Joe Krabbenhoft’s first exposure to Brad Davison came three summers ago at Frost Arena in Brookings, South Dakota, where the former was a coach at South Dakota State and the latter was attending the Jackrabbits’ elite camp.
“He was winning every drill and he was one of the younger guys in the gym,” Krabbenhoft recalled this week. “He just competed like crazy. He was taking charges in the elite camp in the middle of the summer. It was awesome.”
An hour after the camp concluded, Krabbenhoft’s boss at the time, Scott Nagy, offered Davison a scholarship. That Davison eventually ended up signing with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program instead was just fine with Krabbenhoft, who is starting his second season on Greg Gard’s staff and was the lead recruiter on the Badgers’ pursuit of Davison.
A union between Davison and UW — the 6-foot-3 freshman guard from Maple Grove, Minnesota, makes his debut with the Badgers tonight when they host South Carolina State in the 2017-18 season opener — seemed almost inevitable. Jim and Cori Davison watched their only son take his first charge when he was in the third grade. Over the years, they watched him emerge from locker rooms following games with ice bags attached to ailing body parts.
When it became obvious that Davison was going to end up playing college basketball at the Division I level, more than one person suggested to Davison’s parents that he seemed like a good fit for UW, a program built on defense and toughness and grit and, yes, taking charges.
“A lot of people looked at him,” Jim said, “and said he’s got Wisconsin written all over him.”
That’s exactly what UW junior center Ethan Happ thought when Davison arrived on campus and began summer workouts with the Badgers. Davison was diving for loose balls and embracing physical play in pickup games, but it was Davison’s mentality that stood out most to Happ.
“He comes in,” Happ said, “and tries to kick everyone’s butt.”
Davison was born into an athletic family.
Jim and Cori played basketball at Minnesota-Duluth. Their daughters, Stephanie and Angie, played basketball at Northern Iowa.
Stephanie, who is married to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort, played basketball and volleyball growing up and was a forward at Northern Iowa. She started 59 games with the Panthers from 2012-16, averaging 8.6 points over her final three seasons. “My vertical child,” Cori said.
Angie played soccer and basketball growing up and was known for her quickness. She started all 33 games as a senior last season at Northern Iowa, averaging 5.3 points. “My horizontal child,” Cori said.
And Brad? “Somewhere in between,” his mother said.
Being the youngest meant Davison tagged along to his sisters’ games, but he loved every minute of it. He’d go from game to game, soaking in everything he could learn about basketball.
It certainly didn’t hurt that Jim and Cori were both coaches. To this day, they are key figures in the Osseo Maple Grove Basketball Organization, a youth program with traveling teams for boys and girls.
“He was able to understand things at an early age,” Jim said of his son, who wants to be a college coach when his playing career is over. “He’d watch games on TV and point things out to us.”
The Davison family photo album includes a lot of material from athletic events. There are also pictures that Brad hopes never see the light of day.
“Stephanie and I went through a phase where we liked dance and had all these dance uniforms, so we’d put the little dance dresses on Brad,” Angie said. “He loved it because all he wanted to do was hang out with us. But realistically, we were dressing him up in dresses and putting makeup on him.
“It was great for us. Looking back, he probably regrets his desire to be with us all the time.”
Then again, maybe not.
“Still, to this day, they’re two of my biggest role models,” Davison said. “On the court, off the court, the way that they carried themselves and interacted with others is something I always tried to emulate. They’re two of my best friends.”
During his time as a two-sports star at Maple Grove High School, Davison had plenty of games to fill his competitive itch.
He was a standout quarterback who led the Crimson to a 27- 7 record and three state tournament appearances, breaking multiple school records in the process. It’s been strange this fall for Davison without football in his life.
“It’s a missing piece of my heart,” he said, “that I don’t have right now.”
That helps explain why the kid who has been scrappy his whole life has had a little extra juice on the court during the preseason.
“I love to win, so I’ll do any little thing you can do to win,” Davison said. “So if it’s taking charges, diving to the floor, setting a screen, anything like that I’m all for it.
“I’m going to do everything I can to win and do the best here for the University of Wisconsin.”
All of it puts a smile on the face of Krabbenhoft, who has known for a while that Davison was bound to make some college coaching staff very happy one day.
“We preach a lot about toughness and doing things the right way and accountability and (being) trustworthy,” Krabbenhoft said. “The list goes on and on of the things we preach as coaches and what this program has been built on. He plays with all of those things. He does the things that we care about.”