Chucky Hepburn's commitment to Wisconsin may have taken some by surprise — specifically fans of the two in-state programs (Nebraska and Creighton) that offered Hepburn a scholarship.
But if you look deeper, it isn't that hard to understand.
Hepburn fits Wisconsin for a number of reasons. His playing style and leadership abilities have drawn comparisons by the Wisconsin coaching staff to former Badger All-American Jordan Taylor.
Leadership seems to come naturally for Hepburn, the starting point guard for Bellevue West since his freshman year. So far, he’s 2 for 2 in leading his team to the state tournament, including a semifinal run as a ninth-grader. Besides of his high skill level, he displays intangibles that make his teammates better. That leads to wins, as his high school record can attest.
Bellevue West has produced some of the best guards Nebraska high school basketball has ever seen. T-Bird coach Doug Woodard has coached two of them, including former Creighton guards Antoine Young and Josh Dotzler. He thinks Hepburn is in that category.
"Obviously Chucky brings unique gifts in terms of on-the-court things," Woodard said. "Elite vision and instincts, makes those around him better by getting easy shots for them, extremely strong and a great lane finisher with a very good mid-range game, and probably with Josh Dotzler the best defender I have ever coached both on and off the ball."
He’s special for the long list of intangibles, but Woodard said Hepburn isn't yet a finished product.
"He needs to become more consistent from the 3-point line but that is coming," Woodard said. "Off the court is where he really shines. He treats fellow teammates, other students and staff with respect and dignity. He just has rare leadership qualities and is one of the most genuine guys I have ever known."
Woodard is not alone in his praise of Hepburn. Kearney coach Drake Beranek has coached against Hepburn the last two seasons.
"I love Chucky's game. Out of all the in-state recruits you know what you are getting," Beranek said. "As a coach you are looking for consistency. You know what you are getting out of him the most. A steady point guard, sneaky good defender and a clutch competitor. It makes it really easy to root for a great kid that has a humble approach to his game and life."
I spoke with four NCAA Division I coaches familiar with Hepburn, and they shared their thoughts on condition of anonymity:
» "Wisconsin is getting a point guard who is a floor general that is as explosive and physical as any guard in the 2021 class in the country. His ability to create in the open floor while staying poised in the half court allows him to make his teammates better. Most of all he is a flat-out winner."
» "He is a leader and ultra-competitive. It is not just his on-the-court skills that are intriguing, it is all of the little things off of the court that make him such a good fit for (Wisconsin)."
» "Over the course of four years, I have seen him grow. He is super competitive and his skill level has increased every year. His basketball IQ has grown and he loves to improve. He is a gym rat and that is what has made and will make him successful."
» "Chucky is a athletically and physically ready to compete in the Big Ten. He is extremely hard to keep out of the paint. I think he will fit well into how Wisconsin has typically played in the past."
Hepburn is a four-star prospect, according to the 247Sports composite, the No. 141 player nationally and the No. 23 point guard. He’s No. 1 in the NebHSRecruiting rankings for the class of 2021. The first-team All-Nebraska pick averaged 18.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.4 steals last season for the Thunderbirds.
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Front row, from left: Whitney Brown, Grand Island Northwest; Lauren West, Millard North; Jayme Horan, Millard South; McKenna Sims, South Sioux City; Morgan Maly, Crete. Back row, from left: Chucky Hepburn, Bellevue West; Charlie Easley, Lincoln Pius X; Akol Arop, Omaha Creighton Prep; Baylor Scheierman, Aurora; John Tonje, Omaha Central.
From left: Shereef Mitchell, Omaha Burke; Payton Brotzki, Platteview; Kanon Koster, Kearney; McKenna Sims, South Sioux City; Brady Heiman, Platteview; Dariauna Lewis, Omaha North; Akol Arop, Omaha Creighton Prep; Brooke Carlson, Elkhorn; Sam Griesel, Lincoln East; and Quinn Weidemann, Omaha Westside.
Sitting, from left: Jaden Wrightsell, Omaha Northwest; McKenna Minter, Lincoln Northeast; Teddy Allen, Boys Town. Standing, from left: Chloe Dworak, Lincoln Christian; Quinn Weidemann, Omaha Westside; McKenna Simms, South Sioux City; Aguek Arop, Omaha South; Ed Chang, Papillion-La Vista; Kanon Koster, Kearney; Ayo Akinwole, Papillion-La Vista.
Front from left: Quinn Weidemann, Omaha Westide; Aguek Arop, Omaha South; Grace Berry, Lincoln East; Caleal Walker, Omaha South; and Skyler Snider, Kearney. Back from left: Ed Chang, Papillion-La Vista; Rylie Cascio Jensen, Fremont; Nate Schimonitz, Omaha Creighton Prep; Ryan Williams, Fremont; and Chloe Akin-Otiko, Bellevue West.
