UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: It's summer, why we talking about 'practice'?

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MBB_practice 032.jpgWhen the NCAA granted college basketball coaches the opportunity for two hours of structured practice time per week during the two-month summer school window, there was the suspicion that some players might go "Iverson" and react to the news like Allen Iverson might have reacted: "We're sitting here talkin' about practice? Not a game, not a game. We're talking about practice, man?"

Wisconsin senior Jared Berggren grinned at the thought of it all.

"Practice?" he confessed, mimicking Iverson's voice inflexion. "That's exactly what I said."

UW junior Josh Gasser had a similar confession.

"My first reaction," he said, "was, 'What are we going to do?'"

We're gonna practice; we're talkin' about two hours of practice each week.

"The summer," Gasser said, "has always been kind of nice for doing your own thing."

But all of that has changed and Berggren and Gasser really aren't complaining.

On the contrary, they both endorse the new NCAA landscape for men's hoops.

Since the start of summer school, the Badgers have been practicing two hours every Tuesday.

"By having it (practice) once a week I think is perfect," Gasser said. "We play in open gym throughout the week but you get a little higher intensity of play now (with the coaches present); this elevates it up a notch. I think it's going to help us individually and as a team."

Without directly mentioning freshmen Sam Dekker and Zak Showalter, he added, "For the younger guys, they'll get to learn more quickly. Coming in the fall, it won't be as big of a shock to them when we start practice. They'll have a better idea of what's going on."

As a true freshman, Gasser started 30 games without the benefit of organized summer practices. In retrospect, he said, "It would have been nice to have from the standpoint of mentally getting used to the rules defensively and to the kinds of sets that we run offensively (at Wisconsin)."

The additional coaching structure is also bound to help a redshirt freshman like George Marshall, who'll be competing for minutes at the point guard position vacated by Jordan Taylor. Last season, Marshall worked exclusively on the scout team; manning up daily against Taylor in practice.

What are the benefits to the two hours of weekly instruction in June and July?

"I think the cohesiveness of the team comes together a little bit sooner," Marshall said. "You get a better feel for the coaches and the coaches get a better feel for you. If there's anything that needs fixing or you need to work on, you know earlier as opposed to waiting until the fall or the season."

Berggren recalled getting a "heads-up" on the changes from the basketball team's strength coach Scott Hettenbach who had to redesign his summer conditioning program since the two hours of practice time are coming out of the eight hours that were previously budgeted for training.

As a result, Hettenbach has put an even greater emphasis on quality over quantity. "With two less hours in the weight room," Gasser said, "we get in and we get out.  It's more high-quality work - fast and intense - and we still get the same amount of stuff done as we had in the past."

During those two hours on the court, Berggren said, "We knew that it was going to be different but we didn't know what to expect coming into it. In talking to the assistants, there was the thought that we would kind of do what we do in the spring and fall and that's more individual work.

"But we've done mostly team stuff - four-on-four; five-on-five - which is good. It's more game-like because you have coaches instructing you. Sometimes you can get into bad habits in open gym. This keeps everyone playing hard and we get to see who's coming along in the summer.

"For the freshmen, they can start getting doses of coaching in their ear; learning what they've got to do without being overwhelmed when we start going six days a week with our real practices. It gives them a taste early-on so they know what to expect and it will definitely speed along the process."

Along with the Tuesday practice, the open gym scrimmages are still critical to player development. "But Wednesdays are completely open now and that's kind of nice," Berggren said. "It's good to get in the gym on your own and get shots up and work on some individual skill stuff."

In this context, each player has his own needs.

"For me, it's the same thing every off-season," said Berggren. "I try to get stronger, quicker, more athletic. I try to get in better shape and I try to put on some muscle and lose some body fat."

Marshall is working "on my leadership and making the right reads" while continuing "to take my game to the next level" by making plays during the practices "and making my teammates better."

Being more of a leader is also on Gasser's radar. "I've played more minutes of game time than anyone on the team," he said, "so even though I'm a junior, I have to show some leadership out there."

As seniors, Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will be expected to carry more of the burden in terms of their own accountability and leadership, especially with Taylor gone.

"We know that we have to be a little more vocal and take on a bigger leadership role," Berggren said. "We've all done that in our own ways this past spring and throughout the summer.

"It is different because it is our last chance. I've talked to Ryan about it - how this is kind of why we took the redshirt (as freshman). This is what it's all for now. We both recognize that."

There's something that Marshall has recognized, too. "Having leaders who are already established," he said of the UW's upperclassmen, "makes my transition a little easier."

Marshall hasn't forgotten some of the things that Taylor taught him. "He just said always play hard and always listen," he recounted. "My role is to do whatever it takes to help the team win."

Regarding that transition, Berggren observed, "George just needs game experience and these practices are the closest you can really get in the summer. It's better than just playing pick-up games."

The weekly two-hour practices not only keep an open line of communication between the coaches and the players during the summer, but it's another step in the team-building process.

"You can kind of see who's going to fit in where and who's competing for what minutes," Berggren said. "It's good to see guys battling like that already and it's only July."

Is there any chance for burnout with the extra practices? "No, not at all," Gasser said. "If we weren't doing this we'd be in here anyway working on our own game or playing in open gym."

Given the UW's returning personnel, and team strengths, the NCAA changes to the summer calendar couldn't have been more timely. "Guys need to find their roles," Gasser said. "And we've got a lot of guys who can play. We're probably deeper this year than we have been in the past."

Berggren was on the same page. "I think the sky is the limit for this team," he said. "We have four out of five starters coming back and a lot of guys off the bench who are all fighting for playing time. Everyone is hungry and looking to prove something. We have very high goals for ourselves."

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