PEKIN, Ill. — It's on to Wisconsin for Pekin boys basketball star Justin Taphorn.
The 6-foot-4 small forward will be joining the Big Ten Conference co-champion Badgers as a walk-on.
Taphorn attracted interest from Division II and Division III college coaches during this past season, but he had higher aspirations.
So he took over his recruiting process after the season, contacting Division I coaches in search of a walk-on spot. His introduction to the coaches included a resume and video of game highlights.
He caught the eye of Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, who eventually offered him the walk-on spot, which could lead to a scholarship.
Taphorn also seriously considered a preferred walk-on offer from Bradley.
"Wisconsin can give me the basketball experience I want," Taphorn said. "Great atmosphere, great tradition, and I've always had a lot of respect for their team."
Wisconsin is a perfect fit academically for Taphorn, who will graduate from Pekin on July 24 with a 3.755 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.
"I want to major in kinesiology, and Wisconsin has one of the top kinesiology programs in the country," said Taphorn, who plans to be a physical therapist or athletic trainer.
Taphorn's interest in the field dates back to when he was an eighth-grade basketball player at Edison Junior High School.
He needed physical therapy to recover from Plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes.
Pekin boys basketball coach Jeff Walraven said he had a 5-to 8-minute phone conversation with Gard before Gard extended the walk-on offer to Taphorn.
"Coach Gard wanted to know if Justin would understand what was expected of him as a walk-on, and be a good teammate," Walraven said. "I told him that Justin would definitely understand his roles and be a good teammate."
Taphorn earned four varsity letters at Pekin and served as a team captain when he was a senior.
He had a solid senior season for the Dragons under challenging circumstances.
Because he was the tallest player on the roster, he had to fight it out with the opposing team's big guys night after night.
Opposing big guys had to deal with him, too. Taphorn added toughness to his arsenal, which already included a deadly 3-point shot.
"After losing (6-foot-7) Patrick Torrey to graduation after Justin's junior year, we asked Justin to do more than he had done the previous season," Walraven said.
Taphorn embraced the challenge.
"I wanted to end my high school career with a good senior season, so I put in the work and I'm glad I did," he said. "The only time Coach Gard has been me play is on my highlight video."
Taphorn averaged 10.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as a senior. He shot 37 percent from the field and 69 percent from the free throw line.
In 72 career games for Pekin, he averaged 6.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He shot 41 percent from the field and 69 percent at the free throw line.
Pekin won 46 games during Taphorn's career including 29 Mid-Illini Conference games and won a Class 3A regional championship when he was a junior.
Also during Taphorn's junior year, he made it to the state finals in the Class 3A IHSA 3-Point Shootout.
He was a second team All-Mid-Illini selection as a senior, helping the Dragons finish second in the conference.
Taphorn also was a three-year letter-winner in boys golf for Pekin. He competed twice in the state tournament, and played a key role last fall as the Dragons won the Mid-Illini championship and Dragon Invitational.
There were plenty of thanks to go around when Taphorn was asked who he wanted to thank for guiding him on his journey to Division I basketball and Wisconsin.
"My dad (Pat), the other Pekin coaches, and my teammates at Pekin who pushed me and were always there for me for four years," he said.
Justin's siblings also are Division I athletes.
His brother Nathan played basketball at Northwestern for four years (2013-17) and his twin sister Jenna will play volleyball at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Justin recalls attending a Northwestern-Wisconsin basketball game at the Kohl Center, sitting behind the Northwestern bench, while Nathan played for Northwestern.
"The place was packed and the atmosphere was insane," he said.
Pat Taphorn played basketball at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2020 basketball scholarship recruits
6-2, 180, Guard
Detroit, Mich. (St. Mary’s)
Four-star recruit by ESPN … ranked No. 94 in the ESPN 100 for 2020 … standout at St. Mary’s High School is a two-time Class A All-State honoree in Michigan, earning first team honors in 2019 and honorable mention in 2018 … averaged 23.1 points and 5.1 assists per game during his junior season … averaged 22.5 points and 4.9 assists per game as a sophomore ... in AAU, member of EYBL where he excelled at the Nike circuit, averaging 13.5 points and 3.6 assists through his first six games.
Gard: “We are ecstatic to have Lorne join our Badger family. He’s the ultimate competitor, both on the court and in the classroom, and we can’t wait to begin working with him. It was evident early on that Lorne is exactly what we look for and he’s only continued to improve. Lorne plays at his own pace, always under control, giving his team whatever it needs in the right moments with a skillset that can turn from scoring guard to playmaker in an instant. He has a great ability to get the ball where it needs to be and can also create shots with his tremendous pull-up game. Lorne displays natural leadership, both by his extreme work ethic and also through his communication on and off the court. Lorne and his family are a pleasure to be around and represent everything that being a Badger is about.”
6-9, 205, Forward
Woodbury, Minn. (East Ridge)
Four-star recruit by ESPN, 247Sports and Rivals … ranked No. 88 in the ESPN 100 for 2020 … Carlson currently has 1,299 career points, 745 career rebounds, 109 career blocks, 115 career assists and 83 career steals, making him the top rebounder and shot blocker in East Ridge High School history … as a junior, led East Ridge to the Minnesota Class AA state tournament while averaging a double-double (16 ppg, 11.3 rpg) … two-time all-SEC conference player … an AP scholar with honor, Carlson is a member of National Honors Society with a 4.1 GPA.
Gard: “We are very excited to add Ben to our program. His commitment to academic excellence is extremely impressive, even on a national level. He has challenged himself year in and year out to become as well rounded a student as possible and he’s looking forward to continuing to develop at our prestigious university. On the court, Ben has a tremendously diverse skillset that should ultimately allow him to be effective in the post, off the dribble and from the perimeter as a shooter. His skills, combined with his great athletic ability, has us excited to begin working with Ben to help him reach his goals as a Badger.”
6-9, 210, Center
Eagan, Minn. (Eastview)
Three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals … his junior season, led Eastview High School to the Minnesota Class 4A state tournament while averaging 19.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, shooting 39% 3FG from beyond the arc … scored 630 points as a junior and 470 points as a sophomore giving him 1,100 career points entering his senior season … first-team South Suburban All-Conference in 2019 and second-team in 2018 … plays travel basketball for D1 Minnesota, the same program as current Badgers Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl.
Gard: “Steven has so many of the characteristics that we look for, both on and off the basketball court. He has excelled at a high level both on the court and in the classroom. From the first time we saw him, Steven has continued to grow and develop as a player. He has a great feel for the game and he will be able to utilize all those skills as he continues to develop. Steven has the ability to score both inside and out, which will add him to a long list of big men who have come through this program over the years. We are excited to add Steven to the Badger basketball family.”
6-4, 185, Guard
La Crosse, Wis. (Central)
Four-star recruit by Rivals … conference player of the year averaged 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists per game as a junior for La Crosse Central, earning unanimous first-team all-state selection and first-team all-conference honors … La Crosse Tribune Coulee Region Player of the Year in 2018-19 … as a sophomore, averaged 22.7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists per game and earned first-team all-conference and first-team all-state honors … along with brother, Jordan, helped lead Central to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament each of their three years on the varsity team, winning the state title in 2017 with current Badger Kobe King … on the football field, Davis is also a standout three-year starter at quarterback, passing for 6,572 yards and 56 touchdowns, while rushing for more than 2,000 yards and scoring another 34 touchdowns on the ground.
Gard: “Johnny is the ultimate competitor. He’s proven that on the basketball court, on the football field and in the classroom. Johnny’s ability to play and guard multiple positions is extremely valuable in today’s game. He brings a tremendous toughness and competitive spirit to both ends of the floor. His experiences as a high school quarterback will serve him well as he makes the transition to a collegiate basketball player. He has grown up watching Wisconsin Basketball and takes pride in wearing our colors. We’re excited to get to work with him and to help him reach his potential as a Badger in the years to come.”
6-4, 185, Guard
La Crosse, Wis. (Central)
Three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals … as a junior, averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals per game at La Crosse Central, earning first-team all-conference honors and named the team’s defensive player of the year … his sophomore season, averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game, garnering first-team all-conference honors … along with brother, Johnny, helped lead Central to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament each of their three years on the varsity team, including a title in 2017 with current Badger Kobe King … on the football field, Davis is also an impressive wide receiver for the Red Raiders, posting 358 receiving yards with 5 TDs through three games before suffering a season-ending injury … hauled in 49 receptions for 873 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.
Gard: “We are thrilled to welcome Jordan to our program. His commitment and work ethic on the basketball court and in the classroom is exactly what we look for in a Wisconsin student-athlete. Jordan brings a certain level of toughness to the basketball court that has been developed on the football field as a star receiver. He comes from a winning culture at La Crosse Central and knows what it takes to compete for championships. He has known Badger Basketball his entire life and his commitment shows how much pride he has in representing Wisconsin.”
Badgers coach Greg Gard discusses 2020 recruits
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