Will Tschetter leads a simple life.
He lives on his family farm in the rural outskirts of Stewartville, Minn., a community of roughly 6,000 people. He doesn’t have social media. Basketball is his passion, but farm work comes first; he once instructed Juwan Howard to call him back so he could finish hauling the day’s load of rocks.
Perhaps it’s fitting then that a mid-summer visit to an empty campus convinced Tschetter to commit to Michigan.
“To be able to see the city of Ann Arbor and get the vibe of the campus in general was super cool,” Tschetter said. “It was weird, but also kind of like a normal visit.”
This past March, the COVID-19 pandemic tilted the world of college basketball recruiting along its axis. The NCAA enacted a recruiting dead period on April 1, which has since been extended through December. In-person recruiting and official on-campus visits, the usual staples of a player’s recruitment, are forbidden.
So Tschetter forged his own visit, making the nine-hour drive to Ann Arbor alongside his mom over Fourth of July weekend. Campus was barren, devoid of student life. They viewed buildings from the outside only. Howard and associate head coach Phil Martelli chimed in as de facto tour guides via FaceTime.
Absent were the bells and whistles, like front-row seats at the Big House or a serenade at Crisler Center. But none of that mattered to Tschetter. He was sold, letting Howard know of his decision that Sunday night before announcing publicly the following day.
Choosing Michigan marked the culmination of a whirlwind recruitment for Tschetter, one that saw him ascend from the depths of the unknown to the top of high-major programs’ wishlists.
Yet Tschetter’s rise comes as no surprise to those who have witnessed his talent firsthand.
“You’d walk into an open gym and you’d watch him, all the tools, all the intangibles were there,” Brad Vaught, an assistant coach at Stewartville High School said. “I’ve coached DI power forwards and I felt like Will was a high-major kid.”
Vaught joined Stewartville’s staff last fall. At his prior gig — an assistant coaching position at Marshall High School in Rochester, Minn. — Vaught coached Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 power forward who started 22 games last year as a freshman for Duke. Instantly, Vaught believed Hurt and Tschetter were comparable.
The recruiting front, though, remained quiet. Tschetter held offers from South Dakota, Northern Iowa, Division II Augustana College and North Dakota State, his parents’ alma mater. Any high-major interest was muted.
“I remember watching him play and thinking, ‘Hey, wait a minute, why doesn’t he have more offers?’ ” Vaught said. “That was my thought — Where is everybody?”
Last season, Tschetter shined. As a high school junior, he led the state of Minnesota in scoring, averaging 33.6 points per game to go along with 10.8 rebounds. Interest ticked up a bit — he added offers from Colorado State and Loyola-Chicago — but not significantly. Programs were perhaps suspect of the competition level in Minnesota Class AA basketball and AAU tournaments that weren’t shoe-sponsored.
Tschetter and his parents compiled a highlight tape. Vaught surfed recruiting websites and contacted every Division I program whose information he could find, sending over the film via email. Willie Vang, Tschetter’s AAU coach on the Minnesota Heat, compiled all the information on a spreadsheet: who they contacted, who responded and who Tschetter had interest in.
The proactive approach paid dividends. In April, Tschetter’s recruitment exploded.
“Watching his skill on tape, go figure, schools started calling,” Adam Girtman, Tschetter’s head coach at Stewartville, said. “With the AAU season being shut down, schools started asking for tape and more tape. It just kind of snowballed.”
Offers poured in from mid-majors throughout April. On May 27, Arkansas became the first power-five program to extend an offer. Three Big Ten schools — Michigan, Nebraska and Minnesota — did the same on June 1. Virginia Tech, Iowa and Cincinnati followed suit soon after.
Tschetter’s individual ranking soared as well, as he cracked the top 150 in 247Sports’ composite rankings for 2021 prospects.
“All of a sudden, everyone started to say, ‘Oh wow, this kid’s 6-8, shoots 45 percent from three, is strong as an ox,’ ” Vaught said. “When everybody started to see it, then it didn’t take much for people to want him to be a part of things.
“If you have the ability and the skillset, somebody’s gonna find you.”
This was all occurring, of course, amid the backdrop of the pandemic. Competition was shelved, high school seasons and AAU circuits truncated. There would be no more games for Tschetter to prove his worth, or for coaches to evaluate his talent in person.
Recruiting too was flipped upside down, the industry moving entirely online almost overnight. Schools would have to find a way to sell themselves through a computer screen.
Zoom calls quickly inundated Tschetter’s schedule: chats with coaches, film sessions, virtual campus tours. Out of all the schools in his pursuit, Tschetter says Michigan was “most consistent” in reaching out. Martelli led the charge, connecting with Tschetter on a daily basis. The rest of the staff — Howard, Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley — checked in weekly.
“One of the things that separated Michigan was they did an unbelievable job of being organized,” Vang said. “With some of these schools they’ll just call and offer, and it’s kind of a brief phone call and you might not even hear from them for quite a while. Michigan had multiple conversations that were really long, really detailed.”
“The coaching staff and the culture that they’ve built really stood out,” Tschetter said. “They were really genuine throughout the process, super trustworthy.”
Tschetter’s commitment is a testament to Howard’s holistic recruiting style. With Tschetter, Michigan’s pitch extended beyond basketball, encompassing everything from a “Michigan college experience” to academics — a particularly important aspect for Tschetter, an honors student who holds a 3.99 GPA.
“The neat thing about Juwan is he really kind of has the big picture in mind,” Vaught said. “He didn’t just see him as a player, but as a person.”
In terms of a basketball fit, Tschetter is what Vang calls “the definition of what basketball’s about now.” At 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, he punishes opponents inside and out, equipped with an array of post moves and a deadeye 3-point stroke. He runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and was recruited to play tight end by Minnesota and Michigan State under Mark Dantonio. Girtman describes him as a mismatch for anyone on the floor.
And even with the twists and turns of an unorthodox recruitment, he wound up where he belongs.
“You can’t argue that (the pandemic) hurt Will’s recruitment,” Girtman said. “The only thing I think it did was delay those big schools offering. Those were inevitable. They were coming anyway, it just took a little longer.”
“Being able to take official visits and that stuff, I think it definitely would’ve been different,” Tschetter said of his decision. “But I feel totally comfortable with my choice.”
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