USA Today, April 2, 2015
Frank Kaminsky, star center for the University of Wisconsin basketball team, sat on a dais with four of his teammates before last year’s Elite Eight matchup with Arizona and fielded questions from the news media.
In one or two words, a reporter said, how would you want Arizona’s starters to describe you?
“Resilent” and “disciplined,” replied two of the players. “Unselfish” and “tough,” answered two others.
Then came Kaminsky. “White guys,” he deadpanned.
When the Final Four is played Saturday in Indianapolis, all five starters for Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State will be African American. Wisconsin’s starting lineup, by contrast, includes one African American, forward Nigel Hayes. (Traevon Jackson, who also is African American, was a starter this season before he missed two months with a broken foot.)
It’s a racial makeup that has been noticed, says Jordan Taylor, an African-American point guard who starred for the Badgers from 2008 to 2012. He plays for Hapoel Holon in the Israeli professional league and says he was needled by a teammate this week about Wisconsin’s chances against undefeated Kentucky.
“He was just saying we’ve got too many white guys,” Taylor says with a chuckle. “I still get kind of poked at, teased about it, because it always seems like there are about four white guys and a black point guard all the time (in Wisconsin’s starting lineup).”
Taylor and Kaminsky were among current and former players, former assistant coaches, authorities on the African-American experience at the University of Wisconsin and the state and others who spoke to USA TODAY Sports to answer: Why is the Badgers’ roster predominantly white?
The average Division I men’s basketball team this season includes nine African-American players and four white players, according to data provided by the NCAA. At Wisconsin, the roster includes five African Americans, 10 whites and one Native American.
“It’s an interesting question,” says Alando Tucker, an African American who was a forward for Wisconsin between 2002 and 2007 before playing three years in the NBA and later overseas. “It is surprising.”
What has become familiar is the Badgers’ success under coach Bo Ryan, whose teams have made the NCAA tournament in each of his 14 seasons, reached the Sweet 16 seven times and are in Final Four for the second year in a row.
“White, black, whatever,” says Jackson, a point guard for the Badgers. “We all worked hard, and Coach Ryan is a tough-nosed coach who gets the most out of you. We’re in back-to-back Final Fours, and we’re looking for more.”
A number of factors contribute to Wisconsin’s predominantly white teams, including: state and university demographics; coaching at the lower levels; and Ryan’s system, which features a methodical, half-court offense that is key to his success but according to players and coaches can make it a challenge to recruit top African-American players.
Ryan, through a Wisconsin spokesman, declined to comment.
“I think the misconception is that Bo just likes to recruit the big, white kids,” says Howard Moore, who was an assistant coach under Ryan from 2005 to 2010, played at Wisconsin from 1990 to 1995 and is African American. “Those (assistant coaches at Wisconsin) have done a great job of recruiting to Bo’s system and staying true to what Bo believes in and going and getting the kids that believe in what they do. That’s the key.”