Daniel Freitag walked through a tunnel into Camp Randall Stadium at 11:07 a.m. on a sunny April morning to take in one of Wisconsin’s spring practices as a prospective football recruit. Freitag, a two-sport standout from Bloomington, Minn., had been to campus on multiple occasions as a basketball recruit but had recently earned a scholarship offer from the Badgers for football and wanted to see how new coach Luke Fickell and his staff operated.
Wisconsin basketball coach Greg Gard wasn’t going to let an opportunity go to waste. Gard, who had extended Freitag a scholarship offer nearly two years earlier, not coincidentally waited on the sideline along with his assistant coach, Joe Krabbenhoft, for Freitag to make his way over. As Freitag surveyed football practice, he and Gard embraced in a hug and spent a significant portion of the two-hour practice chatting.
Moments like that did not go unnoticed by Freitag, who ultimately chose basketball over football and publicly announced his commitment to Gard and Wisconsin on Friday afternoon over Baylor, Minnesota, Notre Dame and Virginia.
Freitag’s commitment represents arguably Gard’s most significant recruiting victory since he took over as head coach from Bo Ryan during the middle of the 2015-16 season. Freitag, a four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite and the No. 8 point guard in the country, is set to become the highest-rated signee Gard has landed. Only four other Wisconsin players in the online recruiting rankings era had a higher composite rating: Brian Butch, Sam Dekker, Krabbenhoft and Greg Stiemsma. Each of them signed more than a decade ago and were forwards or centers, making the 6-foot-2 Freitag the highest-rated Badgers guard.
“I think what stood out was really just my relationship with Gard,” Freitag said. “I feel like if Gard was a football coach at Minnesota-Duluth, I would’ve ended up at Minnesota-Duluth. No shade to Minnesota-Duluth. Just how good of a relationship we had made me choose that program over the other sport. It wasn’t necessarily basketball winning over football.
“Gard kind of handled all of the recruiting. There were assistants at games and stuff like that, but my main recruiter was coach Gard. I don’t think it’s very common that the head coach is kind of doing all the recruiting for a player. It’s special for me just because he was doing so when I was a 15-year-old with no other offers, with no other interest.”
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Freitag’s decision has been a long time coming for Gard. Freitag averaged 10.2 points per game as a freshman on the varsity team at Jefferson High School. Jefferson basketball coach Jeff Evens sat down with Freitag after his freshman year and told him he believed Freitag had the potential to be a Division I basketball player. Evens said he would make phone calls to college coaches he knew on Freitag’s behalf but that his pupil had to promise that he wouldn’t be satisfied with simply having his name out there and would continue to work. Freitag gave Evens his word.
The first call Evens made was to Gard, whom Evens had known since Gard was an assistant to Ryan and visited the high school to recruit center Cole Aldrich, an eventual Kansas commit. Freitag then attended an advanced camp in June 2021 and impressed Gard and Krabbenhoft enough for Wisconsin to extend Freitag his first college scholarship offer.
“Wisconsin from the very first day showed a lot of interest in Dan as a person and a basketball player,” Evens said. “I think that has made a pretty good impression on Dan so far. That’s a pretty big thing for Daniel is that you’re not just a piece of the puzzle. You’re a person who has a personality, feelings. I think he just was very impressed with the way that the entire Badger staff embraced him as a student-athlete that could possibly play in their program.”
Minnesota extended a basketball scholarship offer to Freitag a month after Wisconsin. Freitag then exploded for 26.3 points per game in his sophomore season and picked up offers from Iowa State, Baylor, Iowa, Nebraska and Virginia. During Freitag’s junior season, he averaged 28.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Evens, who has been at Jefferson for 38 years, coached future first-round NBA Draft picks Aldrich and Kevin Lynch and pointed out that Freitag’s scoring average was higher than both of those players.
Freitag excels at driving and drawing fouls, making 218 of 263 free throws (82.9 percent) last season. No other player on his high school team attempted more than 35 free throws. Freitag described himself as a winner who is at his best when he can get downhill to create for himself or teammates, and he thrives in big moments against quality competition. He has impressed on the summer circuit while playing for renowned AAU team Howard Pulley, which has sent numerous players to the Badgers over the years, including Krabbenhoft, Kammron Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Jared Berggren, Brad Davison and recent Badgers commits Nolan Winter and Jack Robison, among others.
“He’s always had the ability to get to the rim and see the floor very well and make a pass,” Evens said. “But I think he’s developed that mid-range jump shot and also perimeter jump shot. Anything that he has developed as a basketball player, it comes naturally, but it also comes with a lot of hard work. He’s in the gym a lot before school. He’s never satisfied.”
Evens said Gard consistently put in the effort necessary to show Freitag how much he cared. Gard visited last fall to watch one of Freitag’s football practices and returned the following week with Krabbenhoft to watch a football game. Freitag, who has visited campus for basketball six times, said one of the most significant reasons for his commitment to Wisconsin, in addition to his relationship with Gard, is that the Badgers stayed true to their word of not offering another point guard during the recruiting cycle.
“Going two years without really heavily recruiting any other point guard kind of shows the amount of trust they have in me,” Freitag said. “I think that type of trust in me is what I’m looking for in a college.”
Freitag was one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2024 class because of his dual-sport ability. Rivals rated Freitag as a four-star wide receiver and safety and the No. 1 football player in Minnesota. He caught 37 passes for 501 yards and five touchdowns last season while adding 505 yards rushing with five more touchdowns as a wildcat quarterback. Freitag earned football offers from Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Minnesota and Kansas State.
Freitag announced in April that he would transfer for his senior season to play basketball at Southern California Academy, which is a school that doesn’t offer football. Still, Freitag had planned to continue to train for football and said he didn’t choose basketball over football for college until four days ago.
“I’ve been wanting to make a decision for like six months,” Freitag said. “So the fact that it happened four days ago instead of six months ago shows how much time and effort I put into it.”
Wisconsin, which finished 20-15 last season and reached the NIT semifinals after missing the NCAA Tournament, appears to be in good shape with its future roster. All five of the team’s starters return next season, and Gard was able to add St. John’s transfer guard AJ Storr, who earned Big East all-freshman team honors last season. Three scholarship freshmen are set to arrive this summer with four-star forward Gus Yalden, three-star forward Winter and three-star combo guard John Blackwell.
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Freitag is the second Wisconsin commit in the 2024 class, joining fellow Minnesota native Robison, a three-star forward from Lakeville North High School. Gard also is in hot pursuit of forward Kon Knueppel, a four-star prospect and the No. 1 player in Wisconsin, who is expected to visit campus later this month.
If the roster holds in place by the 2024-25 season when Freitag arrives, Wisconsin will have two senior point guards with starter Chucky Hepburn and reserve Kamari McGee, as well as Freitag. That setup also played a factor in Freitag’s commitment decision, which should have reverberations for the Badgers for years to come.
“Wisconsin kind of has their point guard and maybe one or two guys in case of emergency,” Freitag said. “I kind of like to be the main guy leading for a team. If I were to come with a year of Chucky and after Chucky leaves, I feel like that’s just a perfect situation to learn behind the senior guy and then take on the role.”
(Photo: Courtesy of Howard Pulley Hoops)