name in Wisconsin, leading Aquinas to two state championships and averaging 17.3 points and 4.0 assists per game on the way to being named the state’s Associated Press Player of the Year as a senior. He chose to stay home and play for the Badgers, a big get for a Wisconsin program that always seems to have a strong lead guard.

Koenig wasn’t asked to do too much while playing behind Brust, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser as a freshman. However, he showed his ability, averaging 3.5 points and 1.1 assists in 15.5 minutes per game, including busting out for 11 first-half points in the Final Four loss to Kentucky.

That experience came in handy when Jackson went down with an injury midway through the 2014-’15 season. Koenig took the point guard reins and never let go, starting the final 95 games of his career. He averaged 8.7 points and 2.5 assists per game while still playing a complementary role as a sophomore.

But that changed in Koenig’s junior year, when he averaged 13.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 34.9 minutes per game on the way to earning third-team All-Big Ten recognition from the conference coaches. Koenig came on even stronger as a senior, receiving second-team All-Big Ten honors after averaging a team-high 14.5 points to go along with 2.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Koenig set a number of records as a senior, setting Wisconsin’s single-season record with 103 3-pointers on 39.3 percent shooting. He also surpassed Brust as Wisconsin’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, making 270 for his career at a 38.8 percent clip.

Finally, Koenig was named the 2017 Courageous Award Winner by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, in part for the work he did in North Dakota.

Koenig went undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s going to get a shot. He signed a two-way contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on July 6, which will allow him to play with Milwaukee’s G League team in Oshkosh while also being allowed to spend up to 45 days with the Bucks.

-Aaron Moesch — 6-foot-8 forward

Moesch was the last addition to Wisconsin’s 2013 recruit class and he is the only one left in Madison. Having redshirted as a freshman in 2013-14, he’ll be the elder statesman of a fairly young group of Badgers this season.

Moesch committed to Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on in February of 2013, during a senior season at Green Bay Southwest High School in which he averaged 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.

Moesch has played in 48 career games, seeing action in at least 14 games in each of the last three years. A two-time academic All-Big Ten, Moesch played in 18 games last season, tallying 0.2 points and 0.4 rebounds in 2.2 minutes per game.

Overall

The Class of 2013 did everything it set out to do in Madison, with the exception of one thing (winning an NCAA Title) that no other modern Wisconsin team prior to 2014 has even had within their reach. There were ups and downs as there always is, but at the end of every season the Badgers were in the national spotlight, something that almost no other program can say.

A six-man recruiting class isn’t very common, and it makes for a strong chance that the entire group won’t finish their careers in the same place. However, every Badger in the 2013 recruiting class is on track to play a full college career, and Brown, Hayes, Hill and Koenig already have college degrees. That’s a big accomplishment for a group that also did as much as they did on the court.

Furthermore, it’s never easy to lose the best coach in program history, but Wisconsin’s 2013 recruiting class presided over the loss of Bo Ryan and eased the transition into Greg Gard. In the end, it will be Kaminsky and Dekker’s team that gets remembered as the best in program history. But the 2013 class was right there to supplement that team, keep that momentum going and put Wisconsin in good shape going forward.