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.