Lucas at Large: Brust, Dukan understand role of understudy

As UW teammates, Ben Brust and Duje Dukan are going through the same transition to college basketball which has provided the true freshmen even more common ground as roommates.

"We talk about it on occasion, maybe when one of us has had a frustrating day or something like that,'' Dukan said. "It definitely helps with the process; the more we've aired it out to each other.''

Neither has been a factor in the playing rotation for the Badgers.

Neither is accustomed to being cast in the role of a spectator, either.

Dukan couldn't remember it happening before - "I don't think I've ever had to deal with this,'' he said - whereas Brust had a flashback to his freshman year of high school.

After stint on the sophomore team - during which he had earned a starting assignment -- Brust was called up to the Mundelein (Ill.) varsity midway through the season.

"When I moved up, I didn't play,'' Brust said. "But I definitely got better. It was more physical and I was playing with older guys in practice who were a little bit more mature than I was.''

That has given Brust a frame of reference to what he's experiencing now at Wisconsin. "It's kind of the same thing,'' he said. "Except now I'm older and this has definitely been a lot better for me.''

Better how? "I'm stronger,'' he said, "and I feel like I've learned a lot and I'm getting better. I'm trying to do whatever I can to help the team, and right now, that's different than playing.''

Brust and Dukan are both members of the UW scout team which simulates the opponent - on offense and defense - on a daily basis in practice for the starters and reserves in the rotation.

That's a far cry from being in the headlines as the best player on their high school teams.

"I have to keep improving on a little bit of everything,'' said Brust. "On offense, I have to make the right plays instead of turning it over. It's about being consistent and getting better each day.''

Brust admitted that he was streaky as a shooter as a prep senior. "I faulted myself for shooting to shoot sometimes,'' he said. "You have to shoot to score, and not just shoot to get a shot up.''

Dukan had certain expectations for his freshman year and "I had my own personal feelings and what I had hoped for but sometimes they don't pan out.'' But he's trying to address his needs.

"I'm continuing to get stronger,'' Dukan said, adding that he also has been adjusting to the speed of the game. "I have a decent handle in practice but I have to get it to game-ready.''

While their freshmen teammates are encountering different hurdles - Josh Gasser is starting and Evan Anderson is redshirting - Brust and Dukan are making the best of their apprenticeships.

Both are wide-eyed kids with engaging personalities and a hunger to prove themselves.

"We've become good friends,'' Dukan said.

"We're both going through the same thing,'' Brust said.

Both have tremendous family support. Dukan's dad, Ivica, has been around the game his whole life, so he understands the sacrifices. Ivica is the director of international scouting for the Chicago Bulls.

"He has definitely been there for me,'' Duje Dukan said, "He has been talking me through it reminding me that I have to understand the process being a freshman.''

In so many words, Ivica has told his son, "You might not necessarily get the opportunity to play right away. As disappointing as that might be, you have to prove to them that you can play.''

Dukan and Brust are in the process of doing so at their own pace. And their participation on the scout team is more than an orientation - it's another key step in their development as college players.

"You know what you have to do to get to where you want to be,'' Brust said.

Their efforts are appreciated, too. "We have great camaraderie and chemistry on this team,'' Dukan said. "Everybody has made a great effort to make everyone feel like they're a part of it.''

So would it be fair to call this a learning experience?

"Growing pains,'' Brust said. "But we're growing for the good.''