Front from left: Jay Bridgeman, Omaha Westside; Kianna Ibis, Omaha Benson; Jessica Shepard, Fremont; Maddie Simon, Lincoln Pius X; Jaycee Bradley, Norfolk. Back from left: Tyler Hagedorn, Norfolk; Adam Dykman, Fremont Bergan; Justin Patton, Omaha North; Drew Homa, Omaha Creighton Prep; Malik Hluchoweckyj, Bellevue West.
Top from left: Chatrice White, Shelby-Rising City; Khyri Thomas, Omaha Benson; Jessica Shepard, Fremont. Front from left: Mitchell Hahn, Fremont; Malik Hluchoweckyj, Bellevue West; McKenzie Brown, Grand Island Northwest; Tre'Shawn Thurman, Omaha Central; Maddie Simon, Lincoln Pius X; Kevin Metoyer, Omaha Westside; Kianna Ibis, Omaha Benson.
Front from left: Alexa Kastanek, Lincoln Southeast (wearing rainbow hat); Tra-Deon Hollins, Omaha Central (holding book); Lauren Works, Lincoln Southwest (wearing fedora); McKenzie Brown, Grand Island Northwest (holding basketball and balloon). Middle from left: Brett Dougherty, Papillion-La Vista (wearing marching band hat); Jessica Shepard, Lincoln Southeast (holding bear); Akoy Agau, Omaha Central (holding trophy); Kianna Ibis, Omaha Benson (waving towel). Back from left: Cam Williams, Omaha South (holding pom poms); Connor Lusso, Millard West (wearing birthday cake hat).
Front from left: Akoy Agau, Omaha Central; Jessica Shepard, Lincoln Southeast; Josiah Gustafson, Millard North; Brianna Rollerson, Omaha Central; Beth Bohuslavsky, Seward; Mike Gesell, South Sioux City. Back from left: Chelsea Mason, Bellevue West; Dylan Travis, Omaha Gross; Jalen Bradley, Norfolk; Brianna Craig, Lincoln Northeast.
Front from left: Hailey Mandelko, Lexington; Galen Gullie, Omaha Bryan; Emily Cady, Seward; Mike Gesell, South Sioux City. Middle from left: Akoy Agau, Omaha Central; Chelsea Mason, Bellevue West; Jalen Bradley, Norfolk; Alexis Akin-Otiko, Bellevue West. Back from left: Jayla Hobza, Bellevue East; CJ Carter, Omaha Benson.
Clockwise from top left: Alexis Akin-Otiko, Bellevue West; Jordan Hooper, Alliance; Deverell Biggs, Omaha Central; Dwight Smith, Ralston; Elliott Eliason, Chadron; Austin Kaczor, Ewing; Mike Gesell, South Sioux City; Nicole Arp; Kearney; Sarah Nelson, Omaha Westside; Emily Cady, Seward.
Bottom from left: Austin Kaczor, Ewing; Isiah Gandy, Boys Town; Elliott Eliason, Chadron; Jarrell Crayton, Bellevue East; Greg Smith, Ralston. Top from left of page: Marissa Kastanek, Lincoln Southeast; Emily Hauder, Bellevue West; Jordan Hooper, Alliance; KK Houser, Lincoln Southeast; Sarah Nelson, Omaha Westside.
From left: Antoine Young, Bellevue West; Jordan Hooper, Alliance; Josh Jones, Omaha Central; Marissa Kastanek, Lincoln Southeast; Wes Eikmeier, Fremont Bergan; KK Houser, Lincoln Southeast; Jarell Crayton, Bellevue East; McKayla Knudson, South Sioux City; Jesse Carr, Ainsworth; Nicole Brungardt, Norfolk Catholic.
Clockwise from top left: Kellie Nelson, Omaha Westside; Dominique Kelley, Lincoln Northeast; Kelsey Woodard, Bellevue West; Amber Hegge, Crofton; Jesse Carr, Ainsworth; Josh Jones, Omaha Central; Wes Eikmeier, Fremont Bergan; Antoine Young, Bellevue West; Mitch Albers, Papillion-La Vista; Jasmine Johnson, Omaha Central.
From left: Antoine Young, Bellevue West; Brooke Delano, Bellevue West; Matt Hill, Lincoln Southeast; Dominique Kelly, Lincoln Northeast; Yvonne Turner, Bellevue East; Andrew Bridger, Lincoln Northeast; Tyler Bullock, Lincoln North Star; Katie Frank, South Sioux City; Samantha Schuett, Millard West; Avery Tyler, Omaha Bryan.
From left: Samantha Schuett, Millard West; Katie Frank, South Sioux City; Matt Culliver, Omaha Bryan; Andrew Bridger, Lincoln Northeast; Matt Hill, Lincoln Southeast; Katie Smith, Omaha Skutt; Zach Potter, Omaha Creighton Prep; Yvonne Turner, Bellevue East; Megan Neuvirth, West Point GACC, Josh Dotzler, Bellevue West.