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Max Klesmit's journey home: Why the Neenah native is back, and how he's fit in so quickly at Wisconsin

A 2020 graduate of Neenah High School and former basketball star for the Rockets, Max Klesmit has returned to Wisconsin and is making his mark as a Badger.
Max Klesmit Badgers vs Maryland
Posted at 10:13 PM, Dec 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-08 23:21:37-05

MADISON (NBC 26) — Max Klesmit remembers watching the Wisconsin-Marquette rivalry growing up. Now, he's etched his name into its history.

The Neenah native scored 13 points and hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds of overtime of Saturday's game, sealing a wild Wisconsin win in one of the best games the series has ever seen.

"It was awesome," a smiling Klesmit said Thursday in a one-on-one interview with NBC 26. "I had to take a few times just to stand there and look around the stadium and take it all in and see like 'wow this is what you've been working for, this is what you've wanted your whole life to play in this rivalry game as a Wisconsin kid watching it growing up.'"

After spending his first two seasons at Wofford - in South Carolina - Klesmit decided last spring to transfer to Madison. So far, he's fit in seamlessly - quickly becoming a key piece on a Badgers squad that's off to a somewhat surprising 7-2 start.

"One of the reasons why we recruited him when he went in the portal was the toughness," Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said following Saturday's game. "That play at the end, that was a toughness basket."

A patented toughness that has helped Klesmit draw comparisons to former Badgers of his ilk; most notably gritty guard Brad Davison - a comparison Klesmit has embraced.

"Obviously there's been plenty of great players like Josh Gasser, Zak Showalter, Brad Davison, Ben Brust... kids like that that have come through this program," Klesmit said. "You try to take a little something from each of them to implement it into your game.

"I definitely don't shy away from the comparisons, I think they're awesome," he said.

Teammates have said Klesmit is a great culture fit at Wisconsin; he said he was "molded" in it growing up in the state and playing at Neenah, which he said helped prepare him for the transition to UW.

"Oh yeah for sure," Klesmit said. "I think what Coach (Lee) Rabas has going on up there at Neenah with that program, it's in really good hands.

"And just in terms of how we played in high school, too," he added. "Looking to maybe sometimes slow down the pace if you're playing an up-tempo team. Take care of the ball at a very high level. Rebound. And just be tougher and physical than the other team."

Klesmit led the Rockets to the state tournament in 2019, and had them on the doorstep in 2020 before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now at Wisconsin, he's hoping to hang some more banners - something he thinks this 7-2 Badgers squad is more than capable of.

"I think (the team's) ceiling is still yet to be determined," he said. "I think it raises a little bit every single day.

"With the record we have now I think we know there's so much more room for improvement," Klesmit added. "So much that we can practice and drill. Like I said before, I think the ceiling only keeps rising with this group of guys that we have here now."

Klesmit and the Badgers opened up Big Ten play with a win over previously-unbeaten Maryland Tuesday night at the Kohl Center. They travel to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes on Sunday; tipoff is at 5:30 on Big Ten Network.