Lucas at Large: Searching for the next Jon Bryant

Ever hear about Jon Bryant?

"Never,'' Rob Wilson said. "Never heard of him. Who was that?''

Jon Bryant? Who was that?

"I know the name,'' said Josh Gasser. "Jon Bryant? Is he a coach?''

Not a coach, a player. Ever hear of him?

"Maybe,'' Ben Brust said. "Maybe if you tell me more about him.''

Played here.

"Played here at New Mexico?'' Brust asked.

Played at Wisconsin. But, yes, he did play here - at The Pit - in Albuquerque.

Seriously, doesn't anyone remember Jon Bryant?

"Yeah, of course,'' said Jordan Taylor.

Leave it to the senior captain.

Taylor, like Bryant, hails from the state of Minnesota.

"I worked out once with Jon Bryant when I was younger,'' Taylor said. "Some of my friends worked out with him a lot. To be honest, I don't know much about his history here.

"I know him more as a trainer in Minnesota.''

That would be the post-UW Jon Bryant, the founder of Triple Threat Elite Training.

"Jon Bryant,'' said video coordinator Sharif Chambliss, "was a great shooter for the Badgers. He was able to stretch the defense and knock down shots when they needed it.''

Never more so than during Wisconsin's 2000 run to the Final Four which culminated with wins over LSU and Purdue in the West Regional semifinals and finals at The Pit.

Bryant caught fire in the tournament starting with the Badgers' opening game when he went 7-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 66-56 victory over Fresno State.

Bryant still shares the school record for most triples in a game with a host of others, including Taylor (vs. Indiana last year), Brust (vs. BYU and UNLV) and Wilson (vs. Indiana).

The Bryant flashback and history lesson is relevant to this team from the standpoint that the Badgers have multiple players capable of exploding offensively with 3-point hits.

You can add Gasser to the list. Twice, he's had four triples in a game.

UW assistant coach Lamont Paris admitted that he was unaware of Jon Bryant's legacy though he had heard of the name. But he knows the impact that a shooter can have.

"It happens all the time in March,'' Paris said. "It's about who's playing well and who's shooting the ball well. Look at VCU last year in the tournament.''

Virginia Commonwealth made its Final Four run on the strength of its 3-pointers. "That's what it came down to,'' Paris said. "They shot an astronomical percentage.''

In retrospect, did Wilson sneak up on the Hoosiers? Or can he do it again? Michigan State was obviously aware of his presence and threat and limited touches and good looks.

So how does he get space?

"Rob is a good athlete,'' Paris said. "He comes off screens hard and he has pretty good size for a guard so he has the ability to create some space for himself that way.

"Performances like that - the Indiana game - are what this time of the year is all about. Get a guy hot like that and you can ride him into a deep run in the tournament.''

That's why defenses are geared to stop guys like that. Consider: Wilson took only five shots and made two against the Spartans last Saturday in the Big Ten tournament.

"A couple of times they were face-guarding, Indiana didn't do that,'' Wilson said. "Michigan State is a great defensive team and they came in with a great game plan.

"They were switching a lot on the screens and bumping me as I was running off of screens.  I just have to read what they give me and what my teammates are doing.

"I have to make better reads and cuts to continue to get open. I have to take advantage of the opportunities that I do get.

"I'm still hoping to be a big factor and contributor off the bench here (against Montana). I have to play great defense and hopefully knock down a couple of shots.''

A couple of shots? What did it feel like to knock down seven against Indiana?

"It felt like the hoop was a lot bigger than it normally is,'' Wilson said.

Brust knows that feeling. Early in the season, he went 7-of-7 from beyond the arc against UNLV and 7-of-10 against BYU. Both teams are in the NCAA tournament.

Lately, though, Brust's playing time has dwindled. Despite accounting for only seven points in the last five games combined, he has remained upbeat.

"You just have to be ready at all times,'' Brust said. "If coach calls your name, and if the opportunity is there, you have to take advantage of it.''

Getting away from Big Ten defenses could help Brust.

"Maybe; maybe for everyone else on the floor, too,'' he said. "I think we're all excited to play against some new faces that we haven't seen before.''

March is the perfect setting for a breakout game for somebody.

"Anything can happen,'' Chambliss said. "That's why we're here.''

The last time the Badgers were here - at The Pit - Gasser was eight years old.

So you can understand why he would have no specific recollection of Jon Bryant.

"I do remember that (2000) team as a whole,'' Gasser said. "You don't really remember a lot of the individual players; that's why they were so good.

"You just remember how well that team played together. Obviously, there's some good karma in this arena, and hopefully we can continue it.''

After all, Bo Ryan emphasized, this is not about Jon Bryant and 2000.

"But this is our guys' time,'' Ryan said Wednesday. "Those 15 players that will be out there in red and white, this is their time ... this is their moment.''
ON WISCONSIN