Wisconsin Badgers basketball team could get boost from Max Klesmit, Kamari McGee, Markus Ilver, Chris Hodges

MADISON – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard knows what to expect from his big three of Tyler Wahl, Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl.

But UW’s ability to contend for a top-four finish in the Big Ten and perhaps win at least a share of the league title for the third time in four seasons might be partially determined by two players who weren’t on the roster last season, one who rarely played and one who redshirted.

Wofford guard Max Klesmit drives against South Carolina during a game Nov. 23, 2001. Klesmit transferred to Wisconsin and was a graduate of Neenah High School.
Wofford guard Max Klesmit drives against South Carolina during a game Nov. 23, 2001. Klesmit transferred to Wisconsin and was a graduate of Neenah High School.

Junior guard Max Klesmit transferred from Wofford

Klesmit, a graduate of Neenah High School, started all 31 games and averaged 14.9 points per game for the Terriers.

He's a shooting guard whose tenacity has been compared to former UW players Josh Gasser and Zak Showalter.

“Max just plays super hard,” assistant coach Sharif Chambliss said Wednesday during UW's media day. “Probably the first guy on the floor today. Probably the first guy on the floor every day. Not afraid of contact. He’ll definitely get into some physical stuff, boxing out, rebounding and making sure guys are playing physically.”

Sophomore guard Kamari McGee came from UWGB

McGee, a graduate of Racine St. Catherine’s High School, started the last 20 games for the Phoenix and averaged 11.6 points per game.

McGee likely won’t be asked to score as much as he did with the Phoenix. His primary job will be to back up Hepburn but the two could be paired together if the Badgers want to attack defensively.

“I see myself as a defender first,” McGee said. “Growing up I’ve always been a defender. I’m more happy with passing than I am with scoring.

“I’m not a selfish player. If one of my guys is hot, keep feeding him. I am a willing passer. I love to pass.”

Kamari McGee heads toward the basket for UW-Green Bay during a game against UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 13. McGee is a graduate of Racine St. Catherine’s and transferred from UWGB to Wisconsin.
Kamari McGee heads toward the basket for UW-Green Bay during a game against UW-Milwaukee on Feb. 13. McGee is a graduate of Racine St. Catherine’s and transferred from UWGB to Wisconsin.

Assistant Dean Oliver, who works with the point guards, likes what he has seen so far.

“It’s always a transition at the point guard that comes to a new team, no matter how similar the systems are,” he said. “You’ve got new teammates to learn, new philosophies. There is so much you’ve got to absorb.

“But the thing about Kam is that he is so open and such a great listener that he has been soaking things in. He looks you dead in the eye and he tries to get better. He is a true point guard.”

Sophomore forward Markus Ilver played sparingly

Ilver is the only member of the quartet who played for UW last season. The 6-foo-8, 215-pounder played a combined 27 minutes 33 seconds in eight games. He hit 1 of 8 shots and finished with five points, four rebounds and seven fouls.

Ilver played well on UW’s exhibition tour in France, leading the team in three-point shooting and rebounding.

Ilver helped Estonia win the bronze medal in July at the 2022 FIBA U20 European Championship. That experience bolstered his confidence, which led to playing well in France.

“I’ve been working on my post play a lot,” Ilver said. “Coach Gard can put anybody down there. You’ve got to know how to do that if you want to play.”

Forward Chris Hodges redshirted last season

Until Hodges got on the court in France in August, he hadn't played in a game since his junior season at Schaumburg High School in Illinois. He skipped his senior season because of COVID-19 concerns and redshirted last season.

The 6-9, 245-pounder is expected to back up Crowl and provide rebounding and physical play in the post.

“Physicality, energy and competitiveness,” Hodges said when asked about how he can contribute initially. “I am going to do whatever the coaches need me to do.”

He is raw but has a solid frame, long arms and is tenacious.

“But there are so many unknowns with this group,” Gard said. “I want to see underneath the lights, with people in the seats, how we respond.

“How do you handle adversity? How do you grow through the year? I think he is not where he can be and will be. I like what I saw in France. Now we’ve got to make that better and more consistent.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 4 fresh faces who could help UW compete for Big Ten basketball title