Lakeville North big man Nolan Winter, the center of a recruiting border battle, announced Friday he will play college basketball for Wisconsin.
The 6-11 senior took a little longer than expected to make his decision after his official visits to Wisconsin and the home state Gophers in the last month.
Winter's father, Trevor, played hoops for the U's vacated 1997 Final Four team, and his mother, Heidi, is an ex-Gophers volleyball player.
His parents' alma mater appeared to be an early favorite, but the defending co-Big Ten champion Badgers convinced him to follow the Minnesota pipeline to Madison.
"I'm just super proud that nationally I've made a name for myself," Winter told the Star Tribune earlier. "And I'm not just following in my dad's footsteps."
The No. 2 player in the state's 2023 class, Winter is the second local prospect to pick another Big Ten school over the Gophers this week. The state's top senior, Taison Chatman from Totino-Grace, committed to Ohio State on Tuesday.
Gophers coach Ben Johnson and assistant Dave Thorson made Winter a major priority after offering him a scholarship before the Badgers did last summer. The Gophers coaches were in constant contact, but Wisconsin has lured Minnesota talent since Richard Pitino's tenure.
"They did a great job recruiting Nolan and put their best foot forward," said Howard Pulley founder Rene Pulley, who had Winter in his AAU program. "I just think Wisconsin's track record has been good. Ben and Dave just haven't been here long enough to have that track record, being here only one year. Once they get a chance to establish themselves and build something they'll get more Minnesota kids."
Two years ago, Badgers coach Greg Gard landed East Ridge's Ben Carlson and Eastview's Steven Crowl. Carlson transferred to Utah. But Crowl started in the UW frontcourt last season with Lakeville North's Tyler Wahl, a 2019 recruit.
There were as many as seven players on the Badgers roster from Minnesota in Pitino's last season in 2020-21, including Lakeville North's Nate Reuvers and Maple Grove's Brad Davison.
White Bear Lake senior guard Jack Janicki, who had Division I offers, committed to Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on this summer, but the Minnesota connection wasn't a factor for Winter.
"The fact that all the [Minnesota natives] are going there is not influencing me to go there," Winter said. "My dad and mom both went to Minnesota, but they've been telling me ever since Day One this is your decision."
Winter was sidelined for most of the summer AAU season, but he returned to the court in late July to play for Pulley's 17U team in Las Vegas in front of the Gophers and Badgers.
In early August, Winter made an official visit to Wisconsin without having other trips scheduled, but he eventually went on an official with the Gophers late last month.
The initial plan was to pick a school shortly after his Gophers visit, but Winter delaying his announcement a few weeks was a sign he was leaning in another direction. He got a tough decision behind him to focus on his senior year at Lakeville North.
Winter's commitment to the Badgers means Johnson is not likely to sign a Minnesota recruit coming off the U's 2022 class with locals Pharrel Payne, Joshua Ola-Joseph, and Mr. Basketball Braeden Carrington.
The Gophers offered Chatman and Holy Family's Boden Kapke (a Butler commit) early, but they focused more on out-of-state prospects at their positions in the end.
Johnson's 2023 recruiting class might be void of Minnesotans, but it has a chance to be more highly touted than last year. Guard Cameron Christie, the No. 1 senior in Illinois, committed this summer. And five-star 7-footer Dennis Evans from California is expected to visit the Gophers on Sept. 29.