Panthers, Badgers build through Swing AAU

Madison, Wisconsin – When the Milwaukee Panthers and Wisconsin Badgers take the court together tonight in the annual meeting between the two teams, there will be a real familiarity in both lineups.

It goes beyond wearing the Black and Gold or Cardinal and White in the intrastate series. Many players – eleven total between the two rosters – came up in the same AAU program, the Wisconsin Swing.

“It’s definitely great to see that the Swing program has progressed to the point where we are putting players at great programs like Indiana and Northern Iowa, but are still all over Wisconsin and Milwaukee,” says director of the Swing Dana MacKenzie. “I’ll definitely be there to see the Swing guys play Wednesday night.”

Milwaukee carries seven former Swing players on its roster, led by Kyle Kelm. He’s joined by Evan Richard, Cody Wichmann, Brett Prahl, Alex Prahl, Mitch Roelke, Dan Studer and Austin Arians. The Badgers start Swing alumnus Josh Gasser and also feature Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter.

Ten years ago, the Wisconsin Swing AAU started with Dana MacKenzie joined by his brother Chip (yeah, our Chip) and Will Ryan (Bo’s son and Milwaukee alumnus) when the MacKenzie brothers took over the basketball program at Pecatonica High School. Dana was head coach for two years at Pecatonica, reaching the state championship game and moving down to Waunakee in the Madison suburbs. From there, Chip coached Pecatonica before joining the Milwaukee staff and Will Ryan ended up as an assistant at North Dakota State. NDSU, like Wisconsin and Milwaukee, has been littered with bodies straight from the “#swingfam,” the Twitter hashtag Swing AAU uses.

Of course, there’s nothing about the Swing that is as fleeting as a hashtag. MacKenzie boasts 125+ Swing alumni in the college ranks, many of whom play at the Division I level.

The offense itself, of course, was devised by Bo Ryan while he was destroying most of the nation in Division III. An offense meant to create mismatches, the swing values passing, shooting, and the ability to post up no matter what position you are on the floor. The same shooting touch, deft passing ability and post moves are expected from point guards and centers alike. It’s why Swing alumni post players like Jason Averkamp, JP Gavinski and Kyle Kelm can shoot the three. It’s also why Gasser, Richard, Austin Arians and Trevon Hughes can post up down low.  That offense spends the summer on showcase around the country, giving players in the program a chance to play in front of college coaches from around the country. “The exposure that we got playing at Swing really helped us get to [Division I],” Evan Richard says.

“We know the Swing offense, having played in it so long. So it helps that we know [Gasser] but also that we’re very familiar with the Badgers’ offense,” says Kyle Kelm. “It’s definitely an advantage for me and Evan to go up against the same offense.”

Wichmann and the Prahl twins played with Koenig in the 2013 Swing class. Austin Arians and Zak Showalter are part of the same class in 2012. Kelm, Richard and Gasser were all in the 2010 Swing class. To say these players know each other is a bit of an understatement.

“We played with him for four years, so we know him personally as well as in basketball,” says Richard of Gasser. “We know his tendencies, and we can help with the scout on him.”

For the first time in recent memory, Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers have been running the Swing effectively as an offense, mixing it with the dribble-drive motion to put “Jeterball” in high gear. Many times this season has Kyle Kelm caught the opposing guard in a defensive mismatch down low, just as Austin Arians has made the baseline cut to the basket a big part of his arsenal.

The fact that the Panthers are buying into the system, each other and coach Jeter goes a long way. It’s the same on the other side, where a finally healthy Josh Gasser gives Bo Ryan his first everyday starter born and bred in the swing offense since Trevon Hughes, a part of Swing AAU’s inaugural Class of 2006. The two high-scorers for the Badgers, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, are Swing-type players despite Kaminsky coming from Illinois and Sam Dekker graduating from Swing AAU’s intrastate rival Playground Warriors (also the AAU team of JJ Panoske). Perhaps this has as much to do with the Badgers’ big success so far as anything else – that Bo Ryan finally has the team that fits his own tailor-made offense.

One thing is for sure. Tonight’s match up between the Panthers and Badgers is going to have the fingerprints of the Swing all over it. And for Kyle Kelm and the Black and Gold, that may not be all that bad.

“It’s a good feeling, to know what we’re up against.”

Dan Zielinski contributed to this post. To read the PantherU Preview of tonight’s match-up, head here. Join the discussion on the PantherU forums here.

Edit: Actually, over 125 athletes have come out of the Swing. Milwaukee’s new transfer Dan Studer is one of them. PantherU regrets the errors.

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