The first sporting event University of Wisconsin men’s basketball transfer Max Klesmit went to was a Badgers hockey game.
The Klesmits aren’t big hockey fans, but the Neenah native was toddling around the Kohl Center at about 18 months old.
Klesmit and his mother, father and two younger siblings frequented UW football games. They’d drive the 98 miles almost every Saturday.
He grew up wearing red and white but committed to Wofford in high school.
Klesmit entered the transfer portal shortly after his sophomore year finished and committed to UW on April 30.
“It’s part of the dream,“ Klesmit said. “The rest is winning a Big Ten championship, playing in and having a chance to win the NCAA Tournament.”
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard committed while still on UW’s campus. He took a visit April 29 and 30 after previously narrowing his choices to four schools. The Badgers weren’t on that list.
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Klesmit wanted the chance to play for a Power Five program. Three of the four other schools he was considering fit the bill, but his father, Rich Klesmit, said after sitting in UW coach Greg Gard’s office for about 2.5 hours he knew his son would decide to join the program.
“There was a good fit there,” Rich Klesmit said. “What is the good fit for Max here with three years of eligibility left? We weren’t interested in it being in a situation where — we’re talking about someone that played 30-plus minutes a game at Wofford — we wanted to make an impact here and be part of, hopefully, something special.”
It helped that Madison is less than a two-hour drive for the Klesmit family as opposed to the 13 hours to Wofford.
Klesmit was Wofford’s second-leading scorer last season, averaging 14.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 44.6% from the field, including 34.0% from 3-point range.
The previous season he was named to the Southern Conference all-freshman team after averaging 8.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per game.
He thinks he can fill at least some of the offensive hole left by the departures of UW leading scorers Brad Davison and Johnny Davis. The two guards combined for 46% of UW’s points last season.
“The numbers tell you one thing, but then you watch him play and just the toughness,” Gard said. “The guys that we’ve had like that — Brad [Davison], Josh Gasser, Zak Showalter down through Joe Krabbenhoft — the guys that have really impacted winning in ways that maybe always don’t involve scoring.”
Rich Kuranda, his AAU coach and a longtime UW fan, likened Klesmit to Davis. Klesmit won the quarterfinal game of the Southern Conference for the Terriers when he was fouled on a layup with 7 seconds left. He made the shot and the free throw to advance to the semifinals.
“He wants the big shot at the end of the game,” Kuranda said. “He wants the ball in his hands when the game’s on the line.”
Klesmit is hoping to make an impact right away, and his former coach thinks the jump from the Southern Conference to Big Ten won’t be too difficult.
“I just learned with him not to doubt him,” Kuranda said. “He had the unique combination of being the best player on our team and also the hardest worker on our team. You don’t always get that. Sometimes you have a kid that’s just naturally athletic, but he doesn’t work as hard. Max is very focused and is the hardest worker.”
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