CHICAGO — Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan rarely heaps praise upon incoming freshmen. Ryan is old-school that way.
But former Cedar Rapids Jefferson star Jarrod Uthoff has impressed Ryan with his work ethic this fall and will fit nicely into the Badgers' rotation this year, Ryan said last week at Big Ten Media Day.
"He's picked up things sort of the way (sophomore) Josh Gasser did last year," Ryan said. "Some guys it might be after a year; some guys after two years. But he's grasped our concepts as fast as anybody that we've had."
Uthoff was tabbed Iowa's Mr. Basketball last year and led the state in scoring with a 26.2 points per game. He hit 55 percent from the floor and 84.6 percent from the free-throw line. He also averaged 11.2 rebounds a game, third-most in Class 4A.
Wisconsin lists Uthoff at 200 pounds, which still is thin for his 6-foot-8 frame. Ryan said Uthoff has bulked up and gained strength while training in Madison the last five months.
Uthoff also can take some ribbing, Ryan said.
"He’s the youngest freshman, so the joke was on that he had to give a speech at this function that we had, where I introduced Greg Gard, the associate head coach, he introduces the next coach, and we go all the way through the ranks," Ryan said. "So the guys had him convinced he had to do a five-minute speech. So he gets up there, and he starts ... I had to save him. The players were behind a curtain, falling on the ground.
"'Jarrod,' I said, 'Jarrod, they were only kidding.' He says, 'They got me.’ And he handled it so well."
Uthoff was heavily recruited at Jefferson and had multiple Big Ten scholarship offers, including Iowa, along with other major Division I schools. He surprised many by picking Wisconsin four months before his senior season.
Uthoff continues the pipeline from the Cedar Rapids metro area to Wisconsin. Former Linn-Mar prep Jason Bohannon famously spurned Iowa for the Badgers and played in 105 victories, tying a Badger record. Bohannon's brother, Zach, transferred from Air Force to Wisconsin this spring and will sit out this season.
"Gary (Close) did a great job of spotting (Uthoff) early," Ryan said. "The young man happened to enjoy our campus. There’s guys from Wisconsin that go to other schools. There’s guys from Minnesota that go to other schools. The important thing is where a guy decides to matriculate, that tells the story. So we’re certainly glad he’s with us."
Uthoff will have a chance to play right away for the Badgers, who lost front-court starters Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz and Keaton Nankivil to graduation. Wisconsin, which advanced to the Sweet 16 last year, returns guards Jordan Taylor and Gasser from its 25-9 team last year.
Ryan said Uthoff is "the most consistent" of his younger players this fall."His teammates love him," Ryan said. "He’s right in to the mix into the drills. He’s one of those guys that if we went on the playground, you pick your five, I pick my five, he’d be picked because he knows how to play. He’s got a good feel for the game, and he’s hungry to learn. And he can take a little kidding."