You may not have known this if you’ve never been a fan of Wisconsin Badgers basketball before. Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan have guided Wisconsin to 14 straight NCAA tournament berths, but the program’s present success was not achieved overnight.
It’s rare to see many of your players make it to the NBA, much less the highest level of competition of basketball in the world, after years of mediocrity. In spite of the Badgers’ recent success, Ryan’s swing-style offense is similar to watching paint dry and gnawing on teeth at times, and it’s an occasional treat, to say the least.
Even if Wisconsin’s history and style of play may not attract the most skilled recruits, winning basketball matches is all that really counts.
Wisconsin basketball is on the verge of becoming a pipeline to the NBA, and our rankings are a step in that direction. With all that in mind, these are the greatest NBA players to ever play for the Wisconsin Badgers.
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The fact that Greg Stiemsma competed in the NBA over several seasons in a supporting position earned him a spot on our list.
In spite of his lack of talent, his 6’11” height and strong reach make him a dangerous interior presence for the Wisconsin Badgers’ defense. This season, with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Stiemsma has prevented the 4th most NBA shots per 48 minutes, following in the footsteps of his 2011-12 Boston Celtics career.
One of the numerous “polar bears” to emerge from Madison in recent years, Stiemsma only averages 12.4 minutes per game but has a significant influence when he is on the court and has a well-defined job on an NBA team, which that very few past or present Badgers can say about themselves.
Who knows what he may do if he develops any offensive skills? It’s possible that Stiemsma may branch out from his one-dimensional persona and pursue it professionally.
Was Brad Sellers a member of the Wisconsin Badgers’ roster? Yes. Are there any records that show that he attended the University of Wisconsin? The Ohio State Buckeyes, on the other hand, has that honor. Now let’s go on.
In spite of the fact that Sellers was a one-time ninth-round draft selection of the Chicago Bulls and spent six seasons in the NBA, he was one of the few Wisconsin players to have a lengthy career in the NBA, like Steimsma.
It’s a good thing Sellers made it into this list because he averaged 6.3 points and 2.7 boards for four different teams during his career. We realize Sellers is always recognized as a Buckeye, but for the purposes of this list, he will still be a Badger.
Wes Matthews, a tiny guard taken 14th overall in the 1980 NBA Draft, is the No. 3 best NBA player in Wisconsin history after overcoming obscurity and technicality.
As a freshman in the NBA, Matthews averaged 12.4 points per game for Washington and Atlanta, and he deserves credit for helping Wisconsin basketball recover from a big void in its ranks. After eight complete NBA seasons, Matthews had averaged 7.9 points & 4.2 assists per game for six different clubs.
For those of you who don’t know, Wesley Matthews is a recent Portland Trail Blazer who would have been on this list if Matthews had decided to stay in Madison and attend Marquette instead of going to school in Portland.
Devin Harris, a native of Milwaukee, is enjoying a successful NBA career.
Harris was a one-of-a-kind talent for the Wisconsin Badgers, and he thrived in the swing offense of coach Bo Ryan. At Wisconsin, we’re not used to seeing athletes depart early for the NBA, as Harris did, and it’s not something we’re used to seeing.
The Dallas Mavericks was one of Harris’ four clubs, reaching the NBA Finals in his ninth season, which he is now in. Even though he’s presently the Atlanta Hawks’ back-up point guard, he’s started most of his NBA games at the position during his career.
For his career, Harris had averaged 12.9 points & 4.9 assists, with a high of 20 points per game in the 2008-09 campaign with the New Jersey Nets. This is an improvement over where we were before, and while Harris will just go down as one of the greatest Badgers in NBA history, there is one person who will go remembered as the best Wisconsin baller of all time, period.
There’s no disputing this: Michael Finley helped turn Wisconsin into the annual NCAA tournament club it is currently, and then he went on to play a terrific 15 seasons in the NBA.
After spending much of his career only with the Dallas Mavericks, Finley won an NBA championship only with the San Antonio Spurs near the end of his career. For five straight seasons, he averaged more than 20 points per game, and he was a two-time NBA All-Star and a member of the NBA All-Rookie Group.
Finley’s stature for a two-guard allowed him to rise over lesser opponents and shoot over them. With a career average of 15.7 points per game, he was a great jump shooter who made his money on the attacking end of the court.
Finley’s willingness to sacrifice his own interests for the good of the team may have cost him an opportunity at the Hall of Fame. A Badger will have a difficult time surpassing Finley’s NBA career, but he is now the finest NBA player for the Wisconsin Badgers